San Diego Chargers: "Playoffs? How'd They Do THAT?"
When discussing the NFL team that A.J. Smith built, Marty Schottenheimer finely-tuned, and Norv Turner luckily fell into we must borrow the immortal line from Jim Mora...
"Playoffs? PLAYOFFS? You talkin' about PLAYOFFS?"
Surprisingly enough, Jimbo, when it comes to the AFC Western Division champion San Diego Chargers, yep, we're a-talkin' playoffs, my friend.
Hey—I'm as surprised as YOU were, Mr. Mora. I remember walking out of Qualcomm Stadium about a month ago, after watching the Chargers struggle early and often in what became a six-point loss to a pretty darned good Atlanta Falcons team; My first thought was, "Well, that's just about it. The team looks half-dead, can't make any big plays, and the Broncos look like they're about to close the deal."
I guess the AFC West must have fallen out of escrow.
Now fast-forward to late December—San Diego takes advantage of their weak December schedule and racks up four consecutive wins to finish 8-8. The Broncos ended up pulling a "Jennifer Wilbanks," and ran away from the AFC West playoff picture faster than the much-maligned "Runaway Bride" hot-footed it away from that creepy ex-fiance of hers.
When you add all of these ugly puzzle pieces together, you find the Chargers have been forced (at gunpoint) to join the other five AFC teams in the annual post-season tournament.
Now, I ask ya—is this a GOOD thing, or a BAD thing for San Diego?
You know, Charger fans are funny. I spotted some footage on YouTube today showing a group of Chargers' fans celebrating in National City after the win over the Broncos. You'd swear from the response of the fans they just found out they all had a share in a winning lottery ticket.
All I hear from NFL players who take part in post-season play is, "Hey. you can't win it if you ain't IN it." OK, I'll buy that, and, those that know me KNOW I'm the "eternal Chargers' optimist." I SHOULD be happy about this, and, in a way, I am.
Agh...It's just tough to get the first 13 WEEKS out of my mind. Wow, the Chargers look GREAT in home wins over the once-high-flyin' Jets and the hated Patriots, but other times, they look like they're hung over from the night before, in lackluster games against (insert your name here).
Heck, just watch the first three quarters of the Chargers / Chiefs game at Arrowhead—THAT game's a microcosm of the entire season, for San Diego...
Chiefs up, 21-3, Chargers doing their best imitation of the Oakland Raiders. Then, suddenly, it's like someone went over to the Chargers' bench and yelled, "I can't get any good tee times, or any flights to Honolulu."
Philip Rivers throws two TD passes in the last 73 seconds of the game. Sandwiched around an on-sides kick recovery and the Bolts actually WIN the game, 22-21.
From there, the Chargers beat a fading Bucs' team by 14. Then find out the Denver Broncos have re-defined the word, "fading," by literally lying down on the Qualcomm stadium turf, and letting San Diego run (literally) all over them.
Darren Sproles had 115 yards rushing and a touchdown, LaDainian Tomlinson had 96 yards on the ground and THREE TD's and Jacob Hester put up 37 more yards on the ground and another rushing TD. Oh, well, that's OK—"Orange Curtain" just doesn't have as good a ring to it, anyway.
So, out goes Denver (thank goodness—they really WERE atrocious) and in go the Chargers.
First up in round one of the Wild Card Playoffs—Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts, a team that's probably still asking the question, "we went 12-4 this season, and we have to go WHERE?" Sorry, Peyton, that's a story for another day. But, let's go back out to National City, and ask the fans what THEY think...
"Super Bowl, BABY!"
I TOLD you Chargers fans are funny. But, here's something ELSE funny—a big-time oddsmaker who shall remain nameless (but take it from me, he's well-respected in his industry) is telling me HE believes that the AFC's Super-Bowl representative is going to be the team that wins THIS game (I guess he doesn't like Tennessee or Pittsburgh much, either).
Well, if the Chargers are going to have ANY chance of defeating the Manning-led Indianapolis Colts, they should follow my sure-fire system...
1) PLEASE try to cover Dallas Clark at least a little bit. In 2008, the Chargers' defense has covered the opposing tight end like he reeked of garlic. No Italian food for Dallas Clark thru room service, OK?
2) Tighten up that run defense. Unless I heard wrong, Tatum Bell was selling cell phones in some Costco six weeks ago until Mike Shanahan gave him a call from the ER at Invesco. Bell promptly packed Rudi Johnson's bag, flew to Denver, and looked like Barry Sanders against the Chargers "vaunted" run-defense last Sunday. It ain't Bell's fault that Shanahan forgot to use him more often. Frankly put, Joseph Addai can make Tatum Bell look like Tony Ugoh. If Addai had a 110+ night on the ground, and makes himself a major factor in the Colts' offensive game plan, you can try for those tee times again.
3) Keep the ultimate no-huddle tactician at QB guessing. If DC Ron Rivera can make the adjustments here and there to keep Peyton Manning at least a LITTLE off-balance, it sure will help. Manning's a stud, no doubt. He'll get his yards, and make his plays. He has no problem throwing the rock to anyone that's open. Hell, he made Tom Santi look like he was headed to Hawaii, before he got hurt. Just slow him down a little bit here and there, and keep the time of possession even between the two teams, around 30-30 each way, and the Chargers should be in the hunt.
I said should be in the hunt. Again, I remember the first 13 weeks. But, all it'll take for me to forget the first three months of the season is to go out and play with the same intensity and drive that the Chargers showed in those two games against Tampa Bay and Denver (decidedly lesser-caliber opponents than the current playoff opponent).
If they do, anything's possible. We shall see. Comments?:
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