Entering the 2008 season, the Chargers were pegged by many as a Super Bowl contender. They were riding high off a very impressive showing in the playoffs with them just falling short of a date with the Giants after falling in the AFC Championship game to New England.
In fact, the AFC Title game was the coming out party for Philip Rivers. Rivers, playing with an injured knee, showed his teammates that he was the type of player that would lead his team as far as he could no matter what the circumstances.
It would be slightly prophetic to how Rivers would play in 2008.
With a defense that was without superstar Shawne Merriman for basically the entire season when Merriman had two torn ligaments in his left knee, and a Ladainian Tomlinson that was battered and bruised all season, the burden of keeping the Chargers afloat fell onto the shoulders of Rivers.
And Rivers would deliver, as he posted by far the best season of his career, throwing for over 4000 yards and 34 touchdowns to just 11 interceptions, and maybe most impressive was how he developed as a leader to this team.
Following a very controversial loss to the Denver Broncos, a game in which it appeared the Chargers had lost due to a botched call by referee Ed Hochuli, the Chargers would fall to 0-2 on the 2008 season with both losses coming in the final 30 seconds of regulation. Following their 0-2 start, Rivers would lead the Chargers to wins in 3 of their next 4 games and suddenly the Chargers were back at .500 and in the hunt again in the AFC West.
However, the Chargers began to gradually fall apart, in large part to an extremely difficult stretch that saw them take road trips to Buffalo and London - where they would play and lose to the Saints. After surviving a game against a scrappy Chiefs squad, the Chargers would drop three straight games, all to eventual playoff teams, and were seemingly dead in the water at 4-8.
But then something funny happened, as was shown in the 2007 AFC Championship game, Philip Rivers was going to do everything he could to will his team to victory. And he would go on to lead the Chargers on a four-game winning streak to close out the season while throwing for a gaudy 11 touchdowns to only 1 interception.
And at the same time Rivers was carrying his team to a shot at the AFC West Championship, the Broncos were doing everything they could to ensure the Chargers comeback would be complete. The two teams would meet in Week 17 of the season with the winner taking the division title outright - and that Week 2 loss was avenged with a 52-21 demolition of a demoralized Broncos team.
In the postseason, the Chargers would get a rematch with the Colts, and just as they did in 2007, the Chargers would end Peyton Manning's season prematurely as Darren Sproles and Philip Rivers would be potent enough for the overtime victory.
Injuries finally caught up to the Chargers in the divisional round, when they would lose to the eventual World Champion Steelers 35-24.
But the Chargers put everyone on alert once more. Philip Rivers was turning into a star quarterback, and this injury ravaged squad in 2008 would be healthy in 2009.
2009 Free Agency Additions:
LB Kevin Burnett (Cowboys)
2009 Trade Acquistions:
2009 Offseason Departures:
DE Igor Olshansky (Cowboys)
DE Marques Harris (49ers)
G Mike Goff (Chiefs)
LB Anthony Waters (Saints)
C Jeremy Newberry (Falcons)
2009 NFL Draft:
1-16. Larry English, DE/OLB, Northern Illinois
3-78. Louis Vasquez, G, Texas Tech
4-113. Vaughn Martin, DT, Western Ontario
4-133. Tyronne Green, G, Auburn
4-134. Gartrell Johnson, RB, Colorado State
5-148. Brandon Hughes, CB, Oregon State
6-189. Kevin Ellison, SS, USC
7-224. Demetrius Byrd, WR, LSU
The Chargers enter 2009 with very little turnover from the team that played a season ago, and in fact they should be much better overall as they get many impact players back from injuries, most notably Shawne Merriman and a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson.
Norv Turner returns in his third year as coach of the Chargers and brings almost the same coaching staff with him this season.
Offensively, as mentioned before, Philip Rivers seems to be the new catalyst for the Bolts. The Chargers return their deadly duo at running back with LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles. Antonio Gates and Chris Chambers remain the big threats in the passing game with Vincent Jackson and Malcolm Floyd also having major parts of the Norv Turner offense.
The Chargers offensive line is especially good, as they are led by the left side of the line with tackle Marcus McNeil and Kris Dielman anchoring Rivers blind side. Veterans LJ Shelton and Nick Hardwick also are major components of the line.
Defensively, the Chargers will once again be coached by Ron Rivera, who took over in the middle of the season for Ted Cottrell. Rivera will have the luxury of one of the more athletic linebacking corps in football headlined by Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips. Rookie Larry English and Jyles Tucker will also log a lot of playing time in the very aggressive Rivera scheme.
On the defensive line, the Chargers lost 3-4 end Igor Olshansky to free agency, but return all pros Jamal Williams and Luis Castillo. Rookie Vaughn Martin out of Western Ontario University may be the heir apparent to Williams nose tackle position, and should see some playing time throughout the year.
In the secondary, the Chargers are led by corners Quentin Jammer, Antonio Cromartie, and Antoine Cason. Safeties Eric Weddle and Clinton Hart return and rookie Kevin Ellison out of USC could be a gem in the making.
The Chargers may have the best special teams in football with their potent return game and outstanding kicking game led by Nate Kaeding and Mike Scifres. Scifres had one of the best games for a punter in recent memory against the Colts in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs, where his leg dictated the field position battle the entire game.
|Mon 9/14||at Oakland|
|Sun 10/4||at Pittsburgh|
|Sun 10/25||at Kansas City|
|Sun 11/8||at NY Giants|
|Sun 11/22||at Denver|
|Sun 11/29||Kansas City|
|Sun 12/6||at Cleveland|
|Sun 12/13||at Dallas|
|Fri 12/25||at Tennessee|
The Chargers 2008 season was a bit of an anomaly as injuries and some really bad luck highlighted by extremely questionable officiating in an early match up against the Broncos seemed to water down San Diego's record more than it probably should have.
On paper, this is a team that should do a lot better than 8-8 in 2009, and if it is unable to do so would all but guarantee the end of the Norv Turner regime.
Luckily enough for them, in 2009 the AFC West figures to be weaker than it's been in over a decade, which will come in handy as San Diego drew a difficult schedule with six playoff teams on the schedule.
With that said, the rest of their schedule should not be that difficult, and with an emerging star at quarterback, the Chargers will not have to rally from a 4-8 record to make the playoffs this season, and instead may very well be staying in San Diego for much of January.
Predicted Finish: 11-5, 1st AFC West
Hassellbeck - VSN Writer