Chargers Can’t Bank on Luck for Wins

    The San Diego Chargers are perched precariously atop the AFC
    West with a disappointing 5-4 record as the team powers into the stretch run of
    the NFL season. Although it seems cynical to criticize a division-leading team,
    the Bolts don’t deserve to be where they are today. With the way the Chargers
    have been playing, they are lucky to even be sniffing the playoffs. But because
    of the appalling play of their division “rivals,” the Chargers look destined to
    repeat their last season: a first-round exit at the hands of any number of
    superior teams like the Patriots, Steelers or Colts.

    I know some of you diehard Charger fans out there will point
    to San Diego’s 23-21 win over the defending Super Bowl champions in Week 10 as
    evidence of the team’s perseverance and ability to contend with some of the
    other conference powerhouses. But let me ask you this: If these teams met again
    next week, do you think the Chargers could intercept six of Peyton Manning’s
    passes or have their special teams unit account for 14 points? The obvious
    answer is no, but without these once-in-a-blue-moon, hell freezes over,
    pigs-flying type-moments, the Chargers would be 4-5, though amazingly still
    tied for first in the AFC West.

    To truly comprehend how improbable this latest Charger win
    was, one must understand that Antonio Cromartie, the cornerback responsible for
    Manning’s misery — three picks in the first half — was making his very first
    NFL start filling in for injured veteran Quentin Jammer. Or consider this: The
    89-yard opening kickoff return touchdown and 45-yard punt return touchdown were
    third-year, third-string running back Darren Sproles’ first and second career
    touchdowns. It was the combination of Cromartie and Sproles that vaulted San Diego
    to a 23-7 halftime score that remained until the final frame, a comfortable
    fourth-quarter lead for any competitive club.

    Instead of coming out in the second half and never looking
    back, the Chargers ended up having to nervously watch Manning chip their lead
    away with a passing touchdown and a two-point conversion to bring the Colts
    within another trip to the end-zone and two-point conversion. With the best
    running back in the NFL in LaDainian Tomlinson, the Chargers should have had no
    problem running the clock out, but instead the ball ended up in Phillip Rivers’
    iron hands, which fumbled the rock into the end zone, where it was recovered by
    Indy’s middle linebacker Gary Brackett for six more points. The two-point
    conversion failed, leaving San Diego clinging to a 23-21 win.

    Although there were plenty of shocking moments leading up to
    the win, none were more important or more improbable then Adam Vinatieri,
    easily the best clutch-kicker of all-time, missing a 29-yard field goal that
    would have given the Colts the lead with only a minute and a half left in the
    game. Once the ball sailed just a smidge to the right of the upright, the
    Chargers could finally celebrate their first victory over a team with a winning
    record in 2006.

    While the Chargers should be ashamed of their play so far
    and embarrassed to be a division leader, all is not lost. They are a far cry
    from their 2006 edition that cruised to a 14-2 record, but the Chargers can
    still hold out hope that they will turn things around. No matter what the quality
    of their wins has been, the Chargers are still one of the best teams,
    talent-wise, of any in the NFL. Sure, the Patriots are executing to perfection,
    but the Chargers still boast a better running back, the best tight end in the
    game, a young quarterback that has proven himself capable of putting together
    game-winning drives (although you have to look all the way back to last season)
    and a stifling defense.

    The problem so far has been consistency. Whenever L.T.
    breaks out, Rivers negates it with some costly turnovers. Or when Rivers starts
    to get a rhythm going, L.T. suddenly finds himself swarmed at the line and
    incapable of setting up some long scoring plays. If Tomlinson, Rivers, Gates
    and the defense can all start contributing consistently and the Chargers begin
    running on all cylinders, they could be a dangerous team come playoff time. But
    until Norv Turner sparks something in the squad to turn things around, this
    team will remain an inconsistent disappointment destined for no more than a
    measly playoff appearance. And after last year’s collapse, San Diegans are
    expecting more than just an appearance; they want nothing less than a chance to
    pay the Patriots back for last year’s contest on the way to a long-overdue
    Super Bowl win.

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