There was a familiar feeling in the buildup for the Divisional Round clash between the San Diego Chargers and Denver Broncos on Sunday, but that was where the similarities to their first two clashes in the regular season ended.
These two AFC West foes are very familiar with one another, but the rubber match was a complete reversal of their previous meetings from this season. After controlling the time of possession and running the ball successfully in both meetings against the Broncos earlier in the year, San Diego deferred to Denver’s dominance in terms of the clock on Sunday. They topped the Broncos 38:03 to 21:57 in the first matchup and 38:49 to 21:11 in their second meeting, yet this game was quite the opposite.
It was clear Peyton Manning and the Broncos set out to prevent the Bolts from hanging onto the ball and keeping his potent off of the field this time around. Manning was methodical in his approach by dissecting the San Diego defense with ease en route to his Broncos holding the ball for a lopsided 35:27 to 24:33 in terms of time of possession.
Though the time of possession disparity certainly didn’t aid the Chargers’ cause in this one, perhaps the bigger issue was the ridiculously slow start of the offense. One of the NFL’s hottest offensive coordinator names in terms of a future head coaching hire, Ken Whisenhunt, was ultra-conservative in the first three quarters of play in terms of play-calling as the Bolts managed a mere 79 total yards in those first three quarters with zero points to show for it.
Things certainly turned around once quarterback Philip Rivers was given the liberty to actually throw the ball to a wide receiver in the final quarter of action. Rookie Keenan Allen was extremely clutch with two touchdowns to get the Bolts back within a score by the time the game ended, but ultimately that was too little, too late for the team’s chances of moving on. Those 79 total yards in the first three quarters were more than doubled by the 180 the team put up in the finishing 15 minutes of play.
This really begs the question of why one of the so-called hottest commodities on the coaching market would wait so long to open the game up. The same thing happened in the Wild-Card battle with the Cincinnati Bengals just last week, but in that game the Chargers managed to right the ship in time to emerge victorious. The lack of adjustments early enough to salvage a victory this week in a critical game against an opponent the team managed mild success against already this season seems to suggest a coaching deficiency of some kind.
Most would agree that the Chargers were playing with house money in this game against a team heavily favored by many to play in the Super Bowl in February, but the Bolts really had a great opportunity to move on had they only showed up a bit earlier. Instead they played right into the Broncos’ hands with a lackluster game plan that really ended a somewhat miraculous season on a bit of a sour note.