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Meet San Diego -- the new team to beat in the NFL

Discussion in 'Latest Chargers News & Headlines' started by robdog, Nov 20, 2006.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

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    Source: <a target="_blank" href="http://www.sportsline.com/nfl/story/9815941">CBS Sportsline</a>

    By Clark Judge

    <img width="207" height="183" align="left" alt="San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (21) is congratulated by teammate San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) after Tomlinson's 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, in Denver." title="San Diego Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson (21) is congratulated by teammate San Diego Chargers wide receiver Vincent Jackson (83) after Tomlinson's 3-yard touchdown run in the third quarter of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Nov. 19, 2006, in Denver." src="http://us.news2.yimg.com/us.yimg.com/p/ap/20061120/capt.7419297880e8445bb6e3abede8d8d0f1.chargers_broncos_football_dxs112.jpg" />DENVER -- The San Diego Chargers aren't just the best team in their division. They may be the best team in football.

    Yeah, I know Chicago has a better record. Indianapolis does, too, and it plays in the same conference as the Chargers. But look what's happening with San Diego. It just pulled off its second straight come-from-behind victory -- this one a 35-27 decision over Denver -- and is gaining momentum when it matters most.

    The Chargers have the best player in the game. They have the best tight end, too. And they have a quarterback, Philip Rivers, that is developing so rapidly that, after his latest heroics, coach Marty Schottenheimer mentioned him in the same sentence with Joe Montana.

    "He never thinks about the last play," Schottenheimer said.

    That's too bad, because the last play usually is one worth remembering with San Diego. A week ago Rivers rallied the Chargers from a 28-7 halftime deficit to a 49-41 victory. Do the math, and that's 42 second-half points ... on the road, no less.

    Now fast forward to Denver, where San Diego almost never wins. It had dropped its last six straight and 10 of its last 11 at Mile High. Hey, 17 of the past 19 were won by the Broncos here. And the trend looked to continue when San Diego fell behind 24-7 in the third period.

    But this is not Martyball, people. Martyball is dead, may it rest in peace.

    These are your new, improved and division-leading Chargers, and they ended the game with touchdowns on their last four possessions -- with running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who will shatter all scoring records this year, producing three of his four TDs in that stretch.

    There's no need to talk about L.T. He's the game's best back, and he's its best player. He has 19 touchdowns in his last six games, and there's no reason to believe he's going to stop soon. Hey, he hadn't run for more than 75 yards in any of his five games in Denver prior to Sunday and had a grand total of two TDs.

    Then he broke loose for 105 yards and four scores.

    "I think he's as fresh and as ready to play as at any time I remember since I've been coaching him," Schottenheimer said.

    Oh, great. That means he's just getting warmed up. But the man has a point. Look at what Tomlinson's done lately. Sunday's game was his fourth straight 100-yard performance, something he had never accomplished in his career, and his third game this season with four touchdowns.

    Schottenheimer thinks it has something to do with cutting back his reps in practice. Maybe. I don't know. What I do know is that the Chargers have a weapon that Indianapolis and Chicago do not.

    Granted, the Colts have Peyton Manning, but they also have the league's worst run defense. And they have a history against San Diego that should make them shudder. Remember what happened two years ago? The Chargers went to the RCA Dome and should have beaten the Colts. But they didn't, blowing it when their special teams self-destructed. Then, they dropped in again last season, this time ending the Colts' unbeaten season at 13.

    Granted, the Chargers haven't exactly been lights-out against the run lately. In fact, Denver shredded them for 158 yards with Mike Bell and Damien Nash -- a pair of free agents -- combining for 142 of them, but keep this in mind: San Diego was playing without defensive end Luis Castillo and linebacker Shawne Merriman, serving the third of a four-game suspension.

    They also lost, at times, linebackers Carlos Polk and Shaun Phillips and safeties Marlon McCree and Clinton Hart -- with Schottenheimer later saying, "I was trying to find people to put on the field defensively. I don't mean figuratively. I mean that literally."

    Well, he did, and the Chargers outscored Denver 28-3 in the last quarter and a half. And that means something, people. It means this club is for real, ripping two of last year's playoff clubs in their stadiums -- and doing it with equal parts Rivers and Tomlinson.

    Now, look at what's ahead. The Chargers play four of their last six at home. One is against Denver. One is against Kansas City. The others are Oakland and Arizona. Their only two road games are in Buffalo and Seattle -- and, yes, I smell the playoffs in there.

    And I'm not alone.

    "This was a huge game," said Tomlinson after conquering the Denver jinx. "Now it looks like we could be battling for a bye in the playoffs. I don't want to get ahead of myself, but we could be. It definitely does feel wide open.

    "When you look at an undefeated team (Indianapolis) you start wondering if they're unbeatable. But when they go down it's like anything can happen. One more loss with Indy, and who knows?"

    There are a couple of trouble spots on the horizon for the Colts. Jacksonville is one. Cincinnati is another. Gaining the home-field advantage is huge for dome teams, except this one knows what happens when San Diego visits Indianapolis -- and it's not good.

    Which is why you better climb aboard this bandwagon while there's time.

    We all knew that Tomlinson was a marvelous back. What we didn't know is what to make of Rivers. Remember, he hadn't started a game prior to this season, and his head coach argued to keep Drew Brees, his predecessor, when the club would not. Now, it looks like everyone might live happily ever after.

    "I had no doubt this was going to be a terrific quarterback," Schottenheimer said. "That was never my issue. I felt he was going to be a very good player. He has exceeded my expectations. He has a knack, and a lot of it has to do with his makeup.

    "Not his physical skills. That's why I referenced Montana -- and I'm not comparing him to Joe Montana. But when the play's over he could've hit an 80-yard touchdown or thrown an interception for their touchdown, and he goes to the next play and he approaches it the same way. That ability to put all that garbage behind you enables you to focus on this next one, and he does that as well as anyone."

    Well, then, focus on this, folks: The San Diego Chargers are one of the team's to beat this year. In fact, they just might wind up the club that everyone is chasing.

    "We're just a relentless group of guys," said Tomlinson, "and we feel like we can score at any time."

    That works for me.
     

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