The team bus did indeed leave Qualcomm Stadium.
It only seems as if the Seattle Seahawks’ defense is still on that field.
After running just 40 plays — 35 fewer than San Diego did during its pitch-and-catch, first-down fest between Philip Rivers and revitalized tight end Antonio Gates — Seattle’s offense was more idled than inert.
The defense was just in exhaustion by the end of the Seahawks’ 30-21 loss at roasting Qualcomm Stadium on Sunday.
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“Third downs, man,” Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett said, shaking his head in a side locker room. “They schemed us very well.”
The Chargers (1-1) kept the ball for more than 42 of the game’s 60 minutes. They did that by converting 10 out of 17 third downs into first downs with short passes to Gates (seven catches, 96 yards, all three San Diego touchdowns) against linebackers plus wide receivers Eddie Royal (seven catches, 69 yards) and Keenan Allen (five catches, 55 yards) against a thinning corps of defensive backs.
Allen had three grabs for 31 yards right at Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman, whom Green Bay had avoided completely last week.
San Diego’s proficiency on third down left the Seahawks’ defense marooned and melting on the field where one sideline thermometer measured the temperature at 120 degrees.
The Seahawks (1-1) had staffers standing on the flanks of the team benches holding makeshift, cardboard-like shelters just above the seated players’ heads in an attempt to create temporary shade.
If only those staffers could make a third-down stop, too.
At one point during a second-half timeout, All-Pro safety Earl Thomas was limping off the field and into the locker room for intravenous fluids to treat cramps. Sherman was doubled over in the middle of the field. Kam Chancellor and Byron Maxwell, the other two starting defensive backs, were on their ways into the locker room for their own IVs.
“We can’t really make excuses, ‘Oh, the heat, the heat,’ ” Bennett said. “We stopped ourselves, you know. They played in the heat just like we did.
“We lost the game. That’s really what happened. We can’t blame the heat. Philip Rivers played a great game. Gates played a great game. They beat us, huh?”
By going right at them, too. One week after Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers didn’t throw any of his 33 passes at Sherman, Rivers completed his first three passes for 31 yards at him.
“I’m not talking,” Sherman said as he walked the long tunnel from the Seahawks’ locker room to their buses after the game.
Such was the sour, drained vibe after Seattle’s sixth loss in 31 regular-season and postseason games since the middle of 2012.
“The game got weighted so much in their favor of them controlling it,” coach Pete Carroll said.
“They were moving it like crazy and they kept the ball away from us.
“Tough day for us.”
Seattle’s Russell Wilson was efficient and created plays out of nothing again, going 16-for-23 passing for 188 yards and two touchdowns. But Marshawn Lynch had just six carries for 36 yards — not because offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell didn’t intend to use him but because the Seahawks only had 40 plays in a game they trailed for 55½ of the 60 minutes. So running the ball became a luxury Seattle could not afford.
Rivers, Gates and the Chargers controlled possession and thus the game. Rivers was 28-for-37 passing for 286 yards and those three scoring throws to Gates. That combination now has 65 touchdown receptions, the most in NFL history between a quarterback and tight end.
The most game-changing of San Diego’s conversions was on third-and-7 from the Seahawks’ 24 and San Diego leading 20-14 late in the third quarter. Seattle rush end Bruce Irvin chased Rivers to the right sideline, then foolishly pushed him in the back as he was crossing the boundary line 6 yards short of the first down. Instead of fourth down and a 44-yard field goal that might or might not have made it 23-14 Chargers, Irvin’s personal foul gave San Diego a first down at the 11.
Gates got behind linebacker K.J. Wright for a touchdown three plays later to make it 27-14 — and put the Seahawks in desperation mode for the final 18 minutes.
“Man, just a bone-headed mistake,” Irvin said, owning up. “I’ve got to make a better decision.
“When you run that far, man, and he steps out of bounds, you are mad.”
Just like these Super Bowl champions, who have almost forgotten how games like this feel.
But they know there is no need for alarm, not with 14 games still to go in the long regular season.
“We definitely aren’t used to this,” said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner, who had 10 tackles. “But at the same time we lost a game. It’s not the end of the world. It doesn’t mean we are out of it. It doesn’t mean our season’s over. It’s one game.
“That’s what we do. We lost this game. It’s, ‘What’s next?’ Next game is Denver.”