By Curtis Egan
<em>BoltTalk Staff Writer</em>
<a href="http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=media%2Fgettyphoto%2FGYI0059219458.jpg&w=405&h=589"><img class="alignright" title="SAN DIEGO - JANUARY 03: (L-R) Philip Rivers #17, Antonio Gates #85 and Malcom Floyd #80 of the San Diego Chargers celebrate a touchdown by Gates in the first half against the Washington Redskins at Qualcomm Stadium on January 3, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers defeated the Redskins 23-20. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)" src="http://a.espncdn.com/combiner/i?img=media%2Fgettyphoto%2FGYI0059219458.jpg&w=405&h=589" alt="" width="144" height="209" /></a>The San Diego â€˜Super' Chargers are arguably the hottest team in the NFL, rolling into the playoffs as the AFC's second seeded team, and on an eleven game winning streak. The Chargers who were pronounced dead early in the season after a loss to the Denver Broncos who started the season 6-0, and took an early lead in the AFC West. But the Chargers stormed back in an extraordinary fashion to not only win their fourth consecutive AFC West Title.
In doing so they also break yet another team record, twice before did the Chargers win the AFC West Three times in a row, well three times if you count the current squad. 1963-1965 the Chargers won the AFC West, in three consecutive seasons. Again in 1979-1981, they repeated the three season run. This team is the first Charger team to win the division four times in a row.
Only one team in the history of the AFC West has won it more often than the San Diego Chargers. <em>The hated Oakland Raiders.</em> They won it five times in a row between the years 1971-1976. In fact the Chargers are just one game behind the Raiders for the most AFC West titles of any team; The Raiders have 16 titles, The Chargers 15, The Broncos 10, the Chiefs 8 and the Seahawks have 2.
The Chargers who are currently tied for the second best win-loss record in the NFL this season know that the 11 game winning streak means nothing once they enter the playoffs. The team will have two days off before returning to practice Wednesday. They will need to find a way after a weekend break to focus as they enter the most important season of the year, PLAYOFF SEASON!
The Chargers stumbled out of the gates and at one time had a win-loss record of 2-3, and many media pundits, and fans were proclaiming this team dead, and calling for just about every head there was to be called for. Now, the Chargers are the only team in AFC West to make it to the playoffs, even though the Denver Broncos started the season 6-0.
Many would think that the Chargers had an easy schedule, in April the Charges were proclaimed to be in the middle of the road as far as strength of schedule was concerned. After all, they had the Bengals, Dolphins, Browns, Broncos, Chief and Raiders on their schedule. But as it proves each season, early strength of schedule predictions are, well, just ink on paper. As it turns out, the Chargers faced four of the twelve teams that are in the playoffs already; the Ravens, Bengals, Eagles and Cowboys. If you count the AFC teams that were still alive in the playoff hunt the last day of the season that number goes up.
The Chargers had to work to win all their games, we as fans can look back now and see the eleven game streak and feel a sense of pride, but we should never think it was easy. The Chargers worked hard, and to their credit they have not quit in any game, and played until the final second. Take a look at the synopsis of the games below, each were decided by eight or less points, in the final seconds of the game:
<strong>Winning The Close Games:</strong>
Chargers Running Back Darren Sproles surprised the surprisingly feisty Raiders, and took the handoff five yards up the middle capping an 89-yard drive that put the Chargers ahead 24-20 with 18 seconds remaining. An ensuing desperation pass from Raiders Quarterback JaMarcus Russell was intercepted ending the game with a kneel down by San Diego Quarterback Philip Rivers.
<em>Chargers 24, Raiders 20</em>
Chargers Wide Receiver Vincent Jackson caught a touchdown pass from Quarterback Philip Rivers, putting the Chargers ahead 21-20 with 21 seconds left in the game sealing the victory over the New York Giants, and the Quarterback who scorned the Chargers on draft day years ago, Eli Manning.
<em>Chargers 21, Giants 20</em>
San Diego staved off a late game rally by the Philadelphia Eagles when Chargers Cornerback Antonio Cromartie intercepted a pass from Eagles Quarterback Donovan McNabb on the final play of the game.
<em>Chargers 31, Eagles 23</em>
Chargers Running Back LaDainian Tomlinson, out on special teams, recovered the Cleveland Browns' onside kick with 38 seconds remaining to cement the win for the Chargers.
<em>Chargers 30, Cleveland 23</em>
In a nationally televised game, from the NFL's version of the Taj Mahal; Kicker Nate Kaeding connected on a 34-yard field goal to give the Chargers a 20-10 lead with 1:56 only remaining. The Cowboys promptly scored a touchdown on their next possession but couldn't recover the onside kick with 2 seconds left.
<em>Chargers 20, Dallas 17</em>
Reliable, clutch Kicker Nate Kaeding blasted a 52-yard field goal with just three seconds left in the game to give the Chargers their ninth win in a row. The kick was made possible by a Drive where the Chargers worked the sideline with no time outs left, concluding with a 15 yard completion from Chargers Quarterback Philip Rivers to Wide Receiver Malcom Floyd.
