Sunday wrap: Chargers knock the Seahawks off their pedestal

BY Mike Garafolo • September 15, 2014

The talk was, and will be, about Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, Greg Hardy and other unfortunate situations. On Sunday, it was also about a run of minor to serious injuries to some really key players, with Robert Griffin III leading that list in notability and severity.

But out on the West Coast, it was about an outstanding football game played by a very good team. And that team was not the defending Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks, who suddenly look more vulnerable than they did on the NFL's opening night.

"It was nice to knock them off their pedestal, in a sense," San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle told FOX Sports by phone, a few hours after his team upset the Seahawks 30-21 at Qualcomm Stadium. "You know, bring them back to reality."

Reality set in for the Seahawks, who had been warned by coach Pete Carroll coming into the season they would be getting every team's best shot every week. From the fiery reactions of Philip Rivers, Danny Woodhead and others all game long, it was clear the Chargers were giving the Seahawks everything they could muster emotionally.

It's a problem that faces every defending champ, though Carroll's intensity and the self-motivation of players like Russell Wilson and Richard Sherman made it seem like Seattle would be less susceptible to an early-season letdown.

But maybe this wasn't a letdown. Maybe this Chargers team that gave the Denver Broncos some fits last year could be a strong contender this season. After dropping a disappointing game to the Arizona Cardinals last Monday, San Diego bounced back nicely by controlling the clock like it did in an upset in Denver last season (the Chargers held the ball for 42:15 of the game's 60 minutes on Sunday), bringing down Marshawn Lynch (only 36 yards on six carries), containing Percy Harvin (50 total yards from scrimmage, including a touchdown on which he should've been whistled for stepping out of bounds) and doing just enough to throw off Wilson, even if the diminutive quarterback played well (17 of 25 for 202 yards and two touchdowns) for the most part.

Weddle explained defensive coordinator John Pagano's plan for defending Wilson.

"Keep Russell in the pocket, make him a one-to-two-to-three progression guy because we feel he's not very good when he does that," Weddle said. "I'm not saying he's not a great quarterback; he is. But he makes so many big plays when he runs around and extends plays. That's where we felt he was an outstanding quarterback, not when he's a three-step, five-step, seven-step guy and gets the ball out. Thats' where we felt we could take advantage.

"So a lot of the game plan was to obviously pressure him the right way, keep him in the pocket and if he did get out, we'd have a spy on him, whether it was myself or other guys."

Offensively, Antonio Gates turned back the clock a few years with his three touchdowns and Rivers had one of his best games — only the fourth time in his career he completed more than 75 percent of his passes (75.7 percent, to be exact) with at least three touchdowns against zero interceptions.

Considering the talent on this team and the confidence of knowing they can hang with the two conference champions from last season, the Chargers could be a very dangerous squad.

"Actually, confidence isn't really lacking with this group. It's more consistency, it's more bringing it week in and week out," Weddle said. "There wasn't a doubt in anyone's mind that we could beat this team if we played the right way and played four quarters of it. It was unfortunate last week we just didn't finish. We came in Tuesday and did we feel sorry for ourselves? No, we got right into Seattle.

"It helps us for the long haul, but ultimately consistency is our issue and we'll see how we react against Buffalo because we can't follow up a big win and not play well."

JOSH GORDON TO GET SOME STRUCTURE

With the expected approval of a new drug policy in the coming days, Cleveland Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon will have his suspension reduced from a minimum of a full season to only 10 games. But there's an added benefit in the meantime, as well.

A source told FOX Sports on Sunday that Gordon will be able to be around his teammates and coaches at the Browns' facility during his suspension. When his initial suspension was handed down last month, Gordon was officially barred from the building. But under the new policy, his status in the substance-abuse policy comes with access to club activities, save for the games, full practices and travel with the team.

Those close to Gordon believe his being around the team could help provide the structure to keep him focused and out of any trouble. A skeptic would say that hasn't exactly stopped him in the past, but being away from the team at this point in his career could be even worse.

One other added piece of structure in Gordon's life right now could be his job with a car dealership. A source said Gordon, whose suspension could cost him more than $500,000 in salary and signing-bonus forfeitures, received an advance on his salary as part of his job at the dealership. To keep his job and not forfeit on the loan, Gordon must pass regular drug tests, the source said. Add in the regular NFL drug tests he'll be taking and that makes two employers who will be testing Gordon regularly.

CONFIDENCE IN COUSINS

The Washington Redskins rebuffed efforts from the Cleveland Browns to trade for Kirk Cousins this offseason, and for good reason. They needed an insurance policy for Griffin, and they're sure glad they have it now.

Despite being the backup while learning a new offense under new head coach Jay Gruden, Cousins stepped right on the field on Sunday and completed 22 of 33 passes for 250 yards and two touchdowns. A big key, which tight end Niles Paul revealed in a late Sunday afternoon conversation with FOX Sports, is that Cousins has gotten reps with the starters in practices. Many teams don't allow their backup to take those reps, but the Redskins obviously wanted Cousins to be ready.

"Kirk goes with the 1s as well, so we all feel as comfortable with him as we do with Robert," Paul said. "It's always good when you feel as comfortable with your backup as you do with your No. 1. ... I knew we weren't going to miss a beat. Minus a couple of plays that are Robert-specific, we could run the same things we've been running and run them with confidence."

Though no one will say it on record, there are those in the Redskins' locker room who believe Cousins is a better option over the long haul. They're probably not terribly disappointed to know he'll be leading the way for a while -- likely the rest of the season.

