Chargers play keep away; Dolphins play to win

Despite the Chargers playing keep away much of the game and getting a record number of attempts from their quarterback, they lost what was as close to a must-win as possible. Now they are fenced in and must dig their way out.

Chargers Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Drew Brees set career highs in attempts (52) and completions (35), which just about guarantees a defeat. And that's what happened Sunday, with the Chargers having to lean more on Brees with LaDainian Tomlinson ailing. Many of Brees' passes were little dink throws; his longest reception was 25 yards. The pass blocking was OK. Brees got sacked five times, one of which caused a fumble that just about sealed the loss. Brees also threw his 12th interception; he had seven all of last year.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Tomlinson was slowed by a bruised chest and he didn't hit the hole with his usual brilliance. It's obvious he wasn't fit, but he gets high marks for carrying it 21 times for 75 yards. The run blocking brought back memories of Philadelphia -- and that's not a good thing. On a day in which Tomlinson needed some extra room to roam, the running lanes were difficult to find.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The secondary took a step backward after having a couple of decent performances. The key here is the pass rush -- there wasn't any. And anytime that happens, the back end of the defense gets exposed. No sacks -- for the first game this season -- and relatively little pressure as Gus Frerotte ran around with ease. Quentin Jammer and Drayton Florence had a good play here and there, but the bottom line is, when the secondary was asked to step up and turn back the Dolphins, it failed miserably.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- Once again a team came in bent on establishing the run and left with cleat marks on its chest. The Chargers' top-ranked unit against the run allowed just 71 yards. Ronnie Brown (2.7-yard average) and Ricky Williams (2.5) were bottled up as the defensive front clogged the running lanes and the linebackers did the rest: Randall Godfrey had eight tackles and Donnie Edwards had six. NT Jamal Williams (six tackles) was active as usual. Rookie Luis Castillo had a solid game as well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- Darren Sproles' fumble on a kickoff in the third quarter was a killer -- it gave the Dolphins a short field, and they quickly scored. He brought it out from about 5 yards deep in the end zone. And the coverage unit again gave up a big gain -- a 43-yard kickoff return to Wes Welker. Coach Marty Schottenheimer swears K Nate Kaeding's leg is fine, but he declined to try field goals from about 51 and 52 yards in the first half.

COACHING: F -- Schottenheimer will tell everyone who will listen that the team was prepared and didn't overlook the Dolphins, a two-touchdown underdog. But actions speak louder than words. The Chargers -- according to numerous players -- were flat and acted as if the Dolphins were just going to go toes up. Instead, the Chargers didn't catch on that they were in for a battle until the fourth quarter, and by then it was too late. Schottenheimer can say one thing, but it was obvious to those witnessing the game the Chargers' heads were elsewhere.

Dolphins Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- You could never tell Gus Frerotte had suffered a concussion the previous Sunday against Buffalo, as Miami's quarterback enjoyed his best outing of the season against the Chargers. Frerotte completed 14 of 22 passes for 229 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions while receiving sufficient protection from his offensive line to avoid getting sacked. WR Chris Chambers (eight receptions for 121 yards and two touchdowns) remains Frerotte's favorite target, but WR Marty Booker pitched in with a 56-yard catch after missing the previous two games with a calf injury.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- San Diego showed why it has the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense by limiting Miami to its lowest rushing output (71 yards) in the past eight games. RBs Ricky Williams and Ronnie Brown carried 11 times each but gained just 30 and 28 yards, respectively. Both also lost fumbles. The Dolphins had only three rushing first downs, which is tied for their second-lowest single-game total this season.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Drew Brees' statistics on paper look solid (35 of 52 passing for 279 yards), but Miami sacked the San Diego quarterback on three occasions and intercepted him once. Dolphins dime safety Yeremiah Bell also helped seal the victory by forcing a Brees fumble late in the fourth quarter on a blitz. The longest completion Brees had spanned 25 yards. The Dolphins did struggle to cover TE Antonio Gates (13 catches for 123 yards and one touchdown).

RUSH DEFENSE: B-plus -- To keep San Diego RB LaDainian Tomlinson in check with 75 yards on 21 carries was a significant accomplishment. The Dolphins managed to compensate for the absence of massive NT Keith Traylor (knee) through the standout play of LBs Zach Thomas (11 tackles, one interception) and Channing Crowder (10 tackles).

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Olindo Mare played a significant role in the victory, connecting on all three of his field-goal attempts and recovering a Darren Sproles fumble on a third-quarter kickoff. Dolphins TE Randy McMichael recovered San Diego's onside kick attempt with 15 seconds remaining to seal the victory after the football had slipped through the hands of FB Sammy Morris, who did post a career-high four special teams tackles.

COACHING: A -- After a slow start, Dolphins offensive coordinator Scott Linehan did a nice job mixing up his play-calling by utilizing running plays out of passing formations and vice versa. Proof that Miami players are listening to Nick Saban's cries for consistency is reflected in the team committing a season-low three penalties for 12 yards.


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