Chargers Lose 'Must-Win' Game Against Broncos

The San Diego Chargers are used to playing their best with their backs against the wall. However, after dropping a 34-23 decision to the Denver Broncos on Monday, the Bolts may have painted themselves into an impossible corner.

With Monday's loss to the Denver Broncos, the Chargers dug themselves a 3.5-game hole in the AFC West. The good news is San Diego has 11 games to make up ground; the bad news is it only took five games to fall so far behind.

In an unpredictable game, the Chargers were undone by some predictable foibles. The Broncos rolled up more than 100 yards rushing (3.1 ypc); the Chargers countered with a mild running game (73 yards rushing); and San Diego's defense applied no pressure on the quarterback, registering just one sack for the fourth time this season.

The Chargers even added another element to the mix -- breakdowns on special teams. The Bolts allowed Eddie Royal to score on a 93-yard kickoff return and a 71-yard punt return, resulting in 14 free points that more than accounted for the scoring differential.

SS Kevin Ellison
Donald Miralle/Getty
San Diego's passing game was strong as usual, with Philip Rivers leading with way with 274 yards, a touchdown and a 97.3 passer rating. However, the Broncos muted San Diego's aerial attack with a ferocious pass rush that resulted in five sacks and three forced fumbles, one of which was recovered by Denver.

The Bolts' two most effective targets in the passing game were Antonio Gates, who caught at least five passes for the fifth consecutive game, and Mike Tolbert, who surprised the Broncos with 22- and 18-yard gains on screen passes.

Vincent Jackson scored his third TD of the season on a 3-yard grab late in the first quarter, yet he was held under 60 yards for the second straight week. His scoring catch represented San Diego's only touchdown from scrimmage.

The Chargers now face a short week before they travel to match up with another divisional foe, the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs reside in the AFC West cellar at 1-5, yet they pushed the Chargers to the limit in both meetings last season.

Lightning Quicks

--Despite San Diego's struggles in kick coverage, Paul Oliver was sensational in that realm, picking up three tackles. He must play more on defense, where Steve Gregory remains a big play waiting to happen -- for the other team.

--Nate Kaeding connected on his first three field goal attempts, yet pushed a 55-yarder wide right with just over a minute remaining. A conversion there would have made it a one-score game and given the Chargers a chance to recover an onside kick.

--Darren Sproles scored on a 77-yard punt return late in the first half. It marked the second consecutive season he scored on special teams against the Broncos.

What are Bolts fans saying about Monday's game? Find out in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the 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. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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