The Chargers featured a number of stand out performances in their loss to the Saints, but who takes home the game ball?
In week one of the Game Ball series, quarterback Tyrod Taylor was the obvious choice. This week the choice was not so clear. There were several players who deserved mention. On defense, Jerry Tillery made his Chargers debut and played great, recording his first sack and several run stops. Uchenna Nwosu continued his stellar preseason play before leaving with an injury. Andre Patton and Artavis Scott both had very good games as well, each recording four catches. That being said, today’s game against the New Orleans Saints was about two players: Quarterback Cardale Jones and running back/returner Troymaine Pope.
When I attended practice at Chargers Camp last Saturday, Pope was someone who stood out in a big way. That day he was first in line as the return man, which continued today. It started to become clear that not only did he have a good chance to make the roster, he could even push fellow running back Detrez Newsome out of a job. However, Newsome could certainly carve out a role as bruising red zone back in Melvin Gordon’s absence.
Pope, on the other hand, has very quick feet and is an extremely shifty running back, which he further proved today. He could give offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt another versatile weapon to use in the passing game, and against the Saints he caught four passes for 18 yards on five targets.
Pope brought the house down before the first half ended by fielding a punt and taking it 85 yards to the house (shout out to Drue Tranquill for that awesome block to seal the deal). Many Chargers fans might not be familiar with Pope, but he made his name known very quickly. He showed his electric talent today, and should he continue showing his skills as a return man he would prove to be a huge value for the team. The battle for the Chargers’ return specialist is ongoing, and the Chargers do have options as Travis Benjamin, Desmond King, and Scott also have plenty of experience in this regard. But it’s safe to say that Pope now has the sentimental vote, at least from a fans’ perspective, should the team consider having King focus more on defense.
Although this (made up) reward typically will be reserved for a single Chargers player throughout the season, I would be remiss if I did not mention backup quarterback Cardale Jones. The first-team offense had the opposite performance of last week’s strong showing against the Cardinals and opened the game looking sluggish. The offensive unit needed a spark, and surprisingly, it came in the form of Jones. Over the years, he has left much to be desired, but for whatever reason that all changed today as Jones had his best game as a member of the Chargers. He looked very poised in the pocket, more than he ever has in three years. He established a rhythm early and played with a confidence fans haven’t seen since he was leading the Ohio State Buckeyes to a college championship. He repeatedly connected with Patton, and threw a beautiful deep ball to him for a touchdown.
He finished the day going 10-14 for 111 yards, including the touchdown to Patton, and a quarterback rating of 118. He also showed good mobility in the pocket, hitting a number of throws on the run. He even gained a crucial first down on a nine-yard carry. A week after he looked overwhelmed yet again, Jones showed out in a big way today.
Both Pope and Jones have potentially made the coaching staff’s job of roster cuts that much more difficult. Though neither is expected to take on a significant role this season, each has now given themselves a much greater chance of making the roster. Considering neither were strong considerations for the initial 53-man roster before the preseason, a game like this was a win for both. Let’s see if either can hang on to a job over the next two weeks.