|Philip Rivers (left) and Ryan Matthews show their dejection in Sunday's 27-3 loss to the Falcons. (AP)|
The Falcons (3-0) and the Chargers (2-1) will both be in first place as Week 3 concludes, but one team looked like a Super Bowl contender on Sunday and the other a pretender. The Falcons completely dominated en route to a 27-3 victory. The Chargers play brought back haunting memories of last season when they lost six straight.
The Falcons defense continued to dominate with four more turnovers, two interceptions and two fumble recoveries in the red zone. Their offense was even better than advertised because it was balanced for the first time in this young season. QB Matt Ryan threw for 275 yards and three touchdowns, while the running game compiled 119 yards and a touchdown.
The Chargers played poorly in every facet of the game that they struggled in during their six game slide a year ago. The O-line was porous although QB Philip Rivers was only sacked once. Points were left on the field with costly fumbles deep in the red zone and the defense couldn’t get off the field on third downs. The Falcons offense converted 8-of-13 (62%) third down opportunities.
Coach Norv Turner refused to compare the mistakes against the Falcons to last year’s failures. “This isn’t last year’s team,” Turner said. “It’s a totally different team.”
Rivers had his own outlook on the Chargers performance. “[The mistakes] are similar in every loss,” Rivers said. “When you lose this is what happens. This loss is no different than any of the 50 losses we have had since I have been here. The score is different, but you lose because you turn it over. You lose because you didn’t play well.”
The loss marked the first time in 151 consecutive regular season games that the Chargers did not score a touchdown, a streak that pre-dated Rivers (2004-present). The last time San Diego was held out of the end zone was on November 24, 2002 when the Dolphins beat them 30-3 in Miami. “I think that is where this game stands out differently,” Rivers said.
When the game turned: Down 6-0, the Chargers had an opportunity to take the lead in the second quarter when RB Ryan Mathews fumbled and the ball was recovered by Atlanta on their 4-yard line. Falcons QB Matt Ryan then led his team on a 96 yard drive which was capped off by a TE Tony Gonzalez 7-yard TD. The Chargers defense allowed four third down conversions on the 7:59 minute drive.
Turner saved time on the clock by calling timeouts towards the end of the drive and the Chargers got the ball back with 2:32 remaining in the half. QB Philip Rivers, however, got flushed from the pocket on a 3rd and five and through up a duck pass that was intercepted on by S Thomas DeCoud on the Chargers 29-yard line. Four plays later, Ryan found WR Julio Jones for a 9-yard TD.
Rivers also cited this 9:30 portion of the game as the turning point. “Our third possession we drove 85 yards and ended in a turnover,” Rivers said. “Our fourth possession, we went 6 yards and it ended in a turnover. When we got it back the fifth time it was 20-0. That’s why I point to the turnovers. Those two turnovers in that sequence, they killed us.”
Highlight moments: RB Michael Turner put the game out of reach with a 7-yard touchdown run midway through the fourth quarter. It was Turner’s third consecutive run with carries of 7 and 18 yards on the preceding plays.
Top-shelf performances: Ryan completed 30 of 40 passes for 274 yards and three TDs with one interception for a passer rating 107.8. TE Tony Gonzalez had nine receptions for 91 yards and one touchdown. RB Michael Turner rushed for 80 yards on 14 attempts (5.7 per carry) and one touchdown. DeCoud had two interceptions, one fumble recovery and three passes defensed.
Head scratcher: Turner elected to punt despite being down 27-3 with 6:41 remaining in the game. It was fourth and five from the Chargers 36-yard line and a failed conversion would have given the Falcons great field position, but the punt was an early wave of the white flag.
What they said:
Mathews on his fumble: “I was pushing for more yards and when I was going down to get a little extra the ball came out in front of me. Stuff like that happens and I just have to learn to go down instead of trying to get the extra yard.”
Turner on Mathews fumble: “Obviously, we need to get him to a point where he secures the ball every play. He’s capable of doing it. We just have to get him to the point where he does it on each play.
Turner on 3rd down defense: “I think they are real good on 3rd downs. They’ve got good matchups and we weren’t able to get pressure.”
Ryan on third down success: “I thought our guys just battled. Everyone was tired, offense and defense. We just kept pushing. We were able to get the ball in the end zone. That was huge right before the half.”
Numbers you should know: TE Antonio Gates (600) had three receptions to become the fifth TE and the 59th player overall in NFL history to have 600 career catches. P Mike Scifres (503) had four punts. Last week, he landed his 200th punt of his career inside the 20-yard line for a 39.8 percent average. Among NFL punters with at least 500 punts, Scifres is now the leading punter for average inside the 20. Dustin Colquitt (208 of 582, 35.7 average) falls to second.
Injury update: No injuries were reported for the Charges during the game and Turner said he did not expect anyone would miss practice next week based on the game.
Going forward: Next Sunday, the Chargers will travel to take on an AFC West foe in the Chiefs (1-2) who should be a confident team after an exciting come from behind win over the Saints (0-3). The Falcons will be home against the Panthers (1-2) for their first NFC South opponent.
Follow Chargers reporter Dan McLellan on Twitter @CBSChargers and @sandiegosports.