Two seasons ago, the San Diego Chargers were flying high as they left Nashville with a 23-17 overtime victory over the Tennessee Titans. However, they did not realize at the time that a single play would have such a lasting impact on the team's outlook.
Early in the second quarter of that game, Titans quarterback Vince Young rolled out after handing the ball off to Chris Brown. Depending on whose fans you ask, what happened next was either a dirty play or an innocent mistake by Shawne Merriman.
On film, it looked like Merriman was blocked into Young, but that of course is open to interpretation (the Titans fans in attendance sure didn't see it that way).
But regardless of how it happened, Young left the game for the rest of the series, igniting the vitriol of the Titans and their fanbase. Later in the second quarter, Titans linemen Kevin Mawae and David Stewart took out their frustrations on the Bolts' star pass-rusher, combining to injure his knee on a downfield block.
The Titans claimed that there was no intention behind the hit, but several Chargers were of the belief that Titans coach Jeff Fisher had ordered the hit in retaliation for injuring Young. The NFL sided with the Chargers, fining Mawae and Stewart for late hits on the play.
Merriman was originally diagnosed with sprained knee ligaments, but as the season went on it was obvious that he was not himself on the field. He was later discovered to have two torn ligaments in his left knee, on which he decided to try to play without the recommended surgery.
I don't need to remind you about how that worked out.
The Chargers defense was a shell of its old self with their emotional and physical leader sidelined for all but one game last season, and it is obvious that even today he is not close to full health.
Without the explosive Merriman wreaking havoc in opposing backfields, the Chargers' defense no longer seems to inspire fear in opposing offenses. And thanks to his desire to try to play on without the surgery last year, he is still not fully recovered from the injury two seasons later.
The key to defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's defensive scheme is an aggressive pass rush, but it remains toothless with Merriman still struggling to reach full strength.
It's amazing how a single play can have such a profound effect on a team's season; just look at Bernard Pollard's hit on Tom Brady in week one last season. It's even more amazing when that play impacts a team's fortunes for two whole years.
If the Titans were trying to get payback with that play, they certainly accomplished their goal, and then some. That hit not only temporarily crippled Merriman, but it also may have crippled the Chargers' chances at a Super Bowl when their roster was best built for such a run.
Retaliation is a common occurrence in professional sports, from fighting in hockey to throwing at the batter in baseball; but the intent should be to send a message, not to injure.
Sounds like Mawae and Stewart never got that memo.