Why Seahawks’ vaunted defense couldn’t stop the Chargers
The Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates burned the Seahawks defense, and handed Seattle its first loss by more than a touchdown in 41 games. Here’s how they did it.
Seattle Times staff reporter
SAN DIEGO — The defending Super Bowl champion Seahawks brought the most-feared defense in the NFL to San Diego on Sunday.
Far from running and hiding, though, the Chargers were happy to invite the Seahawks defense into their home at Qualcomm Stadium and stay awhile.
And ultimately, it was the Seahawks who couldn’t wait to get out of San Diego, on the bad end of a surprising 30-21 defeat in which the Chargers ran 75 plays and held the ball for 42 minutes, 15 seconds.
“Really? Damn,’’ defensive end Michael Bennett said when informed of the time of possession stat as the Seahawks fell to 1-1 on the season.
Seattle’s offense, meanwhile, ran just 40 plays, fighting an uphill battle after the Chargers took a 20-7 lead late in the second quarter.
“We just didn’t have the ball enough,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers expertly hit his receivers and running backs for short gains, setting up manageable third-down situations that the Chargers were more often than not able to convert — 10 of 17 times.
And then, having chipped away slowly to get to the end zone, the Chargers were able to get the big plays they needed to pull away. Specifically, three touchdown passes from Rivers to 34-year-old tight end Antonio Gates, one a spectacular one-handed grab. The two have hooked up for 65 scoring passes, most of any active quarterback-tight end duo in the NFL.
Seattle tried to cover Gates with linebackers, with safety Kam Chancellor, and with zones. But nothing worked as he hauled in seven passes for 96 yards despite battling a sore hamstring.
“He made some great catches,’’ said Seattle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “We felt like we were in a position that if he was a regular tight end, he probably wouldn’t have made the catch.’’
Safety Earl Thomas said the Seahawks knew the Chargers wouldn’t try to go deep much, and none of San Diego’s passes went for longer than 21 yards.
“Teams are always going to be dinking and dunking the ball down the field against us,’’ Thomas said. “It’s been that way since last year. We make them drive and they (opponents) end up making mistakes. But the mistakes they made today, we couldn’t capitalize.’’
Indeed, the Chargers fumbled three times but got them all back.
The Seahawks also had trouble battling the heat — the temperature at kickoff was 94 degrees — but the temperature on the field was about 120 degrees. Thomas, Chancellor and Byron Maxwell all left for a time due to cramps, and Chancellor said it bothered him from the second quarter on.
Carroll said the real key to Seattle losing by more than a touchdown for the first time since 2011, a span of 41 games, was that San Diego was able to consistently get decent gains on first and second downs. That set up third-and-short, and five of San Diego’s third-down conversions were 2 yards or less.
“Rivers is really good at figuring out how to get you a 3- or 4-yard pass,’’ Carroll said.
Seattle, with some depth issues at cornerback due to injuries, played primarily with its base defense early. But the Chargers took advantage of that by getting receivers in favorable matchups with linebackers.
Seattle then went mostly to a nickel in the second half, but the Chargers countered by running more. Twenty-two of their 37 carries came in the second half.
It was all enough to silence normally loquacious Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman. Sherman declined to talk to reporters after the game, dressing and leaving quickly.
Unlike Seattle’s opener against Green Bay, the Chargers had no trepidation about throwing the ball his way. According to the play-by-play, Sherman was on the defending end of five San Diego receptions. Sherman later wrote on Twitter that he allowed three.
Regardless, the Chargers made their point.
“He’s just a normal guy,’’ said San Diego receiver Keenan Allen, who had five catches for 55 yards, two against Sherman. “We can go at him. We are not going to shy away from him. He’s not really a shutdown corner. We definitely wanted to come out and show we could go any way we wanted and that we were in control of the game. Wherever we wanted to go with it, we were going to go with it.’’
|Without the ball|
|The Seahawks couldn’t overcome a huge 42:15 to 17:45 disadvantage in time of possession. Here are the lowest in franchise history, all losses:|
|Time of possession||Opponent||Date||Result|
|14:28||vs. L.A. Rams||Nov. 4, 1979||L, 24-0|
|17:04||at Cleveland||Oct. 23, 2011||L, 6-3|
|17:10||vs. San Francisco||Sept. 25, 1988||L, 38-7|
|17:10||vs. Arizona||Oct. 18, 2009||L, 27-3|
|17:45||at San Diego||Sept. 14, 2014||L, 30-21|