When Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looked at game film this week as he prepared for Sunday’s opponent, he saw something that looked oddly familiar. The uniforms were different and the schemes foreign. But the team that he saw when studying the Carolina Panthers hit a little closer to home.
“This team, in a lot of ways, I look at their record and see a lot of how our year has been,” Rivers told the media Wednesday before listing all the close losses the Panthers have suffered this year. “They could very easily be right there, sitting in a different spot.”
The same could be said about San Diego.
With Cincinnati's decisive win Thursday night over the Philadelphia Eagles, the 5-8 Chargers were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention and are grasping at the shadows of a season that might have been.. Five of San Diego’s losses could plausibly be victories if the Chargers did not suffer epic meltdowns in the fourth quarter of those games. As Jim Nantz of CBS put it heading into halftime of San Diego’s win over Pittsburgh last week: “If games were 30 minutes long, they’d be 9-3.”
The same sentiment can be attributed to Carolina. The Panthers, who are 4-9, have lost seven games by six points or fewer. Often times, these losses have come at the bitter end. Quarterback Cam Newton fumbled the ball—and the lead—away in the team's second loss of the season to Atlanta. Newton also threw a fourth quarter interception against Chicago that led to a Bears go-ahead touchdown score. If any of this sounds familiar, it’s because Rivers has been losing games for San Diego in the same fashion. The former All-Pro quarterback has 13 fourth quarter turnovers, including a league-high nine interceptions, the most of any quarterback in the NFL this year.
If any two teams in the NFL know how to lose games in the fourth quarter, it’s the two that will meet at Qualcomm Stadium this Sunday. Combined, the two teams have 13 losses where the they had a tie or lead in the fourth quarter this season. “We just haven't been able to finish some of these games,” Panthers linebacker Thomas Davis told panthers.com, “and it's extremely frustrating.”
Funny thing is that both teams are coming off a rare late-season win over playoff (or what could be) playoff bound teams. Carolina notched a 30-20 victory over NFC-leading Atlanta last weekend as the Chargers won its first game in Pittsburgh over a Steelers team that is in control of its playoff destiny. And the sentiment coming out of Charlotte and San Diego seems to be the same. “I don’t think our effort has been an issue in the games we’ve played,” Chargers head coach Norv Turner told the media Monday. “We haven’t been as efficient as we were yesterday. We’ve been in that game a bunch of times and the one play has gone against us.”
That sounds eerily similar to what Panthers coach Ron Rivera said this week. “All the things seem to be coming together," Rivera said. "Unfortunately we didn't do it sooner, or it's just as much that we didn't finish some games that we should have." Maybe Carolina is having the same fortune San Diego is currently wallowing in because Rivera is a former Turner disciple and the staffs come from the same coaching tree. Many speculate that tree will get pruned at the end of the season with Turner getting his walking papers.
Rivera was the Chargers linebackers coach in 2007 and eventually became the team’s defensive coordinator from 2008-2010, before taking the head coaching position in Carolina. Rob Chudzinksi was the tight ends and assistant head coach for the Chargers before becoming the offensive coordinator. Turner’s son, Scott, is part of Carolina’s offensive coaching staff. So when Rivers looks at that game tape as he continues to prepare for the Panthers this week, it’s perfectly plausible that he could be looking at a mirror. There is, however, one small difference.
“I know I’m getting a bit ahead of myself, but it’d be awesome to get to 8-8,” Rivers said Wednesday when asked about San Diego’s slim playoff chances. “Get in or not get in, no we wouldn’t be satisfied and we’d be really disappointed. But, it would say something about us and our ability to finish the year.” And that’s something that nine-loss Carolina cannot have. The Panthers are ensured of a losing season, no matter the outcome of Sunday’s game. The Chargers, though, are playing for a little bit more. They're still playing to make sure they don’t suffer their first losing season since 2003.
Written by Gerald Nicdao
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