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Chargers So Close, Yet So Far

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.latimes.com/sports/football/nfl/la-sp-nflcol2dec02,1,5073003.column?coll=la-headlines-sports-nfl" target="_blank">LA Times
    By Sam Farmer

    San Diego Charger receiver Keenan McCardell has been with five NFL teams. He has been on practice squads, Pro Bowl teams and a Super Bowl champion. He has played in just about every situation imaginable.

    But the one game he won't play is the "what-if" game.

    What if the Chargers hadn't benched Antonio Gates for the opener against Dallas? McCardell doesn't want to hear it.

    What if San Diego's lead-padding field-goal attempt hadn't been blocked and returned for the winning touchdown at Philadelphia? McCardell doesn't want to envision it.

    And what if the Chargers, who have lost four games by a total of 12 points, fail to make the playoffs this season? McCardell definitely doesn't want to talk about that.

    "If that happens," he said, "it's nobody's fault but our own."

    The fact remains that San Diego, arguably among the five best teams in the NFL, might not finish the regular season among the qualifying top 12. It's almost unfathomable that the Chargers, who have the potential league most valuable player in LaDainian Tomlinson, the game's best receiving tight end in Gates, and an elite quarterback in Drew Brees, could find themselves without a chair when the music stops playing.

    Were the season to end today, the AFC division winners would be New England, Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Denver, and the wild-card teams would be Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

    But the season doesn't end today, of course, and the Chargers (7-4) have ample opportunity to improve their chance of making the playoffs. They play five games this month, three against AFC West opponents. They finish their schedule with Denver at home on New Year's Eve. The Broncos, who, like the Chargers have won four in a row, have a two-game lead over San Diego and Kansas City in the division.

    "We certainly have not left ourselves any room for error," Charger Coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

    You can bet that any clear-thinking AFC team wouldn't be happy about going up against the Chargers in the playoffs. And San Diego is the most imposing hurdle between the Colts and an undefeated season. The Chargers play Dec. 18 at the RCA Dome and almost certainly will be fighting to keep their postseason hopes afloat.

    Through 12 weeks, the Chargers have scored 323 points and given up 219, for a differential of plus-104, which is second-best in the NFL to Indianapolis' plus-172.

    Regardless, San Diego still has to improve its standing to get into the playoffs.

    "In this league, the margin between winning and losing games is so small, it's a play or two," said Schottenheimer, whose team plays host to the Raiders on Sunday.

    "Used to be six or eight, and now it's a play or two."

    There's more than a spot in the playoffs, or even the Super Bowl, at stake for the Chargers. They're angling for a new stadium, and they need the support of the community to get one. Winning might not be essential to getting that deal done, but it sure couldn't hurt. It wasn't so long ago that many very vocal and influential San Diegans, fed up with footing the bill for unsold tickets at Qualcomm Stadium, were ready to show their team the door.

    And the Chargers don't have their new stadium yet. You'd better believe the NFL has one eye on the Chargers when it talks about the possibility of putting a team in Anaheim.

    Under the terms of their current deal, the Chargers are free to talk to other cities beginning Jan. 1, 2007 about possibly relocating.

    The deal allows the team to leave San Diego after the 2008 season, provided the team pays off the outstanding debt on the stadium. That cost will be $57 million in 2009, slightly less in 2010, and will drop off dramatically after that.

    Even though tension between the Chargers and the city remains very real, the team has made significant strides in the eyes of fans. Tomlinson, Gates and Brees are three of the more popular players in the league. And the team is in a strong position to compete for free agents this off-season. The Chargers are almost $20 million under the projected salary cap for 2006 - a better spot than 29 other teams, and better than every other team in the AFC West.

    The biggest question the Chargers will face in the off-season could have a ripple effect. Will they keep Brees or his backup, Philip Rivers, the No. 4 pick in 2004? Or might they throw a curve and keep both? Each player has a lot of trade value, and the Chargers look smarter and smarter for swinging a draft-day deal to send Eli Manning to the Giants for Rivers and picks.

    All of which means very little to McCardell at the moment. He and his teammates are focused on the now. And the now isn't what will happen after the season, nor is it the four oh-so-close defeats - by four points to Dallas, three points to Denver, two points to Pittsburgh, and three points to Philadelphia.

    "We put ourselves in this situation," McCardell said. "We can't even talk about those losses anymore. All we can control is what's in front of us."

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