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Fast start, sustained play key for Bolts

Discussion in 'American Football' started by Johnny Lightning, Sep 8, 2009.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    By Kevin Acee
    Union-Tribune Staff Writer
    8:35 p.m. September 8, 2009

    SAN DIEGO – Not to put too much emphasis on the regular season ...
    The Chargers as much as any team in recent years know how you finish is more important than how you start.
    Will they go 10-6? 11-5? 12-4? Will they win eight games again?
    The temptation is to say it doesn't matter, that January matters most.
    But let's get real.
    You might not remember the games played in September, but you don't want to have to count on December miracles all the time.
    A bye and home game or two would be nice in January.
    That said, a quick start and sustaining the level of play befitting a championship team will be paramount for the Chargers in 2009.
    Plain and simple. Nothing less. Not any more.
    The Chargers have proved – and still believe – that as long as you're playing your best football at the end of the season, a playoff run is possible. But no playoff run that ends before the hoisting of a Lombardi Trophy is enough at this point.
    To that end, throughout the organization there is a belief they'll be better served come January if they can be more consistent throughout the previous four months.
    It's all but a foregone conclusion that the Chargers will win their division – arguably the weakest and most bizarre in the NFL – and get into the postseason. But let us take just a little while to engage in the tricky and most-often futile exercise of breaking down the regular season.
    Let's do that by paring it into thirds, not only because General Manager A.J. Smith likes to break a season into fourths when evaluating progress, and we want to be different than him, but because there appear to be some natural divisions in this schedule.
    The Chargers face what appears to be a big challenge to their impetus on beginning the season fast.
    A road game at Oakland on Monday to open the season should be the easiest of the four games before their bye in Week 5. Three playoff teams from '08 (Baltimore and Miami at home and then a rematch of their divisional playoff game at Pittsburgh) follow, including the two AFC Championship Game combatants and Super Bowl winner.
    A championship team probably comes out of this stretch at least 3-1.
    But a 2-2 record wouldn't be the end of the world, considering what's after the bye.
    If there is reason to think the Chargers might not need to save themselves with another perfect December it is that they will have already played all six of their AFC West games by the end of November.
    During their run of three division titles, the Chargers are 15-3 against the AFC West and 18-12 against everyone else.
    (As an aside, to further the contention it's time this team parlays regular-season success into being the last team standing, the Chargers' 23 victories in their division since 2004 are tied for second behind New England's 24. Pittsburgh and Indianapolis also have 23. Those other three teams all have something in common in their trophy case.)
    The good news after a killer first month of the season for the Chargers is that they play their other five AFC West games in a seven-game span in October and November.
    They better be at least 5-2 on the night of Nov. 1, as they will have just finished a three-game stretch against Denver, Kansas City and Oakland.
    Then, after a couple of weekends brawling with the NFC East (at New York and home against Philadelphia) the Chargers finish their division feast at Denver on Nov. 22 and home against Kansas City on Nov. 29.
    The Chiefs are on the verge of being a good team, and playing at Denver and Kansas City has its challenges. And a split against the Giants and Eagles is probably acceptable.
    But anything less than 7-4 going into December is cause for concern about how good this Chargers team really is.
    Poll position?
    Norv Turner has not lost a December game as Chargers coach. The Chargers haven't lost a December game since 2005.
    Three road games, including one on four days' rest, make this as challenging a late schedule as they've had since becoming a good team in 2004.
    Still, with Turner's emphasis on finishing strong, and perhaps with a little injury luck they haven't had in the past two seasons, a Chargers team finally on a way to a championship should find four victories among back-to-back away games at Cleveland and Dallas, home games against Cincinnati and Washington and a Christmas night game at Tennessee.
    That's what a championship team would probably do.
    Then again, the Giants lost two of their final three regular-season games before tearing through the postseason en route to their Super Bowl title two seasons ago. The Indianapolis Colts went 2-3 in December 2006 before their Super Bowl win a little more than a month later. And the '06 Chargers won 10 straight to close out that season before a face plant in their playoff opener.
    So maybe little of what happens the next four months does matter.

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