If the Chargers third quarter could be distilled into one play, it would be this circus catch by Antonio Gates. No one doubts the skill on display and I'm not about to be a person to call that luck. Gates is toe-to-toe with Tony Gonzalez for the best tight end of his generation, best tight end of any generation. It's not luck but neither is it bad coverage, bad defense or even really defensible. Sometimes, through sheer athletic talent, great players do the amazing.
San Diego benefited from a ton of close calls en route to totaling 455 gross passing yards. That's a big number, a bloated number, a total no defense wants to allow, but it's also a bit misleading. Seattle returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. It suffered a safety. That gave San Diego additional possessions, 14 in total, and that, and Seattle's lead for most of the game, forced Rivers into 57 pass attempts, including four sacks.
Rivers threw a ton of passes, completed 29 for 455 yards, but factoring his sacks and the projected value of his interceptions, his adjusted net yards per attempt for Sunday's game, 6.3 yards, was well below his season average, 7.8, well below his career average, 7.2, and well below his average performance in 2009, 8.3, and 2008, 8.0.
It wasn't an ideal showing from the Seahawks pass defense, but it didn't crumble and it did hold one of the league's best quarterback to a below average statistical performance.
- Chris Clemons started the Chargers second series of the third quarter with a run stuff, then pressure by Kentwan Balmer and Red Bryant forced an incomplete outlet pass to Mike Tolbert to put the Chargers in third and long.
- Clemons pressured and Brandon Mebane put a hand in Rivers face but Kelly Jennings blew coverage against Malcolm Floyd and Floyd received for 18 to keep the drive alive. Floyd proved a bit of a mismatch for Jennings. Jennings was close, and he made a few nice plays on the ball, but Floyd could bully him off a spot and consistently win position. Floyd's 97 yards receiving was the third highest of his five year career.
- One play later, Mebane tore through the middle and pressured Rivers into rolling out right. Patrick Crayton ran a middle-deep crossing pattern, and appeared free on the right. Seattle was in zone coverage andso I do not know for sure who dropped coverage and allowed Crayton to come free, but I think Walter Thurmond is a likely candidate. He was playing corner on the right and was caught watching Rivers and not covering anyone.
- Gates makes the aforementioned amazing catch.
- Will Herring attempts a blitz off right end and is thrown on his back by Tolbert. Both backs watch as Herring turtles, because both were assigned Herring and neither had another defender to block. Needless to say, Seattle does not generate much pressure. Luckily Rivers overthrows Gates incomplete.
- Colin Cole breaks up a screen pass.
- Tatupu attacks from right end and Clemons attacks from left and the two pincer Rivers and force him to ground the pass. The play is nullified because of a delay of game.
- Tatupu attacks from right end and Clemons attacks from left and the two pincer Rivers. Clemons sacks Rivers on an identical blitz with nearly identical results. Booo Norv Turner, not that I mind.
- Bates dials up that one play call where the quarterback play-fakes left, rolls right and finds a receiver cutting under the line and moving opposite the play fake, and it works, but Matt Hasselbeck overthrows Chris Baker incomplete.
- Jacques Cesaire attacks the left "B" gap, drawing Ben Hamilton and Tyler Polumbus. Antonio Garay attacks the right "A" gap, drawing Chris Spencer and Stacy Andrews. Brandon Siler blitzes through the exposed left "A" gap and sacks Hasselbeck for a safety. Spencer peels off his block in time to watch Siler, but it's not entirely clear who's at fault for the sack.
- After the play, Hasselbeck can be seen talking to Baker, and I'm not sure about what, but, and this pure speculation, I think it might have had something to do with Baker coming out his break quicker and offering Hasselbeck an outlet. Baker wasn't out of his pattern before Hasselbeck was wrapped and sacked, and he was presumably the hot read.
Chargers receive the post-safety punt.
- Mebane was out for most of this drive and when he appeared, he appeared gimpy.
- Balmer can generate pressure. Actually, after all the baggage Balmer carried with him from San Francisco, he has looked strong, active and disruptive for Seattle.
- He split a double team and pressured Rivers to force a throw away to start the Chargers drive.
- Then came the rush attack.
- First, a six yard gain on a safety blitz that Lawyer Milloy could not quite convert into a tackle. He slowed Tolbert and that helped, because the backside (right) cutback lane was wide open after Herring was knocked over.
- Seahawks rush six, double-"A" gap blitz, and Dexter Davis pressures but Rivers finds Gates on a speed out to the right for six and the first. It's debatable whether Jordan Babineaux dropped coverage, but he probably should have been on Gates a beat quicker.
- No pressure, Rivers finds Buster Davis wide open for 17.
- Second, a 13 yard rush in which Seattle's defensive tackles, Cole and Junior Siavii, are blown back and a massive hole appears between Siavii and Leo end Raheem Brock.
- Rivers boots right and throws the ball into the turf. Shades of Donovan McNabb.
- Bane makes his first appearance of the drive, but the rush attack continues. Brandon overextends forcing back Kris Dielman and Dielman gets the better of the exchange and drops Mebane to the turf. He gets up limping a little following the play. Mebane's failure is not the greater failure, but noteworthy because of who he is. Cole is dropped by a single block by center Nick Hardwick and that paves the way for a six yard gain.
- 12 men in the huddle, five yard penalty.
- Seahawks rush three, dropping Raheem Brock, Mebane sort of hovers around center, not pushing the pile and not looking like he intends to push the pile, but Clemons achieves pressure. Guy had a hell of a game. Rivers passes towards Floyd in the back right corner of the end zone, Earl Thomas flies into the throwing lane looking very much like he's about to pick it, but Thurmond retreats, jumps and tips the pass away.
- I can't blame Thurmond, but it's very possible his very good play, and it was -- aware, quick; III high pointed the pass and almost picked it himself -- may have cost Bad Bones an interception.
- Chargers kick a field goal to pull within five.
- Hamilton is ridden back by Antonio Garay and Forsett is stuffed after two. Something can definitely be said for bigger guards in the era of the 3-4. Ham Fighter is a heck of a warrior, good in space, a great zone blocking guard, but against the bigger tackles and ends of the NFL, he looks undersized and straining to win an oft unwinnable matchup.