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Sproles, Scifres prove Chargers are dangerous from all angles

Discussion in 'American Football' started by RaiderRay, Jan 4, 2009.

  1. RaiderRay

    RaiderRay RIP SD Chargers...Go Padres, Gulls, Ducks, Raiders Staff Member Administrator Podcaster

    Jun 20, 2005

    SAN DIEGO -- No one is as lucky to be in the playoffs as the San Diego Chargers, and now few are more dangerous.

    With their 23-17 overtime defeat of Indianapolis, the Chargers move on to the divisional round of the playoffs where they meet Pittsburgh or Tennessee, and I'm not sure it matters which.

    They can beat either.

    I know, I know, they wouldn't be here if Denver hadn't folded, or Kansas City simply recovered a last-minute on-side kick, but follow me on this one. The Chargers could have -- OK, should have -- beaten the Steelers earlier this year but dropped an 11-10 decision when Philip Rivers took a safety, threw a horrible interception and the offense fizzled. They beat Tennessee twice last year, including once in Nashville, where Rivers overcame a knee injury.

    So, hard as it might seem, their next step could be easier than their last.

    I mean it. Yeah, I think the Steelers are the best team in the AFC -- and maybe the NFL -- but that's provided Ben Roethlisberger is OK, and I don't know that he is. Tennessee worries me because I don't really trust Kerry Collins despite everything he did this season, and I wonder if the Titans might not have peaked too soon.

    So that leaves us with the San Diego Chargers, and they just got our attention by snapping the Colts' nine-game winning streak with a backup running back and a punter taking curtain calls. You heard me. It wasn't Rivers or LaDainian Tomlinson who won this one -- it was Darren Sproles and Mike Scifres and, yeah, that's why I'd beware the Bolts.

    They just beat Peyton Manning with two guys you barely know.

    Sproles took over for the injured Tomlinson at halftime and proceeded to produce 328 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning score in OT. But neither he nor the Chargers would have made it to overtime were it not for Scifres, who averaged a staggering 51.7 yards in net average, pinned the Colts inside their 10 with four of his six punts and landed all six of his punts inside the Indy 20 -- a San Diego record.

    None was better than the last, a 52-yarder that bounced out of bounds at the 1. There were just under three minutes left then, and the Chargers trailed by three. They needed something big to happen, and Sproles lit the match.

    "We have the best punter in the league," coach Norv Turner said. "The guy is incredible. He truly is the best I've ever been around. He showed it tonight."

    And never more than with his last kick. Then the defense pitched in to stop Indy, and Sproles took over. Simple as that.

    But let's get back to why an 8-8 team that played a half without Tomlinson and isn't sure what to make of Gates' future can go deep into the playoffs: Because finally, finally, finally the Bolts are the team they were supposed to be.

    They're not making egregious mistakes. Their defense is attacking opponents, instead of sitting back and waiting for the hammer to come down, and I offer that third-down sack of Manning in the last 2½ minutes of regulation as proof. Plus, Rivers isn't committing the fatal mistakes that handicapped him and the club during a miserable mid-season stretch.

    "Is this the team you imagined yourself to be?" I asked Rivers.

    "There's no question," he said. "Now, why did it take us so long to get it going? Who knows? It doesn't matter. It's so quick you forget about 8-8. You just head to the divisional round against whomever it is and expect it will be a similar type of game."

    And that's why you better be careful of these guys. They haven't lost since a dreadful 22-16 defeat to Atlanta on Nov. 30, their worst performance of the season. Rivers is on a roll, with 11 touchdown passes and two interceptions the past five weeks. And Sproles is the league's best safety net, stepping in for the Chargers as Leon Washington did the Jets -- only with one difference: Sproles is still playing.

    "The guy typifies what our guys are all about," Turner said. "[He] fumbles the ball on the [Indy] 2, and when that happened, there wasn't any doubt in my mind that he was going to make a big play that was going to affect this game. It was going to have a major effect on this game. That's what this guy is about and what this team is about."

    What Scifres is all about is a lethal weapon that can win the all-important game of field position. For years the Chargers touted him as the best punter in the game, but he keeps finishing behind Oakland's Shane Lechler in the Pro-Bowl voting.

    Maybe that changes after Saturday's performance. The Colts could never escape the guy, scoring their only touchdowns after a pair of 86-yard marches. Scifres wasn't just on, he was so electric he may have produced the finest playoff performance by any punter anywhere.

    "I couldn't lay down tonight and go to sleep and dream about something like this," he said.

    Neither could his teammates. In knocking off Indianapolis for the fourth time in its last five tries -- including the last two playoffs -- San Diego gained something more important than another playoff victory, it found something that was missing for much of the season, and that's cohesion, continuity and, yes, confidence that it can in fact reach the top.

    Don't ask the Chargers why. They just know. And they know because they went into Tampa and won a game they weren't supposed to win. Then they obliterated Denver here. Now, Indianapolis.

    "When we were 4-8 we were getting asked, 'What's the matter?'" Rivers said. "And it was hard to tell. I don't know. We were just making some mistakes we couldn't overcome. There wasn't just one thing.

    "And now there's not just one thing that explains why we've won five in a row. It's just that we're playing well together. We played more complete games in all three phases. Everything has come together, and it's just been unbelievable."

    No kidding. The Chargers weren't supposed to be here, but they refuse to go away. So they're 9-8. Big deal. As Rivers said, it doesn't matter. And as Turner's eldest son suggested, the Bolts' playoff run started the moment they lost to Atlanta.

    So I guess that makes them 5-0. All I know is they're dangerous, and I wouldn't want to play them -- L.T. or no L.T.

    "I think you saw last year how we dealt with injuries," said Rivers, "and we were close. We win the Patriots game, and we're in the Super Bowl with injuries that were probably worse than what we have now.

    "Hopefully, Gates is not going to be too, too sore this week, and I don't know about L.T. We know how meaningful they are to our team, but we also know we'll rally. We'll keep going."

    The AFC should consider itself warned.
  2. Enormo

    Enormo BoltTalker

    Jul 22, 2007
    Um... what about the first Donkos' game???

    An uncontested 60 yard TD is not egregious or a mistake? Three dropped INTs? Rivers throwing into traffic?

    Rivera's scheme was all time last night. That Dobbins sack was the result of showing the Colts different looks and attacking them for four quarters. Eventually a big play was going to happen. Dobbins' sack was inevitable. A brilliantly coached game.

    To be fair, Rivers forced multiple throws that could have easily been picked off. He also made some gutsy decisions to throw some balls away. He better fine tune his decision making. The Steelers and Titans won't be nearly as forgiving.

    SciFi has been getting jobbed. The single biggest travesty in Pro Bowl voting I've seen in the last few years. This game has put him on the map... and if he keeps it up through the post season, in Canton.

    Someone had to say it. And it's true. It was a masterwork. An opus. The ideal form of a single game pulled from the ether. A perfect game like that should not actually exist in this imperfect world. Last night Mike Scifres played as good of a single game as any NFL player in history of football. Name anyone, Johnny Unitas? Jim Brown? Joe Montanna? Scifres was their equal if for only one night. From now on all punters will pursue this game as the pinnical of their life's work.

    I know I'm gushing but it was poetic.

    I still think the last Donkos' game was a catalyst for this team. In that sense, Hochuli's call was a gift. Ed, thank you for giving this team a chance to realize its potential.

    A teppid 8-8 team suddenly surging for no apparent reason? The most frightenning thing in the world is the unknown. The rest of AFC is now looking under their beds at night. Who's there? The Chargers?

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