It may already be the second week of 2014, but let’s reflect on what a special year 2013 was for San Diego Chargers fans.
The old regime was shown the door and new blood was introduced to the franchise.
There were some ups.
There were some downs.
Somehow, the Chargers made the playoffs.
Here are 10 key dates and events in chronological order that paved the way for this magical playoff run.
When A.J. Smith was fired as the team’s general manager, fans wondered who would lead the franchise next.
A committee took its time and finally decided an experienced assistant formerly with the Indianapolis Colts deserved the job.
Tom Telesco would be the main person in charge of putting all of the pieces together, both players and coaches, for this playoff team.
Telesco’s first business as GM was to find a head coach to replace Norv Turner, who was fired with A.J. Smith immediately following the 2012 season.
Speculation swirled as candidate after candidate was snatched up elsewhere, but Telesco never panicked.
McCoy had never been a head coach at any level before, so the hire was a bit of a risk.
Without risk there is no reward, and the reward for Telesco and the Chargers was the only rookie head coach to make it past the first round of the playoffs this season.
The hiring of assistant coaches is often overlooked by the general public when building a winning team, but the additions of Ken Whisenhunt as the offensive coordinator and Joe D’Alessandris as the offensive line coach were major steps in improving the Chargers.
Whisenhunt brought a complete 180-degree turn in philosophy from the previous regime. The passing game under Norv Turner was reliant on deep routes, but Whisenhunt wanted shorter routes with a higher chance of completion.
The shorter routes not only meant more completions, but fewer sacks as well; the offensive line did not need to sustain blocks as long as with the deep routes.
The offensive line was atrocious in 2012, finishing near the bottom of the NFL in number of sacks allowed, so a new philosophy was needed not just in the passing game, but in the run game as well.
D’Alessandris was brought in as the O-line coach from Buffalo and helped Whisenhunt implement a zone-blocking scheme.
The turnaround in the play of the offensive line from 2012 to 2013 was amazing. Most of the credit can be awarded to D’Alessandris.
Telesco and McCoy let veteran Chargers test the free-agency market, worrying some fans of a repeat of A.J. Smith’s habit of penny-pinching while also draining the team of talent.
The signings of King Dunlap, Derek Cox and Danny Woodhead were received indifferently by fans, but all three had an impact on the team.
Dunlap was viewed as a situational player but not an answer to the left tackle issue. Cox was widely thought of as the best cornerback in free agency. Woodhead was considered a versatile but not an every-down player.
Cox was touted as a great signing, but he ended up being benched. But his signing signified a reversal of the A.J. Smith era, when top free agents were released instead of brought in.
Dunlap, when healthy, turned out to be a rock on Rivers’ blind side. According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), Dunlap graded out as the best offensive lineman on the team. In fact, only Philip Rivers had a higher grade among the team’s offensive players.
Woodhead turned out to be one of the best free-agent signings in all of the NFL. He finished the regular season with 1,034 total yards from scrimmage and eight touchdowns.
There were a couple of different ways Telesco could have gone early in the draft: defensive line, cornerback, running back, even quarterback.
In another split with the A.J. Smith era, the team went with biggest need in the first round and best players available in the later rounds.
Before D.J. Fluker was taken 11th overall, the Chargers last drafted an offensive lineman in the first round when they selected Jim Lachey in 1985.
Smith was also known for going against the grain and picking under-the-radar players, and taking Manti Te’o in the second round was another departure from the old way of doing things.
Finally, taking Keenan Allen in the third round meant Telesco was OK with drafting the best player available, even if it was not a major need (remember, the team still had Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd at this time).
The team had high hopes for Melvin Ingram heading into his second season, but a knee injury during OTAs (organized team activities) was a major blow to fans. The team had let outside linebackers Shaun Phillips and Antwan Barnes walk in free agency, so this injury was especially harsh.
But Telesco quickly quieted fans' fears with the signing of Dwight Freeney.
Even though Freeney also got hurt during the year, his signing showed fans Telesco and the Chargers were able to promptly handle problems.
Danario Alexander was coming off a great 2012 campaign in which he led the Chargers in receiving yards per game with 65.8. In 10 games, Alexander had 37 catches for 658 yards and seven touchdowns.
He had a history of knee issues, but it was hoped Alexander was going to be a major part of the offense in 2013.
When he tore his ACL, a lot of fans worried about the state of the passing game, especially since Allen was still limited in practice while recovering from knee surgery after college.
Malcom Floyd suffered a neck injury just before halftime, leaving the team with no true No. 1 wide receiver.
Eddie Royal stepped up in a big way, hauling in 12 passes for 148 yards and five touchdowns in the first three games.
Keenan Allen had a total of four receptions for 30 yards in the first three games of the season, but with Floyd out, the rookie exploded onto the scene with 20 catches for 302 yards and two touchdowns the next three weeks.
The Chargers entered November with a record of 4-3 and were exceeding expectations of most fans.
After a bye week, the Bolts traveled to Washington D.C. to play a Redskins team that had not played very good football and was a disappointing 2-5.
In a back-and-forth game, Danny Woodhead stretched the ball toward the pylon and the referee signaled “Touchdown.” It would have put San Diego up 28-24 with 21 seconds to go in the game.
After further review...Woodhead was ruled down inside the 1-yard line.
The Chargers could not score on three attempts (one run and two passes) and Nick Novak kicked a field goal to send the game into overtime.
The Chargers gave up a touchdown on Washington’s opening drive to lose the game, and they also went on to lose three of the next four games.
All hope of the playoffs was gone. San Diego (5-7) needed to win out as well as a whole lot of help as the regular season came to an end.
With four games left in the season, San Diego (5-7) was not playing well, or at least the team was not winning games.
The score deficit in the seven losses was by an average of 5.8 points, so the Chargers were playing teams close but failing to get the victory.
Once Eli Manning and the Giants came to town, the Bolts found their winning ways and did not look back.
San Diego closed out the season with four straight wins, the final three coming against AFC West rivals.