Sure, that’s a loaded statement at best—as well it should be, seeing as how the Chargers are currently outside the playoff bubble looking in, but as it so often does, the December moon and stars could once again be realigning for another late season miracle. Slow starters they may be, but it seems the Chargers always find a way to kick it in at the right time.
Just two weeks ago, the Chargers dropped an important divisional matchup with the Raiders that left them two games behind the division-leading Chiefs. It was also the first time since 2005 that the Chargers had dropped a game in the month of December. Sitting at 6-6, coming off an embarrassing 28-13 loss to the Raiders, the Chargers entered their critical Week 14 matchup with the Chiefs barely hanging on to football life support; a loss would leave them three games back with three to play and no chance at winning a tie-breaker.
Well that was nearly two weeks ago and my, “how things can suddenly change!”
The Chargers responded with their typical holiday cheer in Week 14 with a dominant performance over there divisional rivals (Chiefs) winning by a score of 31-0. The visiting Chiefs were without their starting quarterback Matt Cassel (suffered appendectomy earlier in the week), and like sharks in the water, the Bolts smelled the blood and feasted on their visitors.
Continuing with their regular seasons greetings, the Bolts bombed the visiting 49ers on Thursday night 34-7. The win marked their second in the month of December this season and gave them 21 wins out of their last 22 meetings in the jovial month.
Could it be once again the Chargers are doing just what they do; a slow start and strong finish? It certainly seems like everything is now setting up for this to happen. The win over the Chiefs moved the Bolts to a game back and their early win this week (on Thursday) now puts the Chargers just a half-game behind the division leaders. With Cassel’s health still in question, there’s a chance the Chiefs may have to play without him this week on the road in St. Louis, no easy task for a team that is 2-5 traveling this season.
So, what if the Chiefs do lose this Sunday to the Rams—in the scheme of all things postseason related, what would this really mean? If Chiefs do lose and both teams (Chiefs and Chargers) win out, finishing tied at 10-6, the Chargers would get the divisional title by virtue of a better conference record.
And this is not what the rest of the league wants to hear or see come to fruition.
As it has been, the way of the Bolts for the past several seasons: slow starters, turn it on late. What they have been doing lately and will likely need to do to reach the postseason is also likely to put a very big scare in the rest of the league (in particular, their AFC counterparts).
When the 2010 season began, there were a lot of folks that pegged this San Diego team as one of few that would still be playing in late January. And like they have done in the past, their slow start was a cause for concern for a lot of the same folks that had them going deep into the playoffs. Injuries, inconsistent and poor play on special teams had really sabotaged this team’s chances at making a serious run early. Now that we have reached the latter part of the season, the Chiefs had their opportunity less than two weeks ago (in Week 14) to put the Chargers away, but just when they had them down and nearly out, the Bolts have come back!
The Chargers have managed to clean up some of that sloppy special teams play, but what has really been the secret to their success and that has been working well; their explosive offense ranked third in scoring (27.7 points per game) and ranked second in passing (397 yards per game). Not to be overshadowed by their offensive counterparts, the Bolts No. 1-ranked defense can’t be overlooked as one of the big reasons for the team’s success, as well.
On Thursday night in Week 15, the defense was impressive, limiting their opponents to just 192 total net yards and sacking the opposing quarterback six times. This was just a sample of what the defense has been doing all season: No. 1 pass defense (170 yards per game), No. 4 run defense (89 yards per game) and 44 sacks that lead the league.
With their defense playing this well (seven points allowed in their last two games), you would think that would be enough to have to worry about. If you managed to catch a glimpse of the Thursday night contest, you may have noticed an unfamiliar number roaming all over the field playing catch with quarterback Philip Rivers and scoring touchdowns.
His number is only unfamiliar because of the time he has missed (holdout and suspension), but the San Diego faithful surely recognized No. 83, wide receiver Vincent Jackson. As well they should, as he was just doing was fans had become accustomed to seeing him do—big plays and big catches.
Facing a talented and playmaking defense (three touchdowns this season) like the Chargers is enough to put a little fear in most opponents, but add an offense like one the Bolts can boast, and it becomes a nightmare.
Tom Brady may be the most feared quarterback in the league at the moment, but I can tell you no team in this league is going to want to face Philip Rivers ( 4,141 yards, 29 touchdowns) and the San Diego Chargers in January, especially with them playing this well and how much healthier they may be in the post season.
With the 6’5” Vincent Jackson (three touchdowns Thursday night) back in the lineup and apparently ready to take on the world with Rivers, the Chargers offense (65 points scored in their last two games) looks awesome. With 10 days between their next game, the Chargers now have time to get even healthier. The Bolts were minus their 6’5” wide receiver Malcom Floyd and receiver Patrick Crayton, who both look on track to be back for Week 16.
As the Bolts get healthy and you look at their finishing schedule with the Bengals (2-11) and the Broncos (3-10), they do look like money to win out. The big question will come down to, can the Chiefs keep pace? They finish this week at St. Louis (6-7), home against Tennessee (5-8) in Week 16, and their season finale at home with the Raiders (6-7). No matter how you look at it, the stars just keep lining up for the Chargers and another December run.
Rivers leads all quarterbacks with over 4,000 yards passing and 29 touchdowns (tied with Brady) this season, and he has done this with a patch work of receivers. Now that his best weapons are getting healthy and he has his best one back, we could be seeing the rebirth of “Air Coryell.”
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has yet to mentioned because he is nursing a foot injury that will likely keep him sidelined until the postseason (should the Chargers make it). And then there is that for opponents to worry about, too; even that is enough to worry the Brady Bunch in Foxboro.
A healthy Chargers lineup in the postseason could look like this: Rivers under center, Jackson (already three touchdowns) and Floyd (six touchdowns) at the receiver spots, Gates (10 touchdowns) at tight end and Mike Tolbert (11 rushing touchdowns) lining up in the backfield. How do you stop that? Can you stop that?
The likely opponents in the postseason that are going to have all kinds of matchup problems with San Diego could include the Patriots (ranked 31st against the pass), the Steelers (ranked 23rd), the Jaguars (ranked 28th), the Ravens (ranked 14th and the Jets (ranked ninth). The problem, too, for most of these teams, is that only the Steelers (39 sacks in 2010) do a great job of bringing pressure.
The Chargers have had their problems with protection (32 sacks allowed this season), but in their last two games the offensive line has only allowed three sacks. With time Rivers has been able to complete better than 75 percent of his passes (in his last two starts).
On paper alone the Chargers boast a very scary looking “village of the (well over 6’) giants” lineup. On the gridiron, they pose a more surreal nightmare for opposing defenses with their size and playmakers. With the accurate arm of Rivers and the sheer size of his targets, the Charger’s offense will present a lot of problems for opposing defenses and undoubtedly will do a lot of damage, as well.
No matter how you look at this, the Chargers look like a complete team starting to fire on all cylinders (top-rated offense, No. 1 defense). They are in many ways like a fast-approaching giant tsunami; your only hope to survive is to get out of the way.
They may be only 8-6 in the standings, but the rest of the league knows the best way to handle this oncoming disaster is to avoid it all together. You can bet there are going to be a lot more Chiefs fans outside the Missouri area rooting for a win in St. Louis on Sunday.
If this thing goes the Chargers way and they make the postseason, there are going to be a lot of folks once again singing the praises of the team (Chargers) they picked to win the Super Bowl way back in September, and who could argue?
Just my take.