Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.nfl.com/news/story/9854931">NFL.com</a>
By Gordon Forbes
<img align="left" alt="Marty Schottenheimer" title="Marty Schottenheimer" src="http://images.sportsnetwork.com/football/nfl/allsport/chargers/schottenheimer_marty3.jpg" />(Dec. 6, 2006) -- This is the week that Marty Schottenheimer and the streaking San Diego Chargers try to attain the unattainable -- a sweep of the Denver Broncos.
The last time the Chargers swept was in 1982, when Philip Rivers was 1-year-old and Schottenheimer was a defensive coordinator in Cleveland, teaching a kid named Clay Matthews the tricks of playing linebacker. Although Schottenheimer won't admit it, at least not until the Chargers take him to his first Super Bowl, this is the best team in his 20-year head-coaching career.
"They show a great resiliency," Schottenheimer said. "We still have a considerable journey in front of us. We really haven't done anything yet in terms of what we set out to do, which is to qualify for the playoffs. This thing can change in a heartbeat."
Sure, but the Chargers, now 10-2, have an extremely favorable schedule: three of their last four at home, two against AFC West rivals Denver and Kansas City. And with LaDainian Tomlinson at the top of his running game, Rivers in a special rhythmic passing zone and linebacker Shawne Merriman back from his suspension, the Chargers could sweep and finish 14-2.
Tomlinson's bursts have allowed the Chargers to overcome injuries to defensive end Luis Castillo, linebacker Shaun Phillips and free safety Marlon McCree, and Merriman's four-game drug suspension. After 12 games, Tomlinson has rushed for 1,324 yards and scored 26 touchdowns. He is almost certain to break the NFL record of 28, held by Seattle's Shaun Alexander.
Now they are talking about Tomlinson, tossing around him the names of other great backs. Jim Brown and Emmitt Smith. Barry Sanders and Walter Payton.
"He's the Michael Jordan of the sport right now," said Buffalo defensive coordinator Perry Fewell before Tomlinson ran for 178 yards, veering and exploding in wintry Buffalo during the Chargers' sixth consecutive victory. "He has great vision. He has excellent acceleration. So he can be here and then he can be, like pfftt!, out of the gate."
Tomlinson was taken at the top of a 2001 draft that might be the most influential in San Diego history. Only three draftees made it in the Chargers' wheeler-dealer weekend: Tomlinson; quarterback Drew Brees and linebacker Carlos Polk. Yet, Tomlinson became an instant superstar, and Brees held the Chargers together before jumping to New Orleans in the offseason.
Meanwhile, Rivers was snapped up in a shockingly odd deal early in the 2004 draft. Eli Manning, the No. 1 pick, balked at signing with the Chargers, who were coming off a 4-12 season and had the AFC's worst defense. The Giants, who had drafted Rivers, negotiated a quarterback trade -- Manning for Rivers -- that left Papa Archie Manning beaming.
But now Rivers has emerged as a legitimate playmaker, a fierce competitor with great vision and anticipation and an underrated arm. Of course, Tomlinson attracts a lot of run support in the box, meaning that Rivers can work from his play-action book, creating problems for linebackers and a lot of one-on-one matchups downfield.
And if his wideouts are covered, Rivers can feed Antonio Gates, a Pro Bowl tight end who had five second-half catches in the Chargers' rally from a 17-point deficit against the Broncos. In that 35-27 triumph, the Broncos got the ball back at their own 2-yard line with 1:10 left to play. If Schottenheimer had a flashback moment, he wouldn't admit it.
In the 1987 AFC Championship Game, John Elway drove the Broncos 98 yards to tie Schottenheimer's Cleveland Browns. The series, all drama and exhaustion, came to be known as "The Drive." The Broncos won in overtime on another Elway drive.
Two years later, in another shootout for the AFC title, Cleveland's Earnest Byner lost a goal-line handoff as the Browns were about to force another overtime struggle. In Browns lore, that loss is known simply as "The Fumble."
Over the years, Schottenheimer has endured heartbreaking defeats like that, a lot of them against the Broncos. His best team before this one was the 1997 Kansas City Chiefs. Their Derrick Thomas-led defense piled up 54 sacks and 34 turnovers. Their 13-3 record gave the Chiefs the home-field edge in the playoffs. Yet, they were jittery and drab, and lost again to Elway's Broncos, 14-10.
When the Broncos file out of their visitors' dressing room Dec. 10 at Qualcomm Stadium, Schottenheimer won't be thinking back to any of those terrible days. The first sight of those orange and navy blue colors won't mean a thing, except the climactic end of another work week for the coach. The only lapse might be the appearance of Jay Cutler, the Broncos' new quarterback, in a shotgun formation. Maybe Marty might just think back to the Elway years. Just for a fleeting second.
Once, when asked how he learned to deal with the bitter losses, Schottenheimer had a ready answer. "I'll think about the season until the Super Bowl champion is crowned," he said. "Then I'm able to forget it because everybody is 0-0 for next year."
Schottenheimer has won 196 games with the Browns, Chiefs, Redskins (8-8 in a move-in, move-out season in 2001) and Chargers. That's three more than Chuck Noll. Yet, you rarely hear Schottenheimer's name mentioned in any discussion of great head coaches. That's because Marty has never won a Super Bowl; indeed, never been to one.
And that leads us to a game of what-might-have-been. What if Elway had not pulled off "The Drive"? What if Byner hadn't committed "The Fumble"? The Browns could have been in two Super Bowls within three years. Surely Marty Schottenheimer would have stayed in Cleveland. And maybe the Browns would have gotten a new lakefront stadium for their heroics. And maybe the idea of moving would never have entered owner Art Modell's mind.
Modell, however, doesn't believe there would have been a spinoff from any Super Bowl appearance. "Knowing the politics, I don't think it would have made a damn bit of difference," says Modell, now a minority owner in Baltimore. "I remember one day in my office at the old stadium. There was water dripping down on the paper I was writing. I found out it came from the men's room upstairs."
All Schottenheimer knows, or wants to know, is that the 7-4 Broncos are a dangerous team.
"If you sit down and try to match up (the playoff possibilities), you're wasting your time," he said. "With the position we're in, we can't worry about anything down the road. They're going to be a handful. That's all we're interested in. All that other stuff, I don't pay attention to it."
Schottenheimer knows, but won't mention this to his team. Broncos coach Mike Shanahan was Elway's offensive coordinator during "The Drive" and "The Fumble" games.
But now the Chargers are creating those kinds of high-drama finishes in surging to the top of the AFC West. They trailed Cincinnati by 21 points and Denver by 17 points and won both games, back-to-back.
As Schottenheimer says, they are a resilient bunch.