While the fourth game of the NFL season may not exactly be categorized as a must-win game, it may have seemed like that to the San Diego Chargers and their fans Sunday afternoon in front of more than 68,000.
Trailing 21-10 in the second quarter, the Chargers would go on to post 20 unanswered points over the remainder of the contest, scoring a 31-20 victory over the visiting Dallas Cowboys.
With the win over the NFC East leading Cowboys, the Chargers evened their record at 2-2, giving them some momentum heading into this Sunday's battle in Northern California with the rival Oakland Raiders.
Coming off of three consecutive three-point contests (losses to Houston and Tennessee, win over Philadelphia), the Chargers were able to break that little streak, allowing them to hold down third place in the AFC West (Kansas City and Denver both lead at 4-0).
After Dallas linebacker Sean Lee grabbed a Philip Rivers pass in the second quarter and raced 52 yards to the house with it, some in Blue and Gold may have been chalking this game up as loss number three of the season. The Chargers, however, had other ideas.
With a Nick Novak field goal just before intermission, the Chargers pulled within a touchdown and two-point conversion, keeping them in the game for the second half. As for the second half, San Diego put the pedal to the metal.
Scoring 17 points over the next 30 minutes of play, the Chargers clearly gained their biggest win of the young season to date, especially given the fact that Philadelphia (Chargers won Sept. 15 in Philly 33-30) is clearly not nearly as good as the hype it received following its season-opening win over Washington.
Some observations taken away from Sunday's win over Dallas include:
* Great patchwork offensive line - With San Diego's already questionable offensive line dealing with several injuries heading into Sunday's game, they did a good job of doing just enough to protect Rivers and allow maligned running back Ryan Mathews to have his best day of the season to date. The latter had several strong, punishing runs during the day, something that has oftentimes been lacking in his short career. Rivers, who was sacked a league-leading 49 times a season ago, also played well, tossing three touchdown passes. Two went to running back Danny Woodhead, while future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates (passed Ozzie Newsome for fourth place all-time on receptions for a tight end) also grabbed one.
* Defending the Cowboys - Even though Tony Romo could not be happy that several receivers dropped passes that normally they would haul in, San Diego's defense did enough to harass and keep Romo from having a huge day. Corner Crezdon Butler had the game's biggest play when he jarred the ball loose from Dallas receiver Terrance Williams late in the fourth quarter. Williams, who looked like he was probably going to come up just short of the end zone, fumbled the ball, with Charger corner Richard Marshall scooping it up in the end zone for the touchback. The play essentially shut the door on the Cowboys' hopes of a comeback win.
* Fan support - Lastly, although there was a sea of blue and white in the crowd Sunday afternoon, the Charger supporters (there were many of them there too) were loud and proud. While San Diego fans rightly or wrongly get knocked for being laid back supporters of the few pro teams they have, the Charger faithful were anything but that. The Charger fans undoubtedly helped the defense in its late-game stand by cheering the Bolts on.
One unpleasant note from Sunday's affair, linebacker Dwight Freeney suffered a torn quadriceps muscle in the second quarter of action.
According to the team, Freeney could be lost for the season.