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Fully charged

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Dec 2, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a href="http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2005/writers/michael_silver/12/02/open.mike/index.html" target="_blank">SI.com
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    <img src="http://bolttalk.com/images/brees10.jpg" alt="Drew Brees" />

    By Michael Silver

    OK, so now that we're sure the Indianapolis Colts will win Super Bowl XL, let's look ahead to some of the teams that could challenge them in the 2006 season...

    What's that? The 2005 season isn't over yet? Hmmm, it seems I must have misunderstood all those newspaper and cyber columns and breathless TV and radio announcers. The Colts, at 11-0, certainly look like the team to beat in the AFC, a power-packed conference that includes the 9-2 Broncos, the physical Steelers, the explosive Bengals, the defending champion Patriots and, most imposing of all, the '72 Dolphins. And I'm here to tell you there's a plausible scenario in which none of these teams, not even Indy, will be sipping champagne this season (well, none except the '72 Dolphins and their insipid celebration to commemorate the misfortune of the last of each year's undefeateds).

    I'm not saying an NFC team will knock off the Colts, either. There are currently eight teams over .500 in that conference, and I'm annoyed by all of them.

    No. I'm talking about the San Diego Chargers.

    Certainly, there are some serious flaws to my Super Chargers postulate, and let's start by getting them out of the way. For one thing, Indy really is that good. By this time last year I had proclaimed them as the eventual Super Bowl champions, and it would be silly to back away from that completely now that the prediction actually has a prayer of coming true -- albeit 12 months after the fact.

    Secondly, and this is a biggie: I am not giving up on the Patriots. In my mind, they are the champions until proven otherwise, and I'm not overly swayed by the Colts' convincing 40-21 victory in Foxborough on Nov. 7. Indy, after all, had played New England tough in each of the previous two regular seasons; it was in the '03 and '04 playoffs that the Colts got dismantled by the Pats, who were in an entirely different zone in those games. Besides, I can no longer handle the teasing from Tom Brady and his family -- the latter usually at some Super Bowl party -- when I'm foolish enough to pick against him.

    The third flaw is that Marty Schottenheimer's teams (perhaps because they're mentally and emotionally drained by his unrelenting approach) tend to tank in the playoffs. Last year, they lost to the Jets in overtime at home.

    There's another good reason the Chargers may not make any noise in the postseason: They might not get in. At 7-4, and with a trio of treacherous tests (at Indy, at K.C., Denver) against fellow contenders to close the regular season, San Diego doesn't have much margin for error. Yet the Chargers, who trail the Broncos by two games in the AFC West, could still win the division with a home victory over Denver on the final weekend and, depending on what happens in the AFC North, earn a first-round bye.

    To do that, in all likelihood, San Diego would have to win in Indy two weeks earlier. Sound impossible? Let's flash back to last Dec. 26, when the two teams met at the RCA Dome with potential playoff-seeding implications. The Chargers jumped all over the Colts, confusing Peyton Manning with blitzes and extra defensive backs, and led 31-16 in the fourth quarter before Indy rallied to win, 34-31, in overtime.

    You can be sure the Chargers aren't intimidated by the Colts. Based on what they've encountered in 2005, they shouldn't be intimidated by anyone. San Diego blew out the Giants in late September, then destroyed the Patriots in Foxborough the following Sunday. The Chargers handled the Chiefs the day before Halloween, and on Nov. 20 they put up 48 points against a tough Bills defense.

    Meanwhile, each of the San Diego's four losses can be rationalized. In the opener against the Cowboys, they were done in by bad karma and weak red-zone play-calling. The two were related, as general manager A.J. Smith's lame power-play on star tight end Antonio Gates during a contract dispute led to Gates being suspended for that game. Down 28-24 in the final minutes, the Chargers had four chances to score the winning touchdown, but the league's most feared red-zone weapon was in street clothes, and Schottenheimer never once thought to put the ball in the hands of star halfback LaDainian Tomlinson.

    The next week in Denver, San Diego led 13-3 at halftime, but Drew Brees's first pass of the second half was picked off and taken to the house by Champ Bailey, and the Broncos won, 20-17, on a field goal with five seconds to go. On Oct. 10, the Steelers came back to beat the Chargers, 24-22, on a field goal with six seconds remaining. Two weeks later when Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens were still making beautiful music together, San Diego blew a fourth quarter lead and lost at Philly. The Eagles' comeback was fueled by a field goal that was blocked and returned for a touchdown with less than three minutes remaining, and was preserved after Reche Caldwell fumbled on the Eagles' 18-yard-line in the final minute.

    This is not to make excuses for San Diego's setbacks -- great teams find a way to win some or most of those games. It's simply a statement about what I think the Chargers are capable of doing if they amp up their play to a higher level. Brees has proven he's not a one-year wonder, and his offensive line has been solid despite the departure of awesome position coach Hudson Houck and the absence of tackle Roman Oben, who's now getting healthy at the right time.

    Tomlinson, the league's best runner, put the team on his back in last week's overtime victory at Washington and seems to be getting stronger; fullback Lorenzo Neal may be the NFL's best at his position, too. Keenan McCardell is one of the league's most underrated receivers, and Gates is a beast who presents matchup problems for any opposing defense.

    Defensively, rookies Shawne Merriman and Luis Castillo and second-year man Shaun Phillips have infused the team with aggressiveness and energy. The front seven is putting heat on opposing quarterbacks and flying to the ball. The team's biggest weaknesses are in the secondary -- three years after Rodney Harrison's departure, there's still no enforcer roaming the defensive backfield -- and on special teams. Kickoff coverage has been shaky, which is particularly problematic for a team that kicks off a lot.

    Does all of this translate into a Super Bowl triumph? That's a pretty big leap, considering how rigorous a road San Diego will likely face -- and, of course, the fact that the Colts have already secured their rings.

    What I can tell you is that the Chargers are capable of shocking the football world. Come playoff time, I just hope they get the chance to try.
     

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