The San Diego Chargers had something going heading into Sunday's home game against the Dolphins. The Bolts had won three of four, running back Melvin Gordon had found his stride, and the defense was showing sparks of impressive play behind standout rookie pass rusher Joey Bosa.
The Chargers had the look of a playoff contender.
But the Chargers needed to beat the Dolphins for that status to be fully applied. In the AFC West, 4-6 all but eliminates a team playoff contention — there's almost no margin for error in the best division in football.
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The Chargers are now 4-6 — they fell to the Dolphins 31-24 Sunday.
That's because there are errors, then there's throwing four interceptions in the fourth quarter.
That's exactly what Philip Rivers did Sunday, and his final frame meltdown has left the Chargers with a nearly non-existent path to the postseason.
For more than half the quarter, Rivers throwing the ball to Dolphins didn't hurt his team — he had thrown two interceptions before his 51-yard touchdown pass with 4:13 remaining that gave the Chargers a three-point lead.
But the Dolphins tied the game with a field goal of their own, on the following drive, leaving Rivers 2:57 to win the contest — a field goal probably would have done, but a touchdown would have likely sealed the game.
Rivers threw a touchdown — to the other team.
Rivers' pick-six throw was an incredible blunder — a rookie-level mistake from a quarterback that has thrown 300 career touchdowns. The Dolphins had pressure, but Rivers was facing nothing exotic — he just made a boneheaded throw that he should have known better to have made, particularly in that situation.
Nonetheless, once more, Rivers was given an opportunity for redemption — a chance to make the three interceptions disappear. Down seven with a minute remaining, he was intercepted on his second throw of the drive.
Rivers' poor game was just that — a poor game. He has more than enough performances to dilute the stink of this contest.
But in football as in life, timing is often everything, and Rivers picked a really poor time to have a really poor game.
The Chargers deserved better this season. This San Diego team is talented enough to make the playoffs — particularly this season — and they were undone, in many senses, by Bosa's preseason holdout (the blame for which you have to lay at the feet of the front office) and Rivers' very bad Sunday.
In any other division this season, 4-6 would be in the middle of things — there would be a chance at the Wild Card, at least — but not in the AFC West, where two teams sit at 7-2 and one at 7-3. The Chargers would, in theory, have to win out to make the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the AFC and NFC Norths will probably be won by teams with .500 or losing records.