By Nick Shook
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Miami spent the final period climbing its way back into what was a back-and-forth game for three quarters, and a Cody Parkey field goal pushed them to a close 19-17 victory over the Chargers in their Los Angeles debut. Here’s what we learned …
1. The Chargers were as up and down as their season has been. Philip Rivers completed 31 of 39 passes for 331 yards and a touchdown, but when they were leading 17-10 and needed just one score to put Miami away for good, they repeatedly stalled. It was great entertainment for the fans in their opener at the Stubhub Center, until the mood turned anxious as Miami continually crept closer with field goals. Los Angeles averaged over four yards per carry, gaining 44 yards on 10 totes between Melvin Gordon and Branden Oliver, but 26 of those yards came on one Oliver run. Inexplicably, the Chargersabandoned the ground game late when clinging to a small lead, running it just four times in the second half (with one being a Rivers sneak to set up Koo’s late field goal attempt). The lack of clock movement afforded Miami enough time to record multiple stops and chip away even as its own offense struggled to reach the end zone.
2. Miami has an embarrassment of riches at the receiver position. Jarvis Landry caught 13 passes on 15 targets for 78 yards, DeVante Parker caught four passes on nine targets (with two being fantastic jump-ball grabs), Kenny Stills caught two of five targets (including a touchdown) and tight end Julius Thomas caught all three of his targets for 26 yards. Cutler was 24-of-33 passing for 230 yards and a touchdown on a pass thrown well on the run. Despite being his usual gunslinging self, Cutler avoided throwing an interception. It’s remarkable to think he was almost out of football this season.
3. The true engine of Miami’s offense is, unsurprisingly, Jay Ajayi. The hammer back carried the ball 28 times for 122 yards and looked exactly like the breakout runner he was in 2016. With a running back every defense must respect, Cutler will continue to get opportunities to find his skilled armaments. Watching Miami is exhilarating because with Cutler, this squad is talented enough to win the majority of its games in entertaining fashion, but it also seems to be constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. As long as Cutler doesn’t hold onto the ball too long and take too many risks — which he’s prone to do and did occasionally Sunday — this is a formula that could very realistically put Miami back in the playoffs. And it might be fun to watch on a weekly basis.
4. A back and forth contest seemed primed to turn on two huge defensive stands for the Chargers, but ultimately, their own offense couldn’t take advantage. Melvin Ingram‘s sack late in the third quarter was the first big defensive play. With Miami driving for what would have been the game-tying touchdown, Ingram sped past Laremy Tunsil, sacking Cutler on third down inside the Chargers‘ 10. It happened again almost a full quarter later, with Miami again inside Los Angeles’ 20. Cutler rolled away from pressure to his right, but didn’t pull the trigger, being brought down at the line of scrimmage near the sideline. Each third-down failure produced successful field goals from Parkey, though, and a third, late in the fourth from 54 yards, proved to be enough. If Miami is awarding a game ball, it should go to the kicker.
5. Our hearts hurt for rookie kicker Younghoe Koo, who now has had two chances to win or tie the game for the Chargers in two weeks and has come up empty both times. The kicker was blocked last week, but this time around, his attempt faded wide right in the final seconds of the game and stunned disappointment washed over the young kicker’s face. It’s not all on the kicker, who also missed an earlier kick wide right, but if two kicks end up between the uprights — his first attempt in Denver in Week 1 was good, but was nullified by a last-second timeout — we’re instead talking about a Chargersteam that is 2-0, not 0-2.
“This team keeps putting themselves in these situations, I believe we will figure out how to win these close games,” coach Anthony Lynn said after the game.