It wasn’t pretty, but the Chargers found a way to overcome an 18-point deficit to defeat the Detroit Lions 33-28 in the first game of the regular season. It was San Diego’s largest ever comeback at Qualcomm Stadium.
On “White Hot Sunday”, the Chargers scored 30 unanswered points over the final three quarters. But the tide didn’t turn until late.
With just under 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter and San Diego driving, quarterback Philip Rivers found Ladarius Green across the middle for the go-ahead 13-yard touchdown, giving the Chargers their first lead of the game. Green, who was listed as questionable before Sunday’s game after suffering a concussion during practice last Wednesday, finished with a career-high five catches for 75 yards.
Had he not played, it would have been a big blow for the Chargers with Antonio Gates suspended for the first four games.
“It was a big game for me and I did it for (Gates),” Green said. “He has been coaching me up ever since he found out what happened. He kept telling me to go out there and be myself and play my game. That is what I went out and tried to do.”
Although without Gates, the Chargers welcomed back another key component of their offense. Running back Danny Woodhead, who missed 13 games last season after breaking his ankle, capped off the Chargers improbable comeback win with a one-yard touchdown with under three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter.
“I am just trying to help the team out in any way I can,” said Woodhead, who also scored on a nine-yard touchdown run late in the second quarter. “We won the game, so I am happy. That’s the biggest thing.”
The offense struggled to get going in the first half but figured it out in the second. Philip Rivers overcame two terrible first-half interceptions, the first of which was returned 31-yards for a touchdown and the other on a dismal pass intended for Malcom Floyd in the end zone at the end of the second quarter, to cap off a memorable performance.
“A tale of two halves there,” Rivers said. “It couldn’t get much worse in that first half. We just couldn’t get going, and then when we did, we threw it to them. We just kept fighting on offense.”
Rivers tied Hall of Famer Dan Fouts’ team-record 254 touchdowns on the go-ahead strike to Green, and finished 35 of 42 passing for 404 yards and two touchdowns.
In a preview of what the Chargers offense could be like the rest of the season, wide receivers Keenan Allen and Stevie Johnson torched the Lions secondary all afternoon. Allen had a monster game, setting career-highs with 15 catches (tied for the single-game team-record) and 165 yards, while Johnson had an impressive debut, finishing with six receptions for 82 yards and a touchdown.
“We feed off each other,” Allen said of Johnson. “It’s going good.”
Melvin Gordon, who looked hesitant at times in the preseason, was everything but that in his NFL debut. He clawed, scratched, and fought relentlessly for yards at times, showing great promise for what could be a big year. The Chargers first round pick rushed for 51 yards on 14 attempts and caught three passes for 16 yards. He did have his first career fumble but it led to no harm.
Patrick Robinson intercepted Lions’ quarterback Mathew Stafford on the ensuing drive, returning it 27 yards to Detroit’s 16-yard line. The Chargers capitalized when Rivers connected with Johnson for a 12-yard score.
D.J. Fluker was carted off the field with an apparent left leg injury late in the third quarter. Head coach Mike McCoy did not have an update on his status after the game, although he was seen walking out of the locker room on crutches.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)