What had initially taken shape as an article triggered by a FoxSports injury report listing Eric Weddle, Luis Castillo, and Shawne Merriman all likely to miss next week’s game pondering the recent injury history of San Diego took an unexpected turn. This year the injuries may mean something different for San Diego, or I should say in not meaning anything they mean a lot (does your head hurt yet?).
All teams in all sports face injury problems. That goes exponentially higher for football teams due to the heavy pounding and massive rosters. That having been said, from late 2008 to present the volume of man-games lost (especially along the front seven and offensive line) has been above the curve.
Traditionally that had been something of an explanation for certain aspects of the team. 2008 saw a Super Bowl favorite team come away feeling like they overachieved for going as deep as they had in the playoffs with their three offensive cornerstones injured. In 2009 a slothlike 4-8 start and mediocre 8-8 finish were also attributed to injuries and time lost.
Those injuries themselves played key on some of the biggest questions going into this year, namely unaddressed depth. Jamal Williams and his creaky knees (one could not have guessed he’d go on IR after game one, but missing 3-4 games at minimum was expected) , an offensive line that saw one name added and two let go, would Merriman be able to return from a major injury etc.
The season has now seen nearly every concern come to light. Jamal Williams and Ryon Bingham both went on injured reserve before the season could even really be called a season. Nick Hardwick has yet to play since week one and several other offensive linemen have missed assorted games, including the most recent being Jeremy Clary joining the growing list of injured-reservists.
Playing just behind the various mix and match nose tackles, Stephen Cooper, Tim Dobbins, and Kevin Burnett have all missed game and played dinged up in others. Beside them Merriman has not missed significant time, but has spent the bulk of the season slowed by various injury issues himself.
San Diego opened the season 2-3, with a close win against Oakland and a victory over Miami where Chad Pennington was knocked out mid-game. It appeared the Chargers would not only get off to their characteristic slow start, but once again have that injury complaint to fall back on. With a hard driving Broncos reaching 6-0, the team’s injury woes and slow start looked like a sizable road block.
In the midst of this something happened. San Diego started picking up steam before the team got healthy. Playing the Chiefs and Raiders made for a nice jump-start to the team. Following the pair of divisional games however, was a three game stretch against the Giants, Eagles, and Broncos (with two out of three on the road). San Diego clawed pack against the Giants, then rode a fast start to victory over Philadelphia.
Neither win was perfect, San Diego needed a game-closing drive to come back against New York, and gave back most of a huge lead against the Eagles before putting them away. Within these flaws some reason for excitement was growing.
The team proved it could take a game to the final seconds and finish a comeback in New York, something the team fell just short of against Baltimore (we will forgo discussions of fourth down halfback up the gut calls). It also marked the first winning team the Chargers had defeated, skidding or not the Giants were still over .500 and the first true feather in the team’s cap.
An even more legitimate ‘solid’ team came to town the following week and San Diego put up a 28-9 lead after three quarters of play. Two Eagles touchdowns in the fourth frayed a few San Diegan’s nerves, but the team held firm and came away with a victory that placed them one game back of the faltering Broncos while building steam with four consecutive victories.
The last two weeks San Diego has outscored its pair of divisional opponents 75-17. Both of them being significant games (a fight for first in the AFC west and a Chiefs team with its first winning streak high off a Steeler upset). San Diego has been just as dinged up across this six game winning streak as it had been during the 2-3 start.
Instead of letting it be reason for a failed comeback against New York, or a successful one by Philadelphia, the team persevered as significant teams do. San Diego has long been a great team on paper that seemed to be held back by one key injury too many oftentimes. The team has not succeeded by breaking its trend of injury (Jamal Williams’ shadow will loom over the run defense all year) but instead has finally found the capacity to overcome injuries and win anyway.
One always wants their team to be at full health, but it a certain way I think the success with all of the injuries sustained speaks even more to the team’s potential in the playoffs. If the wrong guy goes down at the wrong time, it is no longer an excuse for falling short. This team has learned to adapt and evolve into multiple entities based on available personnel and matchups.
With a successful history against the AFC’s primary contender, the other major players in the conference slipping down a peg or two (Pittsburgh fighting to get in the playoffs, Cincinnati dropping a shocker to Oakland, the Patriots vulnerable defense), San Diego looks poised for one of its greatest playoff opportunities since Stan Humphries last wore lightning bolts.
I try to be the cautious fan when it comes to looking at the future, blind faith has a bad habit of leaving one burned. But the more this team performs regardless of who is on the field and how they are doing it, the more I think this just might be their best shot at playing in February.