Drew Brees returned to Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday for the first time since injuring his shoulder in the season finale of the 2005 Chargers season.
He left healthy, and with a win this time.
This was expected to be a shootout between two of the NFL’s best quarterbacks against two of the NFL’s worst defenses, and that’s exactly how the game unfolded on Sunday.
More importantly though, the game unfolded as it always does: in heart-breaking, gut-wrenching, never-before-seen fashion.
The Chargers blew a fourth quarter lead, a 13-point lead to be exact, and lost to the New Orleans Saints 35-34.
“It seems like each loss we say, ‘I don’t know if it can get any tougher than that,’” Philip Rivers said. “Then somehow we find a way to top each one. This one is really unlike any other than I can remember in the way it happened.”
So, how does this continue to happen?
“Mistakes, bad decisions,” Mike McCoy said. “It starts with me as the head coach. Everything falls on me. I’m the head football coach here. I did a terrible job. But we can’t turn the ball over, we can’t make poor decisions in the kicking game.”
With just under seven minutes remaining in the game, and the Chargers up by 13, the Saints elected to punt on fourth down.
It was a gutsy move, but one that nonetheless worked in the Saints favor.
Melvin Gordon fumbled on the Chargers first play after the Saints’ punt, giving New Orleans the ball at San Diego’s own 13-yard line. On fourth-and-two from the five-yard line, Brees found Michael Thomas in the end zone for the touchdown.
After the extra point, the Chargers lead was cut to six with 4:50 to go.
All San Diego had to do was sustain a decent drive and run the clock out.
Instead, Travis Benjamin fumbled on a short pass over the middle from Philip Rivers on the Chargers first play of their next drive. The Saints recovered, again, and took over at the 31-yard line.
Brees, as expected, promptly led the Saints on a seven-play, 31-yard touchdown drive that killed 2:51 off the clock and gave New Orleans a one-point lead with 1:57 remaining.
Starting from the 25-yard line, the Chargers had one timeout to get into field goal range. Instead, Rivers was sacked on the first play for a five-yard loss, a bad snap led to a fumble/recovery by Rivers for a seven-yard loss on the next, putting the Chargers at third-and-22 on their own 13-yard line.
An incompletion and interception sealed it for New Orleans.
And just like that, the Chargers fell to 1-3 by blowing another fourth quarter lead in a game they should have won.
“You try to laugh to keep from crying, literally,” Rivers said. “You kind of throw your hands up and say, “what in the world just happened?’ This will be a time we have to grow closer together and stay together tight…
“You really find out what kind of guys you have during these times. When you win games everybody is a good teammate. When you lose like this, you see if the locker room scatters. It never has in 12 seasons so I don’t expect it will now.”
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)