The first three quarters looked like the dawn of a new day for the San Diego Chargers. The second half brought back a darkness, all too strangely familiar to the locals.
In new head coach Mike McCoy's debut, the Chargers blew a 24-point lead in the final 20-plus minutes to fall to the Houston Texans, 31-28, on a last-second field goal.
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Norv Turner is gone — he can't be blamed for this one. But some old foes, including special-teams gaffes and Philip Rivers mistakes, reared their ugly heads once again.
The Chargers were rolling in the first half, and loaded up the lead to 28-7 as Rivers was dealing, throwing four TD passes. But there were two key turning points in the loss.
After Arian Foster dropped a third-down pass that set up a Texans field-goal attempt with Houston down 28-14, the Chargers were flagged for a rare unnecessary roughness penalty on Cam Thomas for hitting the center during the kick. Instead of a 28-17 score, the Texans got the ball back on offense and one play later cut the deficit to seven with a touchdown pass from Matt Schaub, who was great most of the night, to Owen Daniels. Yet another in a long line of special-teams gaffes in San Diego, although, to be fair, the call seemed to be a little strange and touchy.
Then Rivers completed his meltdown after the hot start. He telegraphed a pass in the flat two drives later that Texans linebacker Brian Cushing intercepted with a ridiculous diving play, which he run back for the score that tied the game.
At this point, nearly everyone in the building knew what was happening: The Chargers were blowing yet another huge lead at home. Remember the 24-point comeback by the Broncos there last season? This one felt very much the same.
Schaub drove the team down the field on a nine-play drive in the final 5:37 and capped off the game — and a wild Week 1 in the NFL — with a Randy Bullock field goal to win it.
Nearly all of our preconceived notions about these teams coming in were in serious doubt well into the second half. But by the end, we felt the same as we did several hours before: The Texans remain a favorite in the AFC and the Chargers, until further notice, seem haunted by some old familiar ghosts.