The San Diego Chargers (6-5) finally looked like the team that many expected them to be at the beginning of the season, trouncing Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts (6-5) 36-14 at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday night.
Finally, the Chargers are over .500 for the first time this season. Finally, San Diego claimed sole possession of second place in the AFC West and sit within striking distance of the Kansas City Chiefs (7-4) who, I might add, they play in two weeks.
Finally, the Chargers' special teams units weren't a glaring weakness and actually managed to be a significant strength with kicker Nate Kaeding posting an impressive five field goals including a 50-yarder.
Finally, San Diego not only won the turnover battle but thoroughly dominated it, intercepting Peyton Manning four times (two of which were returned to pay dirt) and forcing a Javarris James fumble. Philip Rivers, meanwhile, protected the ball to perfection, completing 19 of 23 passes for 185 yards.
Finally, Norv Turner's squad won a game on the road against a perennial Super Bowl contender and its all-time great quarterback. Before Sunday night, San Diego's marquee road win was against the Houston Texans who, at 5-6, haven't been particularly impressive. The destruction of the Colts in front of a national television audience has undeniable significance.
And, finally, the Bolts appear poised to make a legitimate postseason run despite the dreadful 2-5 start to the season. With five games remaining, San Diego has three remaining divisional games, with two of those to be played at Qualcomm Stadium. The other two games are against the San Francisco 49ers (3-7) and the Cincinnati Bengals (2-9), two last place teams.
Is an 11-5 record out of the question? Absolutely not - and it is likely to be enough to capture the Chargers a fifth consecutive AFC West crown and subsequent trip to the playoffs.
So what's not to like? I'll touch on that below as well as some specific positives that stood out on Sunday night.
What I Liked, Besides Starting Mike Tolbert on My Fantasy Team
Winning the Turnover Battle
I realize that I may seem to be a broken record on this topic, but its importance cannot be underestimated. The Chargers dominated the turnover margin and, in turn, dominated just about every other statistical category. By cutting off five Colts' drives prematurely, San Diego controlled the ball for 35:38, more than 11 minutes longer than Indianapolis had possession (24:22). With all that extra time with the ball, the Bolts dominated the running game (129 yards to the Colts' 24). With the run game established, the Chargers put up more than a yard per passing play more than Indianapolis (6.9 yards per play to 5.7). See where I'm going with this? But most importantly, the defense returned to picks to the house for 14 points while holding the Colts' offense to only 14 points. Impressive.
I know, I know. It's not the playoffs. But still, Kaeding came up big in a big game in November when his team needed him to. The kicker knocked in a perfect five field goals on five attempts (28, 33, 50, 30, 20) and single handedly outscored the Colts. A few weeks ago I would have applauded the special teams for avoiding a complete disaster, but tonight this portion of the unit was an asset for the Chargers.
Philip Rivers, Game Manager
Philip Rivers' stats on Sunday night may not have been eye popping (19-23, 185 yards, 0 TDs, 0 INTs) but he did what he needed to do to win. He threw the ball with impressive accuracy (see 83% completion percentage), protected the ball, made plays when he needed to and let the running game and defense do the rest. The Chargers will need Rivers to win some games down the stretch, that's for sure. On Sunday they only needed him to manage the game, which he did perfectly.
Mike Tolbert the Every-Down Back
Chargers general manager gave up a lot when he traded up in last April's draft to pick Ryan Mathews 13th overall, but it looks like his every-down back was already on the roster. The 5 foot 9, 243 pound Tolbert carried the ball 26 times for 103 yards and one touchdown and had two catches for 15 yards. Yes, he's built like a fullback and was supposed to get mostly short yardage and goal line carries this year, but for the second week in a row (and third time this year) he eclipsed the century mark while doing the bulk of the team's work on the ground.
What I Didn't Like, Besides Vincent Jackson Lasting All of One Series
Red Zone Field Goals
I realize that with result as it is this will appear to be nitpicking, but it's very rare that an opposing quarterback - let alone a future hall of famer - will giftwrap a game by turning the ball over as frequently as Peyton Manning did on Sunday night. As the season winds down and playoff games loom, the Bolts simply have to leave the red zone with 7 points. When a kicker has four field goal attempts inside 35 yards, as Nate Kaeding did on Sunday, then his offense is sputtering inside the red zone. On this night it didn't end up mattering, but in the future it certainly will.
Are you willing to officially announce yourself to be a believer in this Chargers team? Will they win out, go 11-5 and win the AFC West again, or will they find a way to give games away as they did earlier in the season? If they do earn a postseason spot, will they make a Super Bowl push? Sound off below.
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