This year's build up to the new NFL season created a distinct euphoria around the San Diego Chargers, with many claiming that they are destined for the playoffs and, potentially, Super Bowl glory. But, so far, that has failed to materialize, with the Chargers losing their first two games.
Last season, when the Bolts were plagued by injuries (TE Antonio Gates, RB LaDainian Tomlinson, and QB Philip Rivers to name a few), they still managed an 11-5 season and a playoff journey culminating in an AFC title defeat at the hands the New England Patriots.
Over the summer the combination of the injured players regaining fitness, some promising draft picks, and a 3-1 preseason all gave hope to all Chargers fans. These things served only to bolster the high opinions many commentators had of what seemed to be a polished San Diego outfit.
However, only a week into the new season, it was revealed that Pro Bowl outside linebacker Shawne Merriman had suffered a season-ending knee ligament injury that immediately dented the potency of the Chargers defense.
Although the loss of Merriman is a loss to the Chargers defense, they still retain a number of high caliber players on their depth chart, including Antonio Cromartie, Quentin Jammer, Luis Castillo, and Shaun Phillips. These players have the potential to cripple some of the best running and passing offenses in the league.
But this potential is yet to show, as both of the losses this season have come from last-minute defensive errors that have cost them the game. And although some fans or critics will say that the defeat to the Denver Broncos was a result of poor referee decisions, as a devout Chargers fan even I cannot defend the fact that after the referees decision the defense failed to defend the TD and then the humiliating two-point conversion that won the game.
Whilst the defense may be facing some early season jitters, the offense, for the most part, is functioning well under the command of a seemingly revitalized Phillip Rivers.
After the Super Bowl it seemed that in the 2004 draft the Chargers had lost a winning QB in Eli Manning (First overall pick by the Chargers, but traded to the Giants after he refused to sign with San Diego), but after knee surgery at the end of the '07 season Rivers seems to be showing signs of the form that took him to the College Senior Bowl in 2003.
This, combined with wideouts Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson and the fitness of Pro Bowl TE Antonio Gates, has vastly improved the potential of the Chargers' passing game.
Pivotal to the Chargers' game plan, of course, is LaDainian Tomlinson; the record holding Pro Bowl running back has run for over 1,200 yards and made over 50 receptions in each of his seven seasons in San Diego. However, last season LT was blighted with an injury in the playoffs that restricted him to only two carries against the Patriots in the AFC title game.
LT failed to take part in the 2008 preseason due to this injury, but was fully fit for the start of the regular season; or so it seemed. It has now emerged that in week one against the Carolina Panthers, LT suffered a toe injury which limited him in week two. Indications are that it will do so again against the Jets on Monday night, leaving backup Darren Sproles carrying the load.
Sproles, having posted a record game with 125 yards and two TD's might not be such a bad choice, but it will undoubtedly dent the team's confidence.
So the looming question is, does this set the tone for the rest of the season for the San Diego Chargers? Are they, with one of the best teams in the league on paper, going to falter yet again and fail to live up to the hype?
Personally I think what we have seen so far is merely a glimmer of the team's true potential. Once they turn the page on these controversial losses and iron out the mistakes that are proving to be so costly, we will see them rebuild their campaign and most likely find themselves in the playoffs in a position to go all the way.
Let's all just hope that lightning cant strike twice—oh wait it already has—well, keep your fingers crossed for week three then!