What we learned from the Chargers’ 23-22 loss to Denver on Sunday:
14 PENALTIES ARE TOO MANY PENALTIES
Somewhat incredibly, the Chargers spread out their infractions to the point where center Mike Pouncey was the only one to be flagged more than once. He was called for holding and a false start in the span of three snaps during the Chargers’ first possession. Otherwise, it was 13 players committing 14 penalties, one of which was a delay-of-game infraction that was, technically, pinned to the offense in general. No matter how they were divided up, the penalties killed the Chargers, particularly early in the game when two potential touchdown drives were stalled and ended up netting just a pair of field goals. “We have to stay focused the next time, stay locked in all four quarters, don’t get distracted by the gnats,” linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said. “We preached that all week. We weren’t able to accomplish that.”
THE CHARGERS AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH TO OVERCOME AN IMPLOSION
Along with the penalties, there were a few significant mental errors and dropped passes, most notably by Virgil Green and Mike Williams. The Chargers played about as poorly as a team that’s moving the ball and defending decently can play. And, still, they were one late third-down conversion away from beating the Broncos. But close means nothing in the NFL, the Chargers paying a steep price for their repeated blunders. “We just played sloppy football,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “Like Coach said, you keep playing sloppy football, it’s going to catch up to you. Today it did.”
THE KICKING GAME ISN’T SOLVED
For all of his struggles, Caleb Sturgis never directly cost the Chargers a chance to win by missing a kick. Michael Badgley’s failed extra point Sunday could be viewed as the ultimate difference in a one-point game. It is true, however, that the Broncos went for a two-point conversion early in the fourth quarter when, had Badgley made the extra point in question, they almost certainly would have gone for one. Still, the missed kick brought back more of the same sinking feelings that have been swirled around this team and its various kickers over the last two years. Badgley is the Chargers’ sixth full-time kicker since the start of last season. He did kick off better and make three field goals Sunday. But that wide-left PAT was just one of several bad Chargers moments against the Broncos.
WINNING A COUPLE CLOSE ONES GUARANTEES NOTHING
The Chargers entered Sunday 2-0 in games decided by two points or fewer in 2018. Those wins came over San Francisco (29-27) and Tennessee (20-19). Before this season, they had lost 11 of their previous 14 such games. They were increasingly looking like a team capable of solving its issues in game-deciding moments. Then the offense couldn’t secure that final first down and the defense couldn’t prevent Denver from moving down the field in the only two minutes to kick the winning field goal. “We didn’t finish like we should have,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We had every opportunity to close it out, and we just didn’t get it done.” Perhaps their belief remains intact. But this loss certainly put a dent in their reputation.
THE DEFENSE IS GETTING HEALTHIER JUST AS IT’S GETTING HURT
Defensive end Joey Bosa returned and, on a few plays at least, reminded the Chargers and their fans what they had been missing while he was out with a foot injury. But a week after linebacker Denzel Perryman was lost for the season to a knee injury, the same fate befell defensive lineman Corey Liuget. The veteran missed the first four games this season because of a suspension for a positive PED test. He had put together consecutive productive games before going down Sunday. Wherever the Chargers go from here, they’ll be relying on a defensive front seven that is suddenly being stretched.