After Week 8 of the NFL season, two of the AFC’s perennial contenders were arguably the biggest disappointments of the entire league.
The Indianapolis Colts were coming off five straight AFC South titles and looked again to be the class of the division. In fact, the Super Bowl XLI champs had won at least 12 games in each of those last five campaigns, and were expected to continue that trend. Heck, didn’t they start off every year going 7-0 and challenging to go undefeated?
The San Diego Chargers had won three AFC West titles in the last four years—including a 14-2 season in 2006—and were one victory away from getting to the Super Bowl last season. Many were picking the Chargers as a Super Bowl team this season.
After Week 8 though, things were completely different from the way many had envisioned. (Let me now say that I am neither an Indy nor San Diego fan, before the Chargers fans email me to rip me for 'praising' the Colts.)
The Colts were 3-4 at the time, and were considered lucky to even have three wins.
The Chargers were 3-5 following two straight defeats heading into their bye week.
The Colts have managed to recover. The Bolts, however, couldn’t. But thanks to the sometimes-ineptness of the Denver Broncos, the Chargers are somehow still alive in the AFC West race despite a 6-8 record.
San Diego would need to win in Tampa Bay this week and hope the Broncos lose against last-place Buffalo. That will set up a winner-take-all contest in Week 17 for the division title at Qualcomm Stadium.
(You know what though? If the Chargers were to win the division, they would be an 8-8 team. The idea that a .500 team wins a division title—and gets a home game in the wild card round—is so ridiculous that if the Chargers somehow were to pull that off, they should just forfeit and not want to partake in the playoffs.)
Let’s look at the Chargers’ disappointing season first.
San Diego fans can complain all they want about the Ed Hochuli blown call in Denver in Week 2, when the ref ruled an incomplete pass when replays clearly showed a fumble by Broncos QB Jay Cutler. The blown call, of course, kept Denver alive and yes, the Chargers went on to lose a heartbreaker, 39-38, when Broncos head coach Mike Shanahan went for a two-point conversion at the end and Cutler made it. This defeat came after the Bolts began the season dropping a stunning 26-24 decision to the Carolina Panthers, when Jake Delhomme’s 14-yard TD pass as time expired doomed San Diego.
Following the New England victory, San Diego was actually 3-3 and could easily have turned their season around. After all, the Bolts started 1-3 in 2007 and still managed to rebound and take the AFC West crown with 10 wins in their final dozen contests. The Bolts, however, proceeded to drop five of their next six to fall to 4-8, including back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Indianapolis, a pair of elite AFC teams.
Their only win in that span: a 20-19 home squeaker against lowly Kansas City, a game in which the Chargers played poorly in the first half and actually trailed by a TD at the break.
I’m sorry, but if you can’t beat the Kansas City Chiefs—who by the way are only 2-12 this year (despite being competitive in several outings)—by more than a field goal, and if you lose to non-playoff teams like Buffalo (Week 7) and New Orleans (Week 8—and yes, I know Saints’ QB Drew Brees is having an unbelievable year, but come on, the Saints aren’t going to the playoffs), you don’t deserve to go to the dance yourself.
Besides, if you want to make the postseason, you’ll have to come up with a strong effort against contenders too, and yet the Chargers managed to lose to the Steelers (after blowing yet another fourth-quarter lead) and Colts. Yes, they came close in both the Pittsburgh and Indy games before ultimately losing in the final seconds, but if you’re a legitimate contender yourself, you’ve got to stop these teams and not let them beat you in that fashion.
The Chargers haven’t been able to win close games—other than two KC contests—and have found ways to lose them late. So blaming Hochuli in the Week 2 debacle just isn’t going to cut it. Besides, that was the second week. The Bolts have had ample opportunities to right the ship and haven’t been able to. The fact is, good teams should be able to rebound from such bad breaks.
Speaking of good teams…
Meanwhile, in Indianapolis, things looked bleak when the Colts started 3-4. They lost the season-opener to Chicago in a rematch of Super Bowl XLI thanks to the Bears’ strong defense and their own inept running game. Indy then followed that stinker up with a Week 2 contest at the Metrodome, and for a while it looked as though the Vikings would prevail, with the Colts down 15-zip late in the third quarter and the Minnesota defense suffocating Peyton Manning. But the Colts rallied and won on a field goal with three seconds left, and everything seemed fine again.
Yet the Colts lost at home to the Jacksonville Jaguars and were down 27-10 to the upstart Texans in Houston with only eight minutes remaining. A loss would have dropped Indy to 1-3. Texans QB Sage Rosenfels, however, fumbled twice and threw an interception, allowing the Colts to score 21 points in just over two minutes.
Indianapolis could well have been 0-4 or 1-3 after four weeks, but were able to pull out wins that say, a team like the 2008 Chargers, weren’t capable of doing earlier in the year.
After the Houston game, Indy then beat Baltimore before dropping back-to-back games in Green Bay and Tennessee. At 3-4, the Colts were looking at the Patriots and Steelers. Despite the fact New England had lost MVP Tom Brady for the rest of the year, the Pats were 5-2. The Steelers were also 5-2 at that point in the season.
The Colts could easily have given up, but no, Manning’s troops staged rallies in against both New England and Pittsburgh, and haven’t lost since. Oh yeah, one of those wins since then has come at the expense of the Chargers: another one San Diego managed to blow late.
Indy, winners of eight straight, is 11-4 and has wrapped up the top wild card spot in the AFC. There’s even talk now of Manning possibly winning yet another MVP.
Yes, being a wild card team isn’t exactly what we would have expected from an Indy team that has traditionally been the class of the division. But at least they’re going to the playoffs, and right now they seem unstoppable.
Yes, the Chargers are still alive, but let’s call their season what it is… they’re a major disappointment.
Nope, I have no rooting interest for either team and I’d always disliked the Colts to begin with, but I must say I’m impressed by how they’ve managed to put together this late run. Am I a fan? Nope, but let’s give them all the credit in the world for making the playoffs. The Chargers? If they somehow pull off the miracle, I don’t think I’ll be cheering for them come playoff time.