There is no next year.
This isn’t about building for the future.
It’s not about taking stock and assessing team depth, either. Save that for the rest of the division.
The Chargers have to step out, lay waste to the West, get to the Super Bowl, win it, and put the official seal on the franchise’s 50th anniversary season.
And they really don’t have any excuses.
Lance Alworth deserves it. Dan Fouts deserves it. The legacy of Sid Gillman deserves it. Hell, Bud Whitehead deserves it. No question the fans deserve it.
Fly under the radar? Forget about it.
The national media has latched on to the fact the Chargers are primed for a deep run through the postseason, fueled in no small part by a tremendously weak AFC West division.
But the Chargers are not simply the best of the bad. They are among the elite teams in the AFC, the conference which currently holds the balance of power in the NFL.
This is no idle musing.
From quarterback to long-snapper, the Chargers are as talented as any roster in football.
Don’t think so? Go man for man, from starter to practice squad, and ID a team that’s better.
Of course, that claim was levied last year and the team staggered to a record of 4-8 before rallying with four straight victories to claim their third straight AFC West crown.
While a .500 mark could possibly win the division by a comfortable margin, another uphill climb through the playoffs likely won’t provide any greater results than last season’s second-round exit.
Too many games and too many trips to cold weather cities.
Which means the Chargers should go all the way this season.
That’s right should, because this is the NFL where there are no guarantees.
Turning perception to reality will require an attention to a few details, none of which have been lost on a team that is fully aware their time is now and not later.
The Chargers cannot take a 4-8 record into Dallas on Dec. 13
A year ago, the Chargers were four games under the .500 mark. They were trailing the Broncos by three games in the division before they stepped into their 13th contest of the season by hosting the Raiders.
Losing to the Raiders is as unlikely as Republicans supporting healthcare reform, and the Chargers rolled. Not one of their next three opponents—Kansas City, Tampa Bay or Denver—was a playoff team, and the Chargers ran the table to make it back to the postseason.
This year’s finishing quartet of the regular season? Home games against the Bengals and Redskins with a Christmas Day treat in Tennessee in addition to their visit to the Cowboys' new home. Four wins are unlikely.
So a sense of urgency in September is a no-brainer. The practice schedule is over, fellas.
The Chargers could easily open this season at 5-2 before they head back east to face the Giants in the final year of their stadium. A 6-1 mark is well within their grasp.
Protect Philip Rivers
Billy Volek is a nice guy, a solid backup player and one of the better second-string QBs in the NFL, but one whose role is best served wearing a ball cap.
Nothing against Volek, but this team is all about Philip Rivers.
Head coach Norv Turner can talk all day about a power running game. A healthy LaDainian Tomlinson will certainly provide a huge boost to the Chargers, but there is no more important player to this team than Rivers.
His strides in the league have been tremendous—enough to jettison Drew Brees three years ago and secure Rivers a $92-million contract extension a few weeks back that will keep him in San Diego until he is 34.
The highest-rated NFL passer last year, Rivers will take another step forward in his development and be blessed with plenty of targets. The Chargers will start a rookie at right guard in Louis Vazquez, but will rely heavily on left tackle Marcus McNeill to protect the blind side.
Lose Rivers, lose it all.
Turn Shaun Phillips loose
Sure, Shawne Merriman is back. Yes, he’s "Lights Out." And he’s intimidating (just ask Tila Tequila). But returning the defense to the force it was will require more than a healthy Merriman, who may have more than a double-team to worry about.
On the other side of the field is Shaun Phillips, who led the team in 2008 with 7.5sacks but too often was used in coverage under defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell. That changed somewhat with the promotion of Ron Rivera at the midpoint of last season, and will evolve further this year as Rivera uses a more aggressive and varied scheme to get to opposing quarterbacks.
Phillips is poised for another double-digit sack season.
Get the ball to Vincent Jackson
LT is in the backfield and the stock of Darren Sproles is highly valued as a buy, but moving the ball through the air is central to the Chargers’ success this season.
They have their man in Rivers under center, with a range of options that includes three-time All Pro Antonio Gates at tight end and one-time Pro Bowler Chris Chambers at wide receiver. It’s the man split wide to the other side, though, who will make the biggest difference for Rivers and the Chargers.
That would be Vincent Jackson, who completed his first 1,000-yard season a year ago and snagged a career-high seven TD receptions. Look for those numbers to tick upward as Rivers looks to Jackson as the go-to big-play man for the Chargers this season.
While Rivers has become the focal point of the offense, too many times Tomlinson has been relegated to glorified role player, and which has been especially evident in the Turner era. There is too much talent in the former MVP to decoy him or use him simply as a counter-punch.
The raps are that he’s 30 and hasn’t had an injury-free season in the last couple of years, but the man is motivated, appears healthy and is a multiple asset. There is no current player who combines as many offensive skills as Tomlinson.
No late fades
It was only a preseason game and the field was littered with down-the-depth-chart guys fighting for their jobs, but the Aug. 29 loss at Atlanta was hauntingly familiar.
The Chargers had outplayed the Falcons all night and were seemingly on-target for a W, but watched the opposition drive downfield and score with seconds to play. That wasn’t first-stringer Matt Ryan at the controls either, but journeyman reserve Chris Redman.
Remember the 2008 opener against Carolina? Again, it was practice, but those rehearsals should have included drills on sealing the deal.
It may have taken 50 years, but the Chargers’ time is now. The fans would like to keep you around.