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Subtle changes helped late-season win streak

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Dec 28, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

    Feb 7, 2006
    Saturday, December 27, 2008
    By Kevin Acee

    The Chargers were floundering, for sure, frustrated by their inability to overcome various little things and to get out of their own way.

    But they weren't so far off that they needed more than a little nip and tuck here and there, a minor transformation that has carried them undefeated through this month, improbably here to the precipice of the postseason.

    The Chargers team that Sunday night plays the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium to decide the AFC West title is different than the one that stumbled through the season's first three months. But any appearance of a total makeover is a mirage brought on by the marked difference in results, specifically the season's first three-game winning streak.

    “We're not looking at it like it's a completely different team,” defensive end Luis Castillo said. “We're in a position to go out and accomplish what we set out to do at the beginning of the year.”

    The changes are subtle, maybe even ethereal. The Chargers are a little happier, a tad bouncier, riding a small wave of good fortune. It is in many ways the same team, with a few tweaks and a few good twists.

    It sounds trite, but it is fact.

    When losing close game after close game, some teams cave, wondering whether the situation will ever change. This team didn't.

    They might not have been aware that no NFL team since divisions were formed in 1967 had come back from a three-game deficit with three games to play, but they knew they were in trouble.

    Some even began acknowledging pride was about all they had left to play for. They focused on themselves and started to play pretty well.

    “It's the tenacity of guys in this locker room not to quit,” Shaun Phillips said. “We were down but I was telling you from eight weeks ago we're down, not out.

    “The guys in this locker room have too much pride to just fold up. Granted, we didn't have the year we wanted, but we get the opportunity to correct everything.”

    It just got so bad – bad enough to change.

    Norv Turner has by some accounts given some of his best speeches this month. Ron Rivera has made some acute adjustments.

    But, really, it came down to players deciding enough was enough and then playing better.

    Stephen Cooper recalled the players' discussion in the locker room before the second half of their Dec. 14 game at Arrowhead Stadium going something like this: “(Forget) this, we need to stop these (guys). This is a 2-11 team. This is ridiculous.”

    Players spoke among themselves during the week leading up to Oakland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay. Captains addressed players in groups and individually. There was a collective realization that they just needed to keep playing hard.

    “Guys talked,” strong safety Clinton Hart said. “But everyone understands you've got to play better. ... If you have a foot on your throat, if want to live you've got to get it up off you. I think everyone said, 'We want to live.' ”

    Change of fortune

    Philip Rivers' MVP push, the offensive line's slight resurgence, the defense's rebirth – all of it would be for naught if not for a little luck.

    Opponents were executing so many of the key plays for three months. When they weren't, Ed Hochuli was making a bad call in Denver or a seemingly questionable judgment was going against the Chargers in Miami or London. Forced fumbles were bouncing into the wrong hands.

    Whatever went wrong before, the Chargers have had a good karmic December.

    There were a couple of Jeff Garcia overthrows, some questionable play-calling and a missed field by the Chiefs and the simple good fortune of having the Raiders on the schedule when they needed them most.

    “The biggest thing is we've had some luck go our way finally,” Castillo said. “ ... All year we've shown it's just a matter of putting it all together and having some luck go our way.”

    New coordinator, new results

    Rivera took over a defense ranked last in the league against the pass.

    Things did not suddenly do a 180-degree turn, but with an emphasis on simplification, it has gradually evolved into December.

    Over the last three games, the Chargers have allowed the fifth-fewest passing yards in the league (178.6 per game), have more interceptions (six) than any team and have given up just three passing touchdowns. Over the first 13 games, they allowed 249.8 passing yards a game (31st), had seven interceptions and surrendered 21 passing TDs.

    Firing Ted Cottrell woke up the Chargers players. It may have been, to some extent, change for the sake of change. But there is no arguing – either when looking at results or listening to players rave – that Rivera was the right man to take over.

    “Has that made a difference in certain ways? Yes,” Castillo said. “We believe in Ron. We like the way he approaches teaching the game. We like the way he calls the game. We feel real confident in him and his leadership of us.”

    Change in outlook

    The Chargers might have taken themselves too seriously.

    They roundly admit there was some overconfidence early in the season.

    “I think we may have gone into some games expecting to win because of our talent and ability,” Chris Chambers said. “And people were ready to gun for us.”

    When things started off poorly and losses piled up, their overconfidence might also have turned to tension.

    “Those first couple weeks it got away from us,” Quentin Jammer said. “We started pressing a little bit after that.”

    While the change was subtle, it became apparent after the Nov. 30 loss to Atlanta, which with Denver's win at the Jets on the same day dropped the Chargers to three back with four to play.

    “You have to enjoy it,” Jammer said. “It's not fun if you don't have fun. Regardless of what was happening, we always play and played a lot better last year when we were having fun.

    Not that far off

    The eight Chargers losses have come by a combined 34 points. Two games were lost when the opponent scored as time expired, another with 24 seconds remaining, another with 11 seconds left.

    The Chargers were close.

    So once they got back the experience of winning, it wasn't that far a leap to think they'd get on a roll. In fact, they said that very thing all through November.

    “Once you do something well, you remember when you did it well and how you did it,” Antonio Gates said last week. “Once you do it you're among the elite teams in football, and that's where we're at right now.”

    With one more victory, they will be once again.
  2. Thread_Killer

    Thread_Killer Well-Known Member

    Feb 6, 2006
    Shut your mouth, AG. "One of the elite teams in football"? :icon_shrug:

    Norvs needs to learn how to keep the team focused, and stop the players from thinking that we are more talented than we really are.

    If Norv can't do that, then we need to find another Head Coach, regardless of what happens tonight.
  3. Enormo

    Enormo BoltTalker

    Jul 22, 2007
    Three games?

    Win streak?

    The Raiders (4-11)?

    A lucky win against KC (2-13)?

    Our one win against the "legitimate" team- Tampa Bay (9-6)?

    Regular season wins are the bare minimum price of entry to the playoffs... especially when you're 8-8. I'll take them but wins are a technicality at this point. The streak isn't a product of playoff caliber football. It's a function of an underachieving team playing two monumental failures and a decent team at best.

    What is in question is the character of this team and their ability to rise to the occasion in the playoffs. To win the Super Bowl the Bolts are going to have to repeat an "impressive" four game win streak but this time against teams who are a lot more talented, motivated and composed than Jokeland, KC, Tampa Bay and the Donkos.

    Maybe I can hire Jim Mora to make my point, "Ah... Win Streak? What you talkin' 'bout? Win Streak? You kiddin' me? Win Streak?"
  4. Aggieman

    Aggieman I bleed blue and gold

    Aug 14, 2008
    Still a win streak...
    And Norv is safe IF and ONLY if he wins tonight. It's as simple as that. I highly doubt Norv returns because, let's face it; if we lose tonight it'll definitely be all on Norv. The coach is pretty much the only person that could ruin such an easy game.

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