This is as meaty a topic as I’ve taken on during my brief stint here at Bleacher Report. I have found the last eight seasons to be the most frustrating of all my 33 years as Charger fan. Yes, that includes a 1-15 campaign and a pair of 4-12 seasons.
How can this be?
Like so many others, I fell under the spell of the “Air Coryell” Bolts in the late 1970s. Unfortunately, the post-Fouts hangover was a nasty one and it took until the mid-1990s for the Chargers to get back to the playoffs. That was nothing compared to the Ryan Leaf-Craig Whelihan-Moses Moreno era that followed. In 2004, the Bolts went from 4-12 the previous season to 12-4 and back to the top of the AFC West.
They melted down in the playoffs that season and it was due to more than kicker Nate Kaeding’s miss. It took a late hit on fourth-and-goal by Eric Barton for “Tweety” to even have the chance to choke. It became clear from 2005-2009 that the Bolts were actually talented and that their first division title in 10 seasons wasn’t a fluke.
Sadly, it was also evident that they weren’t good enough to get to a Super Bowl, let alone win one.
Now the Chargers are looking just to get back into the postseason after two years of coming in second in the AFC West by a single game. But it is those single games that often make all the difference.
Where would the Giants have been in either of their last Super Bowl seasons if they had lost that one game that would have kept them out of the playoffs?
Winning those contests speaks volumes about a team. The Bolts have not delivered when it mattered most.
What follows is my list of the five biggest misconceptions about the 2012 Chargers.
In the case of the Bolts, some of these myths are ones that have been created by the owner, GM and head coach. Others are fabricated by the media and fans alike. One thing they all can agree on is that this has been one of the most frustrating teams in recent NFL history to watch.
If they can’t finish the job, they might be remembered like those Oilers teams of the early 1990s. I hope I don’t see Philip Rivers on an NFL Films “Missing Rings” episode in 20 years.
If you win, you’re a competitor. If you lose, you’re something else. If you’re a fan of another AFC West team (I’m looking in your direction, Oakland Raiders) and have to face him twice a season, then you probably hate Philip Rivers.
While I’ve written endlessly about the need for Rivers to regain the accuracy and poise he once displayed, he’s hardly the villain he’s portrayed as on message boards around the country.
Amani Toomer’s tweet of gratitude for swapping Rivers for Eli Manning was a huge kick in the groin to Boltheads everywhere. Ironically, Toomer went ahead and praised Romo this offseason at the expense of his own quarterback, who just came off his second Super Bowl MVP season. I think his opinion on all matters of signal-calling are questionable at this point
You can blame A.J. Smith for a lot. I know I do. When he talks about how far the Chargers have fallen over the last few years, the first thing that comes to mind is his sketchy drafts.
But we can’t blame Smith for everything. He was roundly criticized for the holdouts of Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson in 2010. Yet neither player is on the team this year and I don’t think that’s a bad thing.
Jackson was often the prima donna that Antonio Gates alluded to this week. He certainly didn’t help his case off the field either. Marcus McNeill’s performance in the aforementioned Halloween disaster is the best evidence available that he wasn’t really a true Pro Bowler.
The one thing Smith should get heat for is his undying allegiance to Norv Turner.
Let’s ignore his milquetoast demeanor and coaching style for now, even though I won’t be able to once the season begins.
Turner is often hailed as an innovative play-caller who constantly pinpoints opponents’ weaknesses and finds matchups that his quarterback can exploit. But the days of Aikman, Irvin and Smith are long gone.
While I know that the players’ failures have done plenty to taint Turner’s legacy as an offensive mind, it’s hardly a foregone conclusion that he’s blameless, either
It’s one thing to find something that works and go with it until the opposition proves they can stop it. But there are times that Turner appears just plain stubborn and foolish with his play selection.
There were entire three-down series where the Chargers didn’t have a running back on the field when they reached the opponents’ 10-yard line a season ago. While some of that is due to the players’ inability to execute, I should never be able to predict more than one play consecutively from 3,000 miles away.
That’s a pretty good sign that the defense can as well.
Since 2006, Charger fans have watched other teams build “from the inside out” and win Super Bowls.
Many of the Chargers' offensive and defensive linemen from that 14-2 season are no longer in blue and gold. Some got hurt, some retired and some weren’t that good to begin with.
The last two seasons have proven without a shadow of a doubt that having stars doesn’t mean a thing if there is no room for them to make plays. The team has lacked playmakers, specifically on defense, and Smith needs to restock the coffers at the heart of it all.
Hopefully, Kendall Reyes and Corey Liuget will justify their draft status in 2012.
In the “10 Best Coaches To Never Win A Super Bowl” special that NFL Network put together in 2010, there is a clip of Marty Schottenheimer that tells you everything you need to know about him.
He tells cornerback Drayton Florence that if he should intercept a Tom Brady pass to seal a victory, he should simply fall to the turf and not try to return it.
As obscure a scenario as he was describing, history shows that the exact situation unfolded on January 14, 2007. Maybe Schottenheimer should have told Marlon McCree the same thing.
When it got to January, Schottenheimer really couldn’t make the right call no matter what he did. By that time, Cam Cameron had assumed the play-calling duties even though Schottenheimer had the final say. If LaDainian Tomlinson hadn’t gotten six second-half touches, Troy Brown’s stripping of McCree’s ill-fated interception return might have happened or mattered. But Schotteheimer couldn’t “win for losing.”
Schottenheimer stressed all the right things, but couldn’t get the team to do them. Isn’t that a big part of coaching? “Marty Ball” often resulted in stubbornly passing in San Diego by that time.
That 2006 team showed plenty of cracks along the way before being exposed by a more poised Patriot squad. The Colts team that defeated them the following week and actually won the Super Bowl remembered to fall to the turf after that final interception.
The Chargers under Schottenheimer were as undisciplined in January as they have been under Turner. Let’s not forget Schottenheimer’s penalty for wandering onto the field in the 2004 playoff loss like an old curmudgeon trying to get the neighborhood kids off his lawn.
Frustration, no matter how great, shouldn’t rewrite the past. We aren’t living in Communist Russia, where you only get two choices. Should the Bolts falter again, maybe Charger fans can get a third option that actually works.