Younghoe Koo single-handedly loses the game for the Chargers in the home Opener. Here are top 5 takeaways from the game.
I’m sort of at a loss of words right now. I truly don’t know how to sum up everything I saw without focusing on the last play. But let’s start there and work our way through everything else.
1. We have to cut Younghoe Koo, or at least sign a kicker to challenge him.
I said that when final cuts came around, cutting Josh Lambo in favor of rookie Younghoe Koo was a good move. I’m sorry, I was wrong. This was a defensive, old-school football game. It came down to the kickers. Cody Parkey was spectacular. Meanwhile, Koo missed two critical field goals in the first and fourth quarters. We should’ve won 23-19. We didn’t. They weren’t terribly far field goals either (41 and 44 yards, respectively).
I really don’t know what the problem with Koo is. He was, by all accounts, an amazing kicker in college and an All-American. And apparently, he did good enough in the coaching staff’s eyes to beat out Lambo for the starting job. Maybe it’s nerves, lack of experience, a combination of the two, I don’t know; but we have to move on. This team played two close, winnable games. In an alternate universe, we are 2-0. We simply cannot allow Koo to cost us games any longer, considering we are now in a two-game hole in the AFC West.
2. Other than that…
I thought the Chargers played a really good, balanced game on offense and defense. The NFL is all about scrappy defensive games, even though that’s not quite what I expected for this game going in. It’s just a shame that a defense that plays at its best and holds Miami to Parkey field goals practically all game can’t get a win.
The offense was passing down the field pretty well. Philip Rivers had some nice connections throughout the game with Hunter Henry, Tyrell Williams and Keenan Allen. Even when the running game didn’t work, Melvin Gordon got some action in the passing game with well-run screen plays.
3. Antonio Gates does make history, albeit in bittersweet fashion.
When I sat down to write this piece on Sunday night, I nearly forgot about Antonio Gates’ historic touchdown to put him past Tony Gonzalez for the most TDs by a tight end in NFL history, primarily because of how the game ended. But it’s pretty amazing to think that Gates was at one time an undrafted free agent who primarily played basketball in his college career at Kent St. What an amazing athlete and an even better person.
He and Rivers are the only remnants of some of the Chargers’ great mid-2000’s teams that had some pretty great success. It will be a shame if Gates does retire without a Super Bowl ring, even if he is an absolute lock to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. It’s a shame that Antonio Gates wasn’t the first bullet point on here with how the game transpired.
4. Defense looked better, pressuring Jay Cutler quite often.
The defense definitely stepped up from last week in Denver. That’s some kind of silver lining to this tough loss. They sacked Jay Cutler on a number of occasions and forced him out of the pocket often. Ingram really set the tone, similar to last week in Denver. He’s proven himself to potentially be the leader of that defense, at least in my eyes.
While Jay Ajayi did have a very good game, we did prevent him from getting monster gains down the field, and we did keep him out of the end zone. Defense kept the scoring down overall, with a “bend don’t break” type of mentality.
5. Death, taxes and Philip Rivers having to drive down the field with 1-2 timeouts in one minute.
The Chargers always seem to pace games so perfectly in a way that requires Rivers to drive the length of the field for a game-tying or go-ahead field goal or TD. It’s a bad trend to have this continuously happen in every game. While a lot can still be pinned on Koo as far as blame is concerned in my opinion, I think the team as a whole has to figure out some of their pacing issues to make games more winnable.
Rivers can do his best to not turn over the ball and play mistake-free football. And sometimes that just isn’t enough for a team that has poor special teams. I could tell you about how the Chargers have gone 2-9 in games decided by three points or fewer since the beginning of 2015 and how we shouldn’t be as bad as our record is, but at some point we just have to get it done. And having to depend on a kicker or always depend on Rivers in the last minute to get something done with no time left doesn’t always work.
It’s disappointing to lose easily winnable games by way of bad special teams. At some point though, we just have to get better. Whether the solution is grabbing a new kicker or improving special teams somehow, we just have to acknowledge that the kicking situation isn’t working out. Instead of focusing on how we should be 1-1 or 2-0, we have to fix the kicking situation as well as the inconsistent run game.
The other problem is that the schedule doesn’t particularly let up at this point. We play the Chiefs in what’s effectively a must-win game next week to avoid going 0-3. Will it be a close contest? For sure. I simply do not trust the kicking unit to get it done if we play a similar defensive, physical game like we did vs. Denver and Miami.
But we’ll just have to see how the team improves in some crucial areas. I seriously wish we capped off the Gates moment with a W.