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15. Season in Review: San Diego Chargers

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The first winning team of the season...

If you had to pick your least favorite team, who would it be?

Would it be the Pats because Bill Belichick is a cheat and the Pats-Colts series has been the most intense rivalry in sports over the past decade?

Is it the Jags because you are tired of watching Josh "black out"  Scobee beat us with with miraculously long field goals no matter Jacksonville's record nor the distance of the kick. 

Or might you choose the San Diego Chargers and their damn punter Mike Scifres, who single handedly won the game for them. Scifres had punts of 51 yards landing at the 10, a 58 yarder to the 15, another 50 yarder landing at the 3, a 67 bomb to the 5, a hanging 38 yarder to the 9 and his last which was 52 yarder to the 1. Are you kidding me???

He must also be phenomenal at 'pin the donkey' the way he kept us inside our 10 yard line all game. It was unreal.

That game was the 2008 Wild Card Playoffs in San Diego. I was in Berlin for that game and had to trudge through the snow at 1 in the morning only to find the bar - the only one in Berlin - was less of a traditional sports bar and more of a drunken hang out for clubbers. Ugh. If you've ever watched a game with drunken European teens (or just hung out with them) you would understand why it does not enhance the viewing experience. But whatever right? It didn't matter that it was one o'clock, or that the sports bar was out of hamburgers, or that the TV was an old school used-only-for-blaring-MTV-videos-Zenith that was tucked away in the corner of the bar. 

It was playoff football, the Colts were playing and I was pumped!!!

At first things were going well. Addai capped off the opening drive by punching it in from a yard out. Then the momentum started to tip. The Chargers responded racing out to the half time lead.

After that, Scifres took over. Its hard to type such words. A punter taking over a game?!? Unfathomable. No disrespect to punters, because as Colts' fans we know (more wish Bill Polian knew) how critical special teams play can be, but that game was probably the first time in NFL history that a punter literally dominated the game. It was sickening yet incredible. Punt after punt sailed deep into our red zone and with each possession the Colts inched backwards. 

I couldn't stand it. Mind you the incessant trilling of a heavily accented version of 'Please don't stop the Music' nor the yelps inspired by fits of drunken laughter were helping calm the tension of my nerves.

With the score tied, I was near wit's end. Scifres had just pinned the Colts deep within Colts' territory but Peyton had the ball and a chance to run out the clock. One more first down and the Colts could essentially ice the game. Instead the worst occurred. Manning was sacked at his own 1 by Tim Dobbins forcing the Colts' to punt and causing me to slam my fist on the bar in frustration. To my horror my empty plate - rattled by the vibrations I had just caused - flipped off the table and crashed to the floor. I was charged 20 Euros and forced to watch from the outside. 

Begrudgingly - and quite pissed - I left the intoxicated revelry and stepped out into the cold. A win would have made everything all right. The frigid wins, the snow or the blurred vision of trying to watch a game through foggy windows - none of that would have mattered. Instead I watched helplessly as Darren Sproles plowed through the Colts' defense scoring the winning touchdown and wasting another Manning MVP season in the process.

My vote? The Chargers. 

Yeah, I may dislike (but respect) the Pats, I may despise by the Jags and Josh Scobee's right foot, but I HATE the Chargers.

Now that's out in the open, the Chargers' season in review...

Season In Review: The most confusing and unfulfilling season in decades

I don't know how they accomplished it. Truly a remarkable feat. The Charger were statistically the best all around football team, yet missed the playoffs. Astonishing, and as a Colts' fan, ignobly gratifying. 

The Chargers were a quality football team. The pieces, like they have been for the past several seasons, were in place for super bowl run. 

Phillip Rivers did his part posting a MVP type season by throwing for 4,170 yards and 30 scores. TE Antonio Gates, the recipient of  50 of those passes and 10 of those touchdown grabs made sure to hold up his end of the bargain as well even in an injury plagued season.

The problem was once again the slow start. San Diego has continually put themselves in bad positions to start the season. This year was no different. Having the talent to dig their way out from previous lackadaisical beginning, the Chargers didn't have enough in the tank to propel them to the playoffs after a 2-5 start.

Their early 3 game losing streak which included losses to Oakland, St. Louis and New England, was their fait accompli. A 4 game win streak, including a demolition of the Colts (another reason I HATE the bolts) hurtled them back into the AFC West race but with no room for error the Chargers stumbled down the stretch at Oakland and Cincinnati (HOORAY!)