Paul, who had a breakout game on Sunday with eight catches for 99 yards and a touchdown, might have already found a nice rapport with Cousins.

"We ran the plays that gave us good looks and Kirk gave me an opportunity," Paul said, adding about Cousins: "He prepares like he's the No. 1 and that's the truth. He came in and showed how prepared he was today."

FIVE QUICK THOUGHTS

1. After we discussed Sunday's victory, I asked Weddle about his tweet last week in reference to the off-field issues the NFL is experiencing of late. His tweet read, "As a husband, father and player I'm embarrassed to be associated with the NFL right now!" Weddle said he doesn't regret the sentiments he expressed. "It meant a lot because that's how I feel," he said. "In every industry or business, you can be embarrassed with what's going on. Are you always happy with the people you work with and for? No. There are so many good people in this league and so many good things that go on, but when there's so much negativity, you hear more of that." Well said.

2. I understand the reason for the rule that bit the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the end of Sunday's game. Since we can't always tell the difference between real and fake injuries, officials have to treat them all the same way. An injury with under two minutes left in the game means a 10-second runoff if a team is out of timeouts. But Mike Evans barely had a chance to try getting to his feet before the officials blew the action dead. Until it was to the point where he was holding up action (which wasn't the case because his teammates were still running up to the line), Evans should've had a reasonable shot to stand up so the Bucs could snap and spike the ball. One other thing to note: The first whistle sounds with 11 seconds left on the clock, which means there technically should've been one second left. Tough way to lose a game there.

3. The Carolina Panthers took plenty of heat this offseason for what was perceived to be a lack of moves at the wide receiver position, as well as a few other spots on the roster. But they're 2-0 despite being without their quarterback for the opener and their best defensive player for the second game. That says a ton about both coach Ron Rivera and general manager Dave Gettleman. Rivera has kept his team focused through a couple of really though spots and Gettleman has put together a fine roster that's deeper and more balanced than many realized. Linebacker Thomas Davis put it best after Sunday's victory over the Detroit Lions when he said, according to Joseph Person of The Charlotte Observer, "It's not about one man." The Panthers have proved that twice already.

4. At the end of a third-down conversion with just over eight minutes to play, Michael Vick was standing on the sideline with a baseball cap on his head. A few seconds later, the New York Jets' backup quarterback was in the game, rolling left and looking for an open receiver. Having spent most of the afternoon on the sideline, Vick surely didn't have a feel for the speed of the game. And he definitely underestimated how quickly Clay Matthews was closing in on him for the sack. It was yet another example of why taking your starting quarterback out of the action for a play is a terrible idea. This play became a footnote when a phantom timeout negated what would've been a game-tying touchdown for the Jets. Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg was responsible for both gaffes. That wasn't the finest couple of minutes of Mornhinweg's career.

5. Jimmy Graham had an arguable point this summer when he and the NFL Players Association argued he should be paid like a wide receiver on the franchise tag instead of a tight end. Part of the special master's ruling that Graham is a tight end was based on how he's treated by defenses. Perhaps Graham should file a new appeal after Sunday's touchdown on a jump ball over Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden. Graham was lined up out wide to the right and Haden gave him plenty of room as he backpedaled because he didn't want to get beat over the top. Drew Brees delivered the ball more to Graham's back shoulder, however, and Haden never had a prayer of getting to it. Whatever you want to call him, Graham is a nightmare matchup for even the game's best corners when he's out wide.

TEN EVEN QUICKER THOUGHTS

1. J.J. Watt: Who said he got a great contract? Where's the incentive for receiving touchdowns? Seriously, though, here's hoping the Texans do more of that going forward and that Watt gets the chance to catch a contested touchdown. That would be fun viewing.

2. Chris Conte: The Chicago Bears safety was ripped for getting run over by the Bills' Fred Jackson in an overtime loss last week. He made up for it with an outstanding diving interception of Colin Kaepernick on Sunday night in front of a national TV audience.

3. Kyle Fuller: Speaking of impressive plays in the Bears' secondary, the rookie's second interception on Sunday was stellar. The way he peeled off his guy to make the play on a ball intended to be thrown over his head indicated some special awareness and skills.

4. Mike McCarthy: Fantastic play call on Jordy Nelson's 80-yard touchdown, given the situation and field position -- a play-action fake off a double-tight, I-formation look put Nelson 1-on-1 with the Jets' Dee Milliner, who didn't look like the self-proclaimed No. 1 cornerback in the league there.

5. Blake Bortles: It's time, Jaguars.

6. Rueben Randle, Kelvin Benjamin, Gates, Anthony Fasano, Brandon Marshall and Mike Wallace: Equally impressive one-handed catches from all of these guys on Sunday, though Marshall's might have been the best of the bunch.

7. Kevin Gilbride: Maybe the Giants would like to rethink their decision to run him out of town? Eli Manning just doesn't look comfortable in Ben McAdoo's offense.

8. Spencer Lanning: Kicked in the face by Antonio Brown last week. Sandwiched by five Saints defenders after a botched extra point on Sunday. He's had a career's worth of contact for a punter in two weeks.

9. Houston Texans: Their next three games are against the Giants, Bills and Cowboys. It's not crazy to think they could be 5-0.

10. Ryan Kerrigan: Four sacks Sunday. Padding that stat column while looking to cash in on another contract (he's signed through 2015 after Washington picked up his $7.038-million option) is always a good thing, even if it comes in bunches against the Jags.



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