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Season in review: a tough stretch

Posted Jan 12, 2012

This is the second of a three-part series reviewing the 2011 season. The Chargers did not play well in the middle portion of the schedule, dropping six consecutive games.

SAN DIEGO – A promising start turned into a difficult six-game losing streak after the bye, a stretch marked by injuries, close calls and key mistakes.

San Diego’s longest losing streak since 2001 did not eliminate the Bolts, but knocked the team out of the playoffs by all practical reasoning as the Chargers went 8-2 the rest of the season with road losses against playoff teams New England and Detroit.

A win in any of the six games would’ve been enough for a playoff berth.

The Chargers blew an 11-point halftime lead at the New York Jets, lost overtime games against division rivals Kansas City and Denver, gave the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers too much help and didn’t fare well in a brutal series of three games in 11 days.

The Oct. 31 meeting against the Chiefs began to materialize as the reverse version of the Jets loss, with San Diego overcoming deficits of 13-3 at halftime and 20-12 in the fourth quarter to tie the game. But the potential game-winning drive ended with a red zone turnover with less than one minute left, and Kansas City won in overtime.

Two early interceptions returned for touchdowns by the Packers made things even more difficult against a team in the middle of a 19-game winning streak, though the Chargers came within 32 yards of tying the game late in the fourth quarter.

Seven starters missed games during the drought, including Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman and Louis Vasquez on the offensive line, San Diego’s most accomplished player on defense in Shaun Phillips and starting receiver Malcom Floyd. Versatile backups Tyronne Green and Scott Mruczkowski represented the fourth and fifth offensive linemen to miss time.

The Chargers also turned the ball over six times in the fourth quarter during the streak, watching its one-game division lead dissolve into a three-game deficit.

The bruised roster had trouble with the Raiders on four days’ rest after facing Green Bay as McNeill, the left tackle, left the game due to injury in the first quarter. Little relief came 10 days later with a road game against one of the top teams in the NFC at the time in Chicago. The starting offensive line against the Bears, who were 6-3 at the time, included Brandyn Dombrowski, Mruczkowski and Stephen Schilling. Tony Moll replaced Mruczkowski after yet another injury beset San Diego’s line.

Just when it seemed the Chargers would end the streak and get to 5-6, still in the thick of the AFC West race, Denver and Tim Tebow completed a 10-point comeback and won in overtime when San Diego missed a 48-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter and a potential game-winner from 53 yards in the extra session.

Head Coach Norv Turner kept San Diego from giving up playoff hope when things looked bleak, setting up a strong final month. The Chargers lost by a touchdown or less in five of the six games and never stopped being competitive.

“We’ve still got a chance,” Eric Weddle said after the loss to Denver. “The old saying, (from) Dumb and Dumber, ‘So you’re saying there’s a chance.’ We’re down but we’re not out. We’ll keep working and keep believing.”

SCORES

New York Jets 27, San Diego 21
Kansas City 23, San Diego 20, OT
Green Bay 45, San Diego 38
Oakland 24, San Diego 17
Chicago 31, San Diego 20
Denver 16, San Diego 13, OT

KEY MOMENTS

Donald Butler keyed a strong first half against the New York Jets on Oct. 23, ripping the ball from tight end Dustin Keller and returning it 37 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive. The Chargers built a 21-10 lead, but could not hold it after halftime.

Philip Rivers fumbled a snap for maybe the first time in his career as the Chargers positioned themselves for a short game-winning field goal on Halloween night at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs recovered and the Chargers lost in overtime.

Nick Novak executed more than one successful onside kick this season, but the one recovered by Darrell Stuckey in the fourth quarter against Green Bay turned the game into a thriller. It set up back-to-back Vincent Jackson touchdowns in a span of one minute, seven seconds. The Chargers’ defense forced two punts the rest of the game and San Diego nearly completed a comeback after falling behind 45-24 in the fourth quarter to a team that finished 15-1.

• After McNeill left the game against Oakland, it left San Diego without two Pro Bowl starters on the left side of its line (Dielman). Kamerion Wimbley took advantage of their absence with four sacks as Rivers faced a deluge of pressure.

• San Diego’s pass defense gave up 13 touchdowns against four interceptions but limited opposing quarterbacks to 234.8 passing yards per game and did not allow a 300-yard passer in the losses. Shonn Greene, Michael Bush and Willis McGahee all had 100-yard rushing games.

STUDS

Antwan Barnes made the first four starts of his NFL career. He recorded four sacks and 21 tackles during that stretch and played better against the run than some expected.

• Rookie receiver Vincent Brown showed promise, combining for nine catches, 176 yards and one touchdown against Green Bay and Oakland. He also made his first four NFL starts.

• Vincent Jackson had just one catch against the Jets and Raiders, but exploded against the Packers and Bears for a combined 14 receptions, 306 yards and four touchdowns.

Antonio Gates caught between four and eight passes in every game during the streak, along with four touchdowns.

INJURIES

• Dielman suffered a concussion against the Jets and missed the rest of the season.

• McNeill joined Dielman on Injured-Reserve after being carted off the field against Oakland with a neck injury.

• Mruczkowski also sustained a concussion against Chicago and missed the rest of the season.

• Green (hand) and Vasquez (ankle) both missed games against Chicago and Denver.

• Floyd (hip) and Phillips (foot) missed four games.

Steve Gregory (shoulder) did not play against Oakland.

Larry English (foot) went on Reserve-Injured after the Jets game and missed the rest of the season.

Ryan Mathews (multiple injuries) missed time against Denver and Kansas City and did not play against Green Bay.

Mike Tolbert (hamstring) also missed the Chiefs game.

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