Here are five top lessons learned from the Chargers' 24-21 loss to the Denver Broncos:
1. Heart and Grit – Philip Rivers was asked after the game if suffering a tough loss at the buzzer was eerily reminiscent to last season. As the quarterback noted, that couldn't be further from the truth. A year ago, the Bolts found ways to lose games they were ahead in the final quarter. This time, the Chargers showed heart and grit, storming back from 17 points down to give themselves a chance to head into overtime. Yes, having a field goal at the end of the game is a heartbreaking way to lose, and the team knows they must play with more energy and urgency earlier in the game. Still, the quarterback is encouraged by the way the 2017 Chargers showed heart:
"Some of the close losses last season, we were terrible. Some of those close losses were just bad football. We're there, we're there, we're there and then just some critical error (happened). Obviously, you never like to get a field goal blocked but there were other plays in this game. It wasn't, 'Gosh, they just went out there and played terribly.'— We fought, we battled, and it was a heck of a game to watch for those who weren't asleep or didn't turn it off when it was 24-7. We scrapped and clawed—we've always done that since 2004, 2005, 2006 and all the way back. If I can help contribute, we'll always have that as a characteristic."
2. Short-Yardage Stalls – Success in short-yardage situations usually dictates the outcome of a game. True to form, the Chargers' struggles to convert on third and fourth down, particularly when needing only a few yards to move the sticks, proved costly. L.A. was just 3-for-12 on third down, converting at a 25-percent clip while Denver went 8-for-15 (53-percent). The Bolts failed to convert a fourth-and-one in the fourth quarter as Melvin Gordon got hit behind the line of scrimmage shortly after taking the handoff. While Rivers acknowledged Denver's home field advantage was tough to deal with, he wasn't making any excuses for the offense:
"I think (noise) can (interfere) when you're getting three-and-outs and three-and-outs and three-and-outs—when you're not getting first downs, it can. Because it's, here we go it's third-and-six, if you get a chance you better convert it. You're going to sit for a while and then go—it's not very complementary."
3. Miscues and Mistakes – A false-start on the first play of the game. Missed assignments. Dropped passes and interceptions. Players often replay their own miscues after a loss, and there were plenty of Chargers in the locker room pointing to their own mistakes in Denver. Casey Hayward could have had a pick-six with the game knotted at zero, but instead, dropped the easy interception. A few plays later, Trevor Siemian hit Bennie Fowler for a TD. Joe Barksdale put the onus on himself for a miscommunication on a crucial fourth down mistake. As Keenan Allen explained after the game, a failure to execute doomed them in the end:
"We kept shooting ourselves in the foot. We had one or two bad plays every drive, going backwards. We'll have to go in and watch it and look at it on film and see what we have to correct…It's the execution. We've got to execute better and make the plays that we're supposed to make early."
4. Ingram and Bosa Live Up to the Hype – The Chargers' furious comeback attempt wouldn't have been possible without the play of Melvin Ingram and Joey Bosa. Both men terrorized Siemian throughout the game, finishing with 1.5 sacks each. Ingram added a game-high four QB hits and four tackles while Bosa had six tackles, one tackle for loss and two QB hits. After the game, Rivers lamented the offense not being able to take advantage of the defense's strong efforts down the stretch, nor their ability to give them a breather:
"Our defense was able to sustain some long drives and we weren't helping our D out by sustaining anything ourselves."
5. Running Game Commitment – One way to do that is to establish a ground attack. It looked like they were on their way early as Melvin Gordon churned out a 21-yard run on the first carry of the game. Unfortunately, the run game got bottled up from that point forward as the Bolts averaged a meager 2.9 yards per carry. Head Coach Anthony Lynn vowed to get the ground game on track going forward, believing the team got away from it too early:
"I feel like earlier, we were running the ball and at some point in there, we got away from it a little bit. We got behind by a couple of scores and I think we could have been a little more patient. I should have been more patient there. Instead of trying to catch up, I should have stayed true to the run game. That would have worn down the defense I think."