Chargers versus 49ers: Ten Things We Learned

The Chargers wrapped up preseason play with a dramatic, come-from-behind win over the San Francisco 49ers. Veterans like Billy Volek and Shaun Phillips led the charge on their respective sides of the ball, while the youngsters came in early and won the game late. Chargers expert Michael Lombardo examines 10 things we learned on Friday.

1. The Chargers have uncovered several stars in undrafted free agency, from Antonio Gates to Stephen Cooper, and it appears that Mike Tolbert is next in line. The rookie from Coastal Carolina has spent his offseason looking like a clone of Lorenzo Neal. Against the San Francisco 49ers, he proved he can do one thing Neal never could- make plays in space. Tolbert caught three passes for 32 yards on the opening drive, including a 6-yard touchdown.

"It was a play-action pass," said Billy Volek of the score. "[Tolbert] did a good job."

2. Tolbert wasn't the only young running back to make an impact. Fifth-round pick Marcus Thomas led all rushers with 15 carries for 57 yards, including four carries of 7 or more yards. Third-round pick Jacob Hester carried 10 times for 44 yards, a healthy 4.4-yard average. Then there's first-year player Eldra Buckley, who played well at halfback and fullback before catching the go-ahead score.

"I can't say enough about [Eldra] Buckley," Charlie Whitehurst said. "He truly came through at a critical time of the game."


QB Charlie Whitehurst
Greg Trott/Getty

3. After the game's opening drive, Whitehurst came in and led the offense the rest of the way. Although Whitehurst completed less than 50 percent of his passes (15 of 32 for 144 yards), he made smart decisions and took what the defense gave him. After losing a fumble on his first drive, Whitehurst never turned the ball over the rest of the way.

"I like the way Charlie played because it wasn't scripted or smooth," Head Coach Norv Turner said. "He came out with a bunch of young guys, he had some pressure, and he handled it. If he had to throw the ball away, he had to throw the ball away. He had some really nice throws."

4. Malcom Floyd proved he has a place in the NFL by leading all receivers with six catches for 68 yards. Floyd has learned to run precise routes and has gotten better at making tough catches over the middle. He uses his large frame (6 foot 5, 225 lbs.) to win jump balls and to ensure that if he can't catch the ball, no one will get to it.

"Malcom Floyd has had an outstanding training camp," said Norv Turner after Floyd's performance in San Francisco.

5. Scott Chandler had a big night in his own right, finishing with three catches for 26 yards. After dropping a red-zone pass on third-and-12 midway through the second quarter, Chandler redeemed himself late by catching a 7-yard pass on fourth-and-3 with less than two minutes to play in the game. The Chargers scored the winning touchdown four plays later.


CB Cletis Gordon
Greg Trott/Getty

6. Cletis Gordon continued his spectacular offseason play, intercepting two Alex Smith passes and dropping a third. Gordon finished the preseason with three interceptions, tying him with Reggie Nelson of the Jacksonville Jaguars for most in the NFL. Gordon's film work is paying off as he anticipates throws and breaks on them decisively.

"Everyone's talking about Antoine Cason, and rightly so, but Cletis Gordon stepped up and had himself an outstanding training camp," Norv Turner said.

7. Gordon wasn't the only young defensive back to make an impact. Steve Gregory, who joined the Chargers as an undrafted free agent in the same year as Gordon (2006), finished with six tackles and a forced fumble. He also broke up a would-be touchdown pass to Vernon Davis in the back of the end zone.

"It was good. I got quite a bit of playing time," Gregory said. "It was good to get it under my belt going into the season. [You] have to be prepared for whatever happens, so it was good to get some playing time and get comfortable out there."

8. As the Chargers continue to examine contingency plans in case Shawne Merriman isn't fit enough to finish the season, the team must be thrilled to see Antwan Applewhite play at such a high level. Applewhite finished with four tackles and a sack. More importantly, he showed great speed and technique off the edge and set up camp in the San Francisco backfield.

9. The defensive line showed some muscle in winning at the point of attack and limiting the 49ers to only 90 net yards rushing. The Chargers also held the 49ers to less than 4 yards per carry (3.9), the first time in the preseason the Chargers have held an opponent under a 4.8-yard average. Brandon McKinney and Lamar Divens played well in the middle in the absence of Jamal Williams.

10. The Chargers' kickers both made spectacular plays. Mike Scifres recovered an errant snap in the fourth quarter, scrambled away from the rush and managed to get off a 49-yard punt, although it was called back on a penalty. Nate Kaeding connected on a 49-yard field goal in the second quarter, which pushed San Diego's lead to seven. Kaeding started the preseason by connecting on his first six field goals before missing a 32-yard attempt just before halftime.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.


SD Super Chargers Top Stories

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