Sunday night should have seen an easy win for the Los Angeles Chargers against the Pittsburgh Steelers. Instead, it ended up holding a giant loss, and not just in terms of the scoreboard.
Here are four takeaways from the game:
Philip Rivers is not playing at the caliber that is expected of him
While only two interceptions were recorded in the books, Rivers had a multitude of passes that could have gone wrong. He had some that went wrong but weren’t considered interceptions. He looked flustered and uneasy. Rivers led off with a backward pass that either the receiver wasn’t ready for or Rivers was way off base. After a dismal performance in the first three quarters, the Chargers found a bit of a groove in the fourth quarter, scoring all of their 17 points in those 15 minutes.
They had an opportunity with just under a minute left to win the game. Then Rivers shone in the worst way. Likely in a panic from starting at the one-yard line, Rivers attempted a long pass to gain some ground and was almost intercepted. As luck would have it for the Chargers, it ended up being an incomplete pass. Luck ran out on the next play as Rivers threw it directly into the waiting arms of the Steelers’ defense. It’s possible that the receivers were not in the right place but since Rivers was off for the entire game, that seems unlikely.
Melvin Gordon’s return has not been what fans hoped it would be
Gordon missed the first four games of the season holding out for improvements to his contract. One would assume that if he was requesting this large sum of money, he’d be worth it. 18 rushing yards Sunday night does not qualify as “worth it.” Pittsburgh’s defense is not as mighty as it once was. They are firmly in the middle of the pack for rushing yards allowed. This means Gordon should have run all over them. The last time Gordon faced them was in 2015, just five games into his rookie season, as he was injured when they two teams faced off last year. He had a decent amount of success with 42 rushing yards and 52 receiving yards in that 2015 contest.
In his first week back this year, he had a mere 31 rushing yards against the Broncos, which does not qualify as “worth it,” either. With no touchdowns in either game, it seems Gordon might have been better off doing what Le’Veon Bell did and sitting out the whole season. The performances he is putting up are not helping negotiations for next year; in fact, he is probably making matters worse.
Hunter Henry has been a serious missing piece
The lone bright spot of the night was Hunter Henry, who left the field Week 1 with just under a minute left on the clock with a tibial plateau fracture. Luckily, the injury healed rather quickly as he only missed a month this season, compared to the whole season he missed last year with a torn ACL. Henry caught the only two touchdowns the Chargers scored Sunday and had 100 yards receiving. His absence has been felt on the field for two reasons.
First, as a receiver, he is often open as teams tend to double up on Keenan Allen and Mike Williams. They are Rivers’s best and most well-known weapons. Allen and Williams had 33 and 72 yards, respectively, against the Steelers. Combined, they put up five more yards than Henry.
Second, Rivers love his tight ends. It was no secret that when Antonio Gates was on the field, he was Rivers’s security blanket. Third down passes went to Gates. Rivers in trouble? He went to Gates. He seems to be forming a similar bond with Henry as the other tight ends that filled in this season did not have the same effect. Now if Rivers only threw as well to everyone else as he does to Henry.
This is not the same team from the 2018 season
The thing is, the Chargers were supposed to be a threat this season. They had the second-best record in the AFC in 2018. They only got the fifth seed because Kansas City beat them in Week 1. Hopes were high for this season with all players set to return and key players Joey Bosa and Hunter Henry were due back.
2019 did not start off as expected. It’s been apparent that L.A. has struggled this season … but still, the other three losses could have been explained. The Detroit Lions are a surprisingly strong team this year. The Houston Texans are one of the strongest teams in the AFC. The Denver Broncos are division rivals and are harder to beat because of that.
Yet, the Chargers lost to the undrafted, third-string quarterback of the Steelers in his first ever start. Not to take away from Delvin Hodges’s performance, but a good amount of his success came from his running backs. Hodges only threw for 132 yards. Rivers threw for 320. There is no amount of reasoning that can explain that loss. The Chargers are now firmly in third place in their division with little hopes of digging themselves out of that hole. Rivers had the second-highest completion rate of his career last season and, if Sunday was any indication, he will not be setting the same tone this year.
The running game has some serious flaws, meaning Rivers throws the ball more, which means more chances for interceptions and turnovers. In turn, the defense spends more time on the field because the offensive is going three-and-out (or worse). The Chargers have a lot to fix and they have the last possible bye week, Week 12. This may not be a season they can save.