Still hard to say if Chargers are for real, despite Thursday night romp
Watching the San Diego Chargers is an exercise in frustration. A hand-wringing, eyebrow-raising experience that just leaves you wondering how the Chargers can be so maddeningly inconsistent.
And that's when they win.
San Diego's first drive in a 31-13 romp over the hapless Chiefs on Thursday night was clinical. The Chargers took the opening kickoff and marched 80 yards on seven plays, with Philip Rivers delivering a pinpoint pass to Seyi Ajirotutu and then a pair to Antonio Gates, the second of which resulted in a touchdown.
A couple of hours later, after the Chiefs pulled within 10-6 late in the third quarter, the Chargers carved up K.C.'s defense with an eight-play drive that featured seven straight runs and, finally, a TD pass from Rivers to Malcom Floyd.
Add in a pair of defensive touchdowns and the now 4-4 Chargers had the look of a team that could compete for an AFC West title.
But we've been down this road before, haven't we?
Even Thursday, before they sealed down their victory, the Chargers had to first get out of their own way. Rivers took points off the board late in the first half by throwing an egregious end-zone interception and Eric Weddle fumbled away a punt in the third quarter.
The Chargers could be very good ... if only they weren't so bad on occasion.
"We know how good we can be," Mathews told the NFL Network after the game. "We let some games slide and beat ourselves."
Of course, part of figuring out this game's result is deciding how much blame to lay on the Chiefs.
My word, those Chiefs.
They fell to 1-7 on the season with this loss and (if it wasn't true, I wouldn't believe it) have still not led at any point during a game this season. With each passing week, their lone win over New Orleans -- won on an overtime field goal -- becomes more and more unfathomable.
The Chiefs trailed by 18 points in that game. In the second half. On the road.
How ridiculous does that comeback look now? When the Chargers' defense put up its second touchdown Thursday, that matched the Chiefs' total TD output over their past four games. A late, meaningless Shaun Draughn scoring run broke that dubious tie, but you get the idea.
If not for Kansas City's Week 2 win, we'd be talking about the possibility of this team joining the 2008 Detroit Lions in 0-16 infamy.
As it is, the Chiefs have eight games left to decide which of their current pieces can help turn things around in 2013. QB Matt Cassel's role feels increasingly in jeopardy, as does the safety of coach Romeo Crennel's job.
San Diego's Norv Turner knows all about being on the hot seat. Heck, he's probably there right now, even as he continues to roll off the chopping block each offseason.
The difference between his situation and Crennel's, currently, is that Turner's team, for all its warts, is just a half-game back in the AFC West and remains very much in the postseason discussion.
"The message is just keep on playing, you never know what's going to happen," defensive end Shaun Phillips said. "The bottom line is this: We get paid to play 16 games, so we'll go out and play 16 games and see what happens in the end."
So, which Chargers team are we going to get for the last eight weeks of the season?
There is no way to answer that without knowing how Rivers will play on a week-in, week-out basis.
Against the Chiefs on Thursday, he hit on 18-of-20 passes -- a 90-percent completion rate, breaking Drew Brees' previous franchise record of 88 percent (minimum 20 attempts). Both of his touchdown passes were brilliant, dropped exactly where only Rivers' receivers could make the grabs.
Rivers' job becomes much easier when San Diego's ground game operates the way it did in that fourth-quarter scoring drive. Before Rivers hit Floyd for six, Ryan Mathews, Jackie Battle and Ronnie Brown chewed up 67 yards on seven carries -- with 31 yards coming from Mathews on the first play of the possession.
"With Philip, how he plays, if the run game gets going," Mathews said, "Philip feeds off that and the entire team gets going."
Getting going is one thing. Maintaining some semblance of positive momentum is another.
The Chargers have reached the halfway point of their season with the AFC West title well within their grasp. Can they keep their act together long enough to get the job done?