Whether the Chargers spend too much of the offseason on the golf course, or lack focus in training camp, their early season slumps are killing them.

There is a reason Nascar drivers emphasize the poll position. Is it possible to win coming from the 32nd position? If you are a skilled driver yes. Starting so far back however, forces drivers to run the perfect race. You have to be make the perfect call on oil changes, you have to draft cars ahead of you just right and most of all, you have to hope that the the teams in front crash and burn. Kansas City didn't do that (although they nearly did). San Diego now knows just how rare it is that lightening strikes twice. 

Offseason Momentum: They need to find it and use it in the first weeks

The Chargers, pending Free agency (see below), are primed for another playoff run. San Diego has a top 5 quarterback (probably better), an up-and-coming second year back, solid receivers, a top flight tight end, a stable offensive line, an aggressive defensive line and a ball hawking secondary. 

There is a reason that they finished 2nd in passing yards, 14th in rushing yards (should improve), 1st in limiting opponents passing yards and were 4th best against the run.

They may be the most complete football team. Now they just have to prove it from week 1 and not wait until week 10 to turn it around.

Offseason Anxiety: Winning games, free agents

Not to belabor the point, but the Chargers wasted their talent last year. They blew it. The season was supposed to be their ascension to greatness and a super bowl. Instead, they fell flat on their face. Chargers fans will admit it. They screwed up royally and have only themselves and the first 8 weeks to blame. 

Were injuries to Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson's holdout partially to blame? Of course, but San Diego isn't going to get any sympathy with injuries from Colts fans.

San Diego showed the league how good they could be when they came into Indianapolis and flashed greatness, throttling the Colts in the process. It was a painful experience as San Diego made it clear from the get-go that the Colts had no business being on the same field.

The Chargers did the same thing to Kansas City, another playoff team, 2 weeks later. They put on a clinic and shut out the Chiefs 31-0. 

In between though, the Chargers dropped a game to Oakland and two weeks after decimating Kansas City (and nearly the Chiefs' playoff chances), San Diego lost to Cincinnati. Inexcusable.

The other concern for San Diego is the upcoming free agency. No other team in the league is hoping for a new CBA more than the Chargers. With so many free agents, they need to know how much money they have available to spend. 

Free Agency Farewells: Mass exodus? 

Michael Floyd Legedu Naane and Kelly Washington are all free agents. The decision to recently franchise Vincent Jackson helps some even though they could still lose a large portion wide receiving corps.

Besides wide receiver, Darren Sproles is a free agent, as is right tackle Jeromey Clary along with valuable backups TE Randy McMichael and Billy Voleck. 

Defensively is where the Chargers may find themselves hurting even more. San Diego stands to lose safeties Eric Weddle and Paul Oliver and linebackers Stephen Cooper (gag!) and Brandon Siler as well as starting DE Jacques Cesaire.

Some might argue that since San Diego is not in jeopardy of losing marquee players and as long as Rivers and Gates are still around, all is fine. 

Perhaps, but I can guarantee that the quality and depth of the Chargers is what allowed them to statistically thrive and any Chargers fan resting on his laurels might want to recall not making the playoffs last year...

Draft Desires: Restock the depth

San Diego is provided the luxury of picking the best player available without having to fret over filling a need. 

Regardless it is likely that they are at least eying a defensive end to enhance the pass rush. The Chargers blitz a lot from the linebacker positions and do so quite effectively. They could even do more with a stronger true pass rush. 

The best options at DE are Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan, Cal's Cameron Jordan and Wisconsin's J.J. Watt. If the Chargers are looking to draft based on need, then depending what happens with Eric Weddle (and maybe regardless) UCLA's Rahim Moore would be a great fit that would further add to the explosive and hard hitting nature of San Diego's secondary.

If the Chargers do take Moore and Weddle is released he would be an interesting replacement for Sanders. Unlikely, but a thought. 

Threat to the Stampede: Off the charts

Simply put, they have our number. They've won the past two playoff meetings against the Colts and absolutely flattened us at home in Indy. 

I was tempted to nickname them the 'Palm Trees' for this post before changing my mind. The thought of admitting that we are continually thrashed by palm trees (and rather prickish ones at that) was disturbing. 

Until we prove otherwise, San Diego has us figured out.