Chargers coach Mike McCoy was working as an assistant for John Fox when the Broncos coach (then with the Panthers) said “a punt is not a bad play.”
Except, sometimes it is.
When the Chargers punted away to the Patriots trailing 23-14 with 6:19 to go, they may have given away the best/only chance they had to win the game.
Faced with a fourth-and-4 at the 50-yard line, the Chargers surrendered the ball, knowing they needed a two stops and two scores.
They lost more than four minutes and 30 yards in the process, and didn’t get a chance to make it matter, never moving the final score.
The conservative approach has served McCoy well in a global sense, as he built the Chargers into a clutch-and-grab team that can play with anybody in the AFC, thanks to a smart quarterback and a solid run game and defense.
They don’t have overwhelming talent on the edges, and Philip Rivers is better suited to performing meatball surgery than working in the pristine operating rooms Tom Brady is accustomed to performing in.
But for the Chargers to have a chance, their coach has to give them one. Sunday, McCoy, as smart as he is, didn’t.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. The whole Revis Island thing is real, and it works.
Patriots cornerback Darrelle Revis draped himself all over Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen, and kept him off the board for more than a half.
It was the third quarter before Allen was even targeted, and Revis was the sole reason for that.
Granted, Malcom Floyd’s touchdown catch was beautiful, and Antonio Gates is still a dangerous target. But without Allen, the Chargers offense is missing a key part.
2. Speaking of Patriots cornerbacks, Brandon Browner’s penalty in the third quarter which took an interception off the board was a bad call.
The combination of Browner’s track record and Ladarius Green’s head snapping backward like it was on the end of a rubber band made it look worse than it actually was.
And it was a big, hard hit. Also a legal one.
There was plenty of time to review that play before calling it a helmet-to-helmet hit, which it wasn’t, as Browner clearly got him with his shoulder.
Even though Green didn’t return to the game with a concussion, it doesn’t change the fact that the visceral reaction to the hit weighed more heavily on the refs than where it actually landed.
3. The 2-11 Titans couldn’t use linebacker Akeem Ayers.
The Super Bowl-contending Patriots are glad to have him.
Ayers came up with the redemptive interception in the third quarter, taking the refs off the hook for a botched call (see above).
And this isn’t to bang on the Titans, plenty of people have done that already.
But the beauty of Bill Belichick is the way he’s able to make odd parts fit his system, and to take undervalued commodities and make them more valuable than they were otherwise.
4. Boy, the way Tom Brady threw it right to Manti Te’o before halftime, it’s like he didn’t even see him.
Yeah, it’s a cheap joke. But it’s also reflective of the way Te’o has largely disappeared from our collective consciousness since he entered the league with the specter of a fake dead girlfriend hanging over his head.
It’s a shame we made so much of Te’o because of his ridiculous back-story at the time, and if we’d have known his future role maybe we wouldn’t have.
He’s not a horrible player, and not a great one. He’s a perfectly acceptable two-down linebacker who does a solid job, the kind the NFL is full of, who never get that kind of attention. And frankly, they probably would never want it.
5. Chargers kicker Nick Novak is not a horrible punter.
But they’re going to need a regular one if Mike Scifres is as hurt as he looks.
Scifres didn’t return after landing awkwardly on his left shoulder in the second quarter, forcing Novak into double duty.
Novak did the best he could, despite not having punted regularly since high school. He actually got better as the night went on, after a 27-yarder on his first attempt. His next three were 33, 45 and 51 yards.
Solid. For a kicker.