It wasn't a Monday Night Football bout that anyone really asked for, but when the 2-5 Chicago Bears met the 2-6 San Diego Chargers fans were treated to some fantastic individual performances. Alshon Jeffery got loose against a dinged-up secondary, while Philip Rivers soldiered through even more injuries to his best skill players on the offensive side. The Bears were able to just inch ahead late, winning 22-19.
The Bears quickly fell into a 13-0 deficit. The Chargers picked their way to a touchdown on their opening possession, then added another touchdown when cornerback Jason Verrett read Jay Cutler's back shoulder pass to Alshon Jeffery and ran the ball 68 yards to the end zone (the second extra point attempt was no-good).
A string of injuries helped the Bears mount a comeback. Malcom Floyd went down with a shoulder injury, taking away the Chargers No. 1 wideout with Keenan Allen done for the season. Perhaps more importantly, Verrett had to take himself out of the game after aggravating his groin injury.
With Verrett (and Patrick Robinson) out, Jeffery made easy work of the Chargers defense. He had three receptions for 73 yards on the Bears' first touchdown drive alone before finishing with 10 receptions for 151 yards.
The Chargers' offense moved in fits and spurts, cobbling together a field goal drive at the end of the first half and little else. The Bears missed a second field goal before finally finding the end zone on a 15-play drive that started with 7:18 left in the third quarter and ended with 14:02 left in the fourth.
The drive seemingly sapped the Chargers' momentum out of Qualcomm Stadium. If not for Rivers -- throwing to a pile of scraps and Antonio Gates -- San Diego might have let the game slip away from there. Instead, the Chargers went 76 yards in 6:09 to get inside the Bears' 10-yard line. They almost and maybe should have scored seven points, but a touchdown pass to Gates was nullified due to an ineligible receiver downfield. The Chargers settled for a 22-yard field goal, making the score 19-14.
Missing those points cost the Chargers dearly. The Bears turned around and put together another methodical drive. By then, rookie running back Jeremy Langford had gotten comfortable, and helped put the Bears in manageable distances on second- and third-downs. The drive was capped on the 10th play when tight end Zach Miller scored his first touchdown since 2011 in spectacular fashion.
The Bears converted the two-point conversion to go up 22-19. Rivers had one last opportunity to make magic, but he took two sacks after driving the Chargers near midfield. His fourth-and-23 attempt was batted down with 1:09 left to effectively end the game.
Three things we learned:
The Chargers' injuries are getting out of control
Malcom Floyd went down in the second quarter after falling down hard on his left shoulder. Jason Verrett left after a great start, in which he blanketed Alshon Jeffery and returned an interception for a touchdown. Cornerback Patrick Robinson joined the pair shortly with a neck injury.
No, no team wants to use injuries as an excuse, but that doesn't mean we can't make the excuse for them. It shouldn't be much of a surprise that the Chargers' record is as bad as it is this season considering that significant injuries are a weekly occurrence at this point. And given the number of close games that the Chargers have been involved in, it's fair to wonder what might have happened if only they'd been a little luckier.
Rivers' 2015 season has truly been magnificent
With another 280 yards, Philip River is still on pace to become the sixth different quarterback to top 5,000 yards in a season, and it's probably safe to say that the other five -- Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Dan Marino and Matthew Stafford -- haven't had to deal with the injury situation that Rivers has been dealt.
Rivers' numbers -- oh yeah, he also has 19 touchdowns to just seven interceptions -- have been compiled despite missing his best tight end, his best two receivers and countless offensive linemen to injuries. He's had to operate this way for years without much credit because the Chargers can never win consistently for a host of reasons unrelated to their quarterback.
Rivers isn't in the MVP conversation, perhaps rightfully because it's hard to call anyone "valuable" in the midst of what will likely be a losing season. Still, if dealt a better hand, Rivers might have been right there with Brady and Aaron Rodgers.
Cutler-to-Jeffery is a helluva combination
Alshon Jeffery has now appeared in three games since returning from injury, racking up 147 yards, 116 yards and 151 yards with two scores total. Many wondered how he would do as the Bears' No. 1 wide receiver with Brandon Marshall gone. When the Bears drafted Kevin White in the first round of the NFL Draft, it seemed to indicate they weren't entirely confident he could carry the passing game on his own.
There should be no question now. He did everything for Jay Cutler on Monday night, catching key third-down after key third-down and streaking open deep. The only thing he didn't do was find the end zone as he did in his last two games.
The Bears are in the midst of an objectively bad season, but Jeffery's return to brilliance has made it a lot brighter.