When Ryan Mathews made a magnificent dive into the end zone, San Diego led 24-14 in the third quarter against an 0-4 Saints team. A Chargers team that has a laughable reputation for starting slow seemingly every season seemed poised to move to 4-1.
The Broncos lost earlier Sunday and are 2-3. The Chiefs and Raiders each have one win. If the Chargers wanted a chance to be one of the fast starters in the NFL, and take control of the AFC West, this was it.
It didn't happen. For the Norv Turner-led Chargers, it's always something.
Against the Saints' defense, which gave up 130 points in its first four games, the Chargers suddenly couldn't move the ball for the second half, and the Saints came back to win 31-24. San Diego's offense didn't score after Mathews gave the Chargers that 10-point lead with a little more than 12 minutes left in the third quarter. The long passes that worked in the first half weren't available anymore. It didn't stop San Diego from trying.
Oddly, Mathews got only 12 carries, and just one rushing attempt in the final 22 minutes of the game, even though the Chargers should have been protecting a lead and Mathews looked explosive. He rushed for 80 yards and had 59 more receiving, and proved a highlight play with his head-first leap into the end zone.
Philip Rivers had two turnovers in the fourth quarter. The first was an interception by safety Roman Harper on a deep pass, and Harper's long return set up a Saints field goal. When Rivers was strip-sacked with 14 seconds left and the Saints recovered, it completed a collapse that Chargers fans are quite used to.
On the other side, the Saints needed this win. They looked lost and hapless as the Chargers built that lead, but Drew Brees' 370 yards and four touchdowns on a night he set an NFL record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass got the Saints their first win of the season. And while the San Diego offense looked like it had no coherent plan in the second half, the Saints did cause the Chargers to make some mistakes by finally playing some strong defense.
The Chargers could regret this loss, which keeps the Broncos just a game behind in the division. Even after a pretty good September, aside from a blowout loss at home to the Falcons, the Chargers always seem to get in their own way.