<em>Chargers 27, Cincinnati 24</em>
In the first game of a new Decade the Chargers trailed for a good portion of the game while their starters rested. However in the last seconds of the game Chargers backup Quarterback Billy Volek hit Fullback Mike Tolbert on a 2-yard touchdown with only 39 seconds left to give the Chargers the lead. San Diego's defense then took over, sealing the victory by forcing four straight incompletions by Redskins Quarterback Jason Campbell.
<em>Chargers23, Redskins 20</em>
<strong>One If By Land, Three If By Air Turner</strong>
The Chargers were no slouches offensively during the regular season of 2009. They ranked tenth in total offense, but fifth in passing offense. They led the league with 67 plays of 20 or more yards, and were tied with the Minnesota Vikings for sixth for team with plays of 40 or more yards with 13. Now that is some balling on the offensive side of the game!
November 15, 22, 29, and December 06 saw the Chargers score at least 30 points in each 4 games, including a high of 43 against the Kansas City Chiefs. The Chargers also set an NFL Record under the leadership of Norv Turner, and the rocket arm of Philip Rivers, scoring 20 points or more in their last 22 games.
Defensively, I believe the Chargers played better than their sixteenth ranked defense shows. They made some great goal line stands and kept the teams out of the end zone more often than not. Defensive Coordinator Ron Rivera added some new looks to the Chargers defensive scheme, taking some of the lessons he learned from the late Jimmy Johnson during his days as a defensive coach with the Eagles.
Rivera's schemes which at times includes the off balance lines, where the defense lines up more men on one side of the line than the offense can block, creating miss matches and preventing the offensive line from knowing who to block has allowed them to get to the opposing Quarterbacks this season. They are tied with the New Orleans Saints for thirteenth in the league with 35 sacks on the season.
However, where Rivera's scheme has worked very well is using the speed of his defense to create fumbles. In this the Chargers are tied for eighth on the season with the New England Patriots with 18 forced fumbles. They recovered ten of those, scoring two touchdowns off of them.
So while the defense is not putting up the gaudy numbers the offense is, they have kept the Chargers in games and allowed the offense to out score the opposition. They gave up yardage in the middle of the field, quite often because teams had to pass on the Chargers with a lead, though at times due to a maddening knack for allowing runs to get to the second layer of the defense. That said, in the red zone the Chargers defense did their work, did it well enough to complement the offense and see that they get a first round bye in the playoffs.
Quite a few fans have expressed discontent with the defense this season, however I believe you would agree that the Defense stiffened when needed keeping the opposition out of the end zone, most notable on a goal line stand in Dallas where the Chargers kept the Cowboys from rushing the ball into the end zone on a critical fourth-and-goal in the second quarter. Also the Chargers prevented the Cowboys from converting on seven of eight third down tries.
<strong>No Rest For The Weary</strong>
We all know the injuries that the Chargers have dealt with this season, and in my opinion dealt with them in an extraordinary fashion. Who would have thought that the loss of monster Nose Tackle Jamal Williams would not have heralded the collapse of the defense? Many fans have said for some time, that the defense goes as Jamal goes. If he is healthy, the defense is a monster- If not, well-.
We were proven that may not be as correct as it sounded at the time we were begging AJ Smith to draft Jamal's replacement. Same can be said about the Chargers losing starting Center nick Hardwick for most of the season. The Chargers proved to have the most talented depth in the league, and when the depth wasn't there, AJ Smith went out and got quality depth.
In all the Chargers have placed at least seven players on Injured Reserve this season (Brandon Hughes, Jamal Williams, Antwan Applewhite, Jyles Tucker, Jeromey Clary, Ogemdi Nwagbuo, and Scott Mruczkowski (Now why does spell check baulk at so many names on this list?)- To fill the gaps, AJ Smith brought in the likes of Alfanso Boone, Dennis Norman, John Runyan, Marques Harris, and Eric Ghiaciuc.
Now any team that can deal with the level of injuries the Chargers did, and still maintain an eleven game winning streak against some very good teams should speak of good coaching, and quality depth. The Coaches were able to place the backups into the rotation and have them ready to play on game day. Those listed above were just the players placed on IR. There was a plethora of less sever injuries the Chargers played through week in and week out without missing a step. To me this was the true strength the Chargers displayed this season, the ability to overcome injuries and maintain continuity.
The Chargers as mentioned before have three days of practice this week (Wednesday, Thursday and Friday), they will get the weekend off to watch the other teams play, get to know their families again, then be back at work on Monday getting ready for their big game the following week.
There are no easy games in the playoffs. The Chargers will continue to produce on offense, hold the line on defense, overcome injuries and never say die to make it to their final goal. But this team my friends, this team has a very good shot at hoisting the Lombardi trophy. It is not a given, it is not easy, but what has been easy for the San Diego Chargers this 2009 season?
Go Bolts, and god bless!
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