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Don’t underestimate the power of a moral victory

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Jan 2, 2007.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    <img width="338" height="224" alt="Igor Olshansky (99) and Kris Dielman (68) wave to fans after the game." title="Igor Olshansky (99) and Kris Dielman (68) wave to fans after the game." src="http://photos.signonsandiego.com/gallery1.5/albums/061231cardinals/JBchgAriz265907x210.jpg" />

    By Tom Dodge aka Thunderstruck

    As the dust settles on the 2006 regular season and the gauntlet of the NFL playoffs is readied, the San Diego Chargers find themselves with a little extra time on their hands. The fruits of their sixteen-games of labor are a 14-2 record, home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, and-perhaps most importantly to these weary gladiators-a bye week. The time off will afford them the opportunity to unwind, heal some nagging injuries, and recharge their batteries after a stretch run that required supreme focus.

    While the Chargers spend the next few days recovering from the rigors of a long regular season and a sometimes bumpy stretch-run, we as fans have an opportunity for a bit of reflection. 2006 has been a truly amazing year for San Diego. The emergence of Philip Rivers as a first-year starter; the magnificence of LaDainian Tomlinson and his record-setting season; the ability of the defense to overcome adversity and some self-inflicted wounds; the dominance at home-these are all things that stand out in my mind as I reflect on the regular season. The Bolts not only emerged as one of the elite teams in the NFL, they often looked the part of the "team of destiny." 2006 was the year that fans of the San Diego Chargers became true believers.

    It's hard to pinpoint the precise game or moment when our collective mindset transformed from that of loyalists with die-hard faith into true believers. Was it the amazing comeback win against the Bengals on the road? Was it the equally amazing comeback the very next week against the hated Broncos in Mile High on national television? Perhaps it was later, after Vincent Jackson tumbled to the turf cradling a Philip Rivers touchdown bomb with time waning in the fourth quarter to beat the Seahawks. Was it when LaDainian Tomlinson ran a power-left and bounced it outside to the pylon and scored his record-breaking 29th touchdown?

    Those all stand out as "team-of-destiny" moments. Every Super Bowl champion can point back to games in the regular season where they had to mount a miracle comeback or where they won a game by the grace of the officiating crew, or where it just seemed like fate was on their side. It's just such games that give a team the confidence to overcome adversity in the postseason.

    But in the case of the Chargers, the game that stands out in my mind, as the turning point in the season wasn't a miracle comeback or a twilight-zone finish. In fact, it was a game the Chargers lost. It was week six, at Arrowhead stadium; the first game against the rival Kansas City Chiefs.

    Before I explain my reasoning for choosing that game as my "True Believer" moment I'll set the stage. The Chargers were 4-1 going into their divisional match-up with the Chiefs. Their one loss had come against the Baltimore Ravens-a blown fourth quarter lead. Their four wins had all come against lesser opponents and in convincing fashion. Only one-the week-four match-up with the Steelers-had required San Diego to overcome even a small deficit.

    So, several questions remained unanswered about the Chargers going into the game at Kansas City. Was a fourth quarter deficit still San Diego's kryptonite? Could this team overcome adversity in the second half of games? What about the youthful Philip Rivers? Could he make plays with his back against the wall? If he was put into a position where it was up to him to rally the team while the opposing defense pinned their ears back, could he do it? If Tomlinson was neutralized and the team fell behind late, could the offense overcome?

    It was with these questions still lingering that the Chargers played possibly their worst thirty-minutes of football in that first half in Arrowhead. Three turnovers, several penalties, defensive breakdowns, a running game that was AWOL, porous pass-protection, and a deer-in-the-headlights expression from the first-year quarterback all pointed to a blowout win for the home team. It was the kind of first-half that can shake a team's confidence by revealing every weakness; a game where nothing is going your way, the environment is hostile, and oh-by-the-way, the opponent is playing well. By half-time the Chargers were lucky to be down 20-6.

    But a funny thing happened on the way to the blowout loss. The Chargers remembered how to play football at half-time. The efficiency that had been lost in the first-half suddenly re-appeared. Rivers was given time to throw and looked poised and confident. His accuracy returned. Tomlinson started making plays. Receivers started getting open. Blockers started blocking. The defense started-well-defending. And before you knew it, Tomlinson was tossing a little one-yard option pass to Brandon Manumaleuna to tie the game at 27 late in the fourth quarter.

    Ultimately, the Chargers lost the game on a 53-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes with time expiring. At the time it was a tough defeat to swallow. But the Chargers learned a lot about themselves on that balmy day in late October. They learned that they could play about as badly as they are capable of playing and then somehow re-acquire their focus. They discovered that if they don't beat themselves the other team probably wouldn't either. And they were brutally reminded that ball-security really is the ultimate predictor of success in the NFL.

    But most importantly of all, they learned that their young quarterback could, in fact, overcome adversity in a hostile venue. Arrowhead is the same stadium where Ryan Leaf was irreversibly exposed in his rookie season. It's a stadium where even experienced quarterbacks and hardened offensive lines can look shaken. In a league where the ability to raise his level of play in crunch-time is one of the most treasured intangibles any quarterback can possess, the Chargers saw a glimpse of it in Philip Rivers. The kid had "it," because you don't reverse your fortunes in Arrowhead unless you have the ability to dig down deep and find something special.

    To me it was a revelation. It also served as a preview of things to come. The confidence gleaned from that near-miss in Kansas City showed itself in the miraculous comeback on the road against Cincinnati. It surfaced again, strong and self-assured, in the dominating second-half comeback against the Broncos. And it never seemed to fade as the Chargers pulled off late wins against the Raiders and Seahawks and made game-clinching fourth-quarter plays to beat the Chiefs, Broncos, and Cardinals down the stretch. Four fourth-quarter comebacks in a 14-2 season; they're the difference between home-field advantage with a bye week and a wild-card invitation with a game this coming weekend.

    At the time, the loss in Kansas City was a heartbreaker, a lost opportunity. But In retrospect it serves as a reminder of why there really is such a thing as a moral victory. Rather than leaving Arrowhead with their tail between their legs the Chargers were able to hold their heads high and look at their young quarterback with a newfound respect and confidence. In the NFL, greatness is the accumulation of thousands of small victories. Sometimes moral victories set the stage for real ones later on.

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