By Curtis M. Egan
BoltTalk Staff Writer.
Ok, the Chargers were picked by many to be playing in Dallas Texas in February of 2011 where the Super Bowl will be played. However the message never got through to their opponents who had a decidedly different outcome in mind. Thus we find ourselves in the seventh week of the 2010 NFL season and the Chargers sit at 2-4, after playing perhaps the worst game of football under Head Coach Norv Turner, when they lost their fourth consecutive road game.
So perhaps the cork should remain in the Champagne bottle a bit longer. No long is the playoffs a certainty for this team, and thus the Super Bowl is not a certainty, not that it ever was. So the ‘soft’ portion of the Chargers schedule is over, and they return home to welcome the New England Patriots to town.
Fans of both teams will realize that these two teams know one another and in general do not like each other. They have had some donnybrooks in the recent past and that should not change this week. The Chargers are arguably the most under-achieving team thus far in the season. They have one of the better offenses and the defense is nothing to over look either. Yet, every game on the road the Chargers have found creative ways to lose the games to opponents who came to play hard.
So throw out the preseason predictions. Throw out the expectations of dominance in the division (The Chargers are tied for second in the AFC West with the Raiders, whom they lost to, and the Broncos, all behind the Chiefs). Throw away the arrogant assumption the Chargers will be hosting the playoffs come January.
Instead of scheduling the Super Bowl parties, or taunting fans of rivals teams, instead let us focus on enjoying the remaining 10 games, one game at a time and hope the team approaches each game in the same manner. Typically here I would list out how each team matches up by highlighting key stats and such, but not this week. Not this season. Instead let’s instead focus on some of the more interesting aspects of this competition.
Historically speaking the Chargers and patriots has met each other 37 times in the past. The patriots hold the series lead with 20-15-2. Returning home will give the beleaguered Chargers a needed boost, for they have suffered on the Road. The Chargers currently have a 7 game home winning streak on the line in this matchup. Further with a win over the Patriots this Chargers team moves closer to the longest home winning streak in team history, 10 games.
The Chargers have had some good Tight Ends in the past, arguably the best of those was Kellen Winslow who finished his career with 6,714 receiving yards. Current TE stand out Antonio Gates has 6,713 receiving yards, and with just 29 more yards passes Kellen for the sixth most receiving yards by a TE in NFL history. Gates also is currently tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 7.
This game should be the typical hard fought game the Patriots and Chargers put on. The Chargers are playing for pride right now, and my gut tells me they are playing to prove something to themselves. They are trying to recapture their confidence and swagger, and there is no better team on their early schedule to do that against than the Pats. Don’t get me wrong, I am not making any predications; I am simply suggesting that if the Chargers can play the game the way we know they are capable of, they protect Philip Rivers and win, they will take a huge step toward recapturing their confidence.
I am of the opinion, and have argued it with other fans that the problem facing the Chargers today is that they are focusing so hard on fixing the problems of last week, that they miss things this week. They are not playing instinctive football; instead they are playing reactive football. No where do I see that more clearly than in the special teams play, where they find a new way to break down each and every week.
There is a line I love from the movie the Last Samurai; Nobutada (Shin Koyamada) approaches Algren (Tom Cruise), who is getting the snot beat out of him as he is learning to fight and says “Please forgive; too many mind. Hai, mind the sword, mind the people watch, mind enemy - too many mind. No mind.” He was telling Algren to stop thinking about everything and start being instinctive. The Chargers need to get to that ‘No mind’ place and play some instinctive football, especially on special teams. Stop dividing your attention.
Philip Rivers has played some good football this season, not perfect but pretty damn good. He has thrown a touchdown in 19 consecutive regular season games. He is one TD away from tying the record of 20 consecutive touchdowns held by Chargers great Dan Fouts. Rivers has been hurries, harried, hit and sacked behind his line however. Just last week he suffered a seven sack game. Hopefully the protection will improve as Big Marcus McNeil has had an extra week to shake off the rust from the prolonged hold out.
The comparisons continue to roll in; Shaun Philips is only two away from moving into a fourth place tie for the number of sacks in team history. With two more he will join Mean Fred Dean on the list in fourth place. Fred has 53.5, and Shaun has 51.5.
Ok. So why should fans feel the Chargers, regardless of how they have played on the road can beat the vaunted New England Patriots? We there is reason for hope, to be sure. Mainly, just as the Raiders, Seashawks, Rams and Chiefs have shown, it is not what is on paper, it is what is on the field that is important. You cant just sing it, you have to bring it. If the Chargers come to play, in front of the home crowd they can get the victory.
Another beacon of hope is the Chargers defensive unit which rank first in the NFL in total and pass defense, and sixth against the run. I know; I know I said no stats, but I like them so. The Chargers have seven interceptions and 21 sacks. They are averaging 3.5 sacks per game and the team is on pace for a 56-sack season. Shaun Phillips leads the defense with six sacks, but Kevin Burnett in hot on his tail. Kevin has a career-high five sacks this season. He has been hot the last three games where he accumulated all five sacks. He is just 1.5 away from matching his career total of 6.5 coming into this season. Kevin also leads the team with 50 tackles.
The offense under Norv turner, with Rivers behind center is always a unit that has to be respected. The offense has had its own fast start this season, especially the duo of Rivers and Gates. They are off to the fastest starts of their careers collectively.
Rivers could eclipse another of Dan Fouts’ records. Rivers is on pace to throw for 2,680 yards in the season’s first eight games, which would better Dan Fouts’ NFL mark of 2,580 yards during the season’s first eight games in 1982. Rivers and Gates have hooked up for 39 career touchdowns, the sixth-most touchdowns between a quarterback-tight end in NFL history.
All the team records in the world really do not matter tough. What matters is the record made up of W’s and L’s. However there is reason for hope. But the Chargers need to get to that place of playing with ‘NO MIND’. They need to go out, play the game fast and furious. This is no scrub team, not that it would be a relief if they were. The Chargers have to prove something, prove it to themselves, to the fans, to the owners and to the league. They have to let the competition know that they will not go quietly into that night, that they will fight, scratch and claw to win the AFC West and make the playoffs.
Yes they have something to prove, and a win over the Patriots could be the start of that process. Go Botls!