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NFL 2005: Can Chargers Handle Prosperity?

Discussion in 'San Diego Chargers Hall of Champions' started by robdog, Sep 5, 2005.

  1. robdog

    robdog Code Monkey Staff Member Administrator

    Jun 29, 2009
    Source: <a href="http://www.latimes.com/sports/football/nfl/wire/sns-ap-fbn-chargers-preview,1,568487.story?coll=sns-ap-football-headlines" target="_blank">LA Times</a>

    SAN DIEGO - The San Diego Chargers haven't always handled prosperity well.

    In the 1990s, they'd make the playoffs one season, then slip back to anonymity the next. They made the only Super Bowl appearance in franchise history, then barely made it back to the playoffs the following season before being embarrassed at home in the wild-card round.

    Here they are a decade later, finally with an AFC West title to defend, although they still haven't won a playoff game since shocking Pittsburgh in the AFC championship game on Jan. 15, 1995.

    And they've set a pretty lofty goal for a team that just two seasons ago had the NFL's worst record.

    "The Super Bowl," LaDainian Tomlinson said.

    And not just getting there.

    "Winning it," the star running back said.

    Tomlinson's not the only Chargers player awash in confidence after last year's 12-4 finish.

    "This is a big statement, but we could be as good as any offense ever," said quarterback Drew Brees, the NFL's Comeback Player of the Year in 2004. "Why not? We feel like we have all the pieces. Now it's just a matter of whether we play together, whether we trust one another in what we do.

    "We've been in this offense now for four years," said Brees, who's playing under a one-year, $8 million contract after being tagged as the Chargers' "franchise" player. "There are so many guys that are doing things well. In our minds, we're very confident. We play that way. We feel like we should be the best offense in the league, I guess. Why not try to be the best ever? I think that's why you play the game. That's how I play the game."

    In a rarity in the NFL, the Chargers returned all 22 starters from their playoff loss to the New York Jets, plus kicker Nate Kaeding and punter Mike Scifres.

    The Chargers are loaded on offense, with Brees, Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates having played in the Pro Bowl. Their entire line is back, although coach Hudson Houck took a big-money offer from Miami and was replaced by Carl Mauck.

    Gates, an All-Pro in just his second season, will sit out Sunday's opener against Dallas as he finishes a three-game suspension for missing a team-mandated deadline for reporting to camp. Gates caught 13 touchdown passes last year, a record for NFL tight ends, and accounted for nearly 20 percent of the offense. In true Chargers fashion, his holdout was puzzling, both from his perspective and general manager A.J. Smith's hardline tactics. Gates reported a day after the team's deadline, then agreed two days later to a six-year deal reportedly worth $22.5 million.

    San Diego's two first-round draft picks, outside linebacker Shawne Merriman and defensive lineman Luis Castillo, both were slowed by injuries during training camp. Plus, Merriman was out of shape after skipping all offseason workouts and showing up a week late for training camp.

    The one thing working against the Chargers is their schedule. After going 1-5 against playoff teams last season -- and 2-5 versus teams with winning records -- they play six teams that reached the postseason in 2004, including two games against division rival Denver.

    In October alone, the Chargers will face three of last year's final four -- at New England, home against Pittsburgh in a rare Monday night game, and at Philadelphia.

    They also must travel to play Indianapolis and the Jets, who beat the Chargers twice in San Diego last year, in the regular season and postseason.

    Only four teams have tougher schedules.

    "I think very simply stated, qualify for the playoffs against that competition and you are ready for the playoffs, because you have been tested by fire," coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "I prefer to play that, because you've obviously had a good season the year before."

    The postseason loss to the Jets gave Schottenheimer a career 5-12 playoff record.

    Brees is eager to deliver a championship to a franchise that all but shoved him out the door following a dismal 2003 season. He welcomes the tough schedule.

    "That's only going to make us better," said Brees, who threw 27 touchdown passes and just seven interceptions last year. "Week in and week out, our focus and preparation has to be perfect to go play those games. I think we're definitely up to the challenge. A lot of those teams are teams that are perennially in the playoffs. Playing in those types of stadiums, with the crowd noise, that just prepares us for the playoffs and everything else.

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