Greatness: Just Don’t Screw Up

    With this knowledge, the 49ers could rise from the ashes and Denver could hold its head high once more. The San Diego Chargers wouldn’t be going on television making excuses for their team, saying, “It’s something to build on,” as Chargers safety Eric Weddle did last weekend.

    By now football fans are thinking about all the variables that could go into making a great team, and how you get to stand on top of the heap of broken opponents and say, “I am the very best.” You could be thinking that the key element is a great quarterback, a decisive running back that makes the hard yards, or a linebacker that makes all the right stops and really punishes the opponent. Or you could be thinking more broadly about a great defense working together, or an offense that is completely in sync.

    But you would be wrong.

    In the NFL, almost every athlete is a freak. They are bigger, stronger and faster than any average person you may hope to meet. They know their game, have lived and breathed it for years; each one is the utmost tenth of one percent, the extreme elite. Certainly there are differences that make some better and some average, but a team of average players beats the team with a single star because they are all within a standard deviation of ridiculous, out-of-this-world athletically skilled and gifted.

    Mistakes are what set a great team apart from a good team, at any level of sport. In the NFL, mistakes are few and far between. As an offense or defense, the main objective is to force the other team to make mistakes and limit your own. If you can capitalize on the other team’s mistakes and also limit your own mistakes, or limit how much the other team benefits from your mistakes, you will be great.

    Mistakes are the reason the Chargers lead the NFL in total offense and total defense, but their record sucks compared to other teams with similar stats. The Chargers are 3-5 while the Patriots — not in the top five of offensive or defensive categories — nevertheless look their best since their dominance in 2007 at 6-1.

    It’s not for lack of talent that the Chargers fail time and again. At certain points in their games, there are brilliant plays with Mike Tolbert or Antonio Gates making beautiful catches, and the offensive line giving Philip Rivers years to pass the ball. But after those brilliant plays there comes disaster after disaster, giving the Chargers opponents an eight differential in turnovers so far this year — the worst ratio in the league — along with the most fumbles at 12.

    That’s why good old coach Norv Turner has imposed a “no turnovers” credo.

    “If you have a guy that touches the ball 30 times, he’s not allowed to fumble the football,” he said. “That’s it.”

    Turner wants the Chargers to be a great team, and if they’re going to pull it off they need to get their heads back in the game.

    Two weeks ago, rookie receiver Richard Goodman caught a ball and fell down to the ground where “[he] could have sworn [he] was touched,” and he put the ball on the ground. The trouble is, he wasn’t, and the Pats’ James Sanders scooped it and went 25 yards the other way. Later in the second quarter, Rivers’ backwards pass was left on the ground — a present like manna from heaven — and the Pats took it down the field for a field goal. The Chargers tried to come back from behind, outscoring the Pats 17-3 in the fourth quarter, but they were already so far behind from their horrible turnovers in the first half it didn’t make a difference.

    Last week, the Bolts finally got another win against the Titans. Why? Sure, they held the ball for 15 more minutes and 60 more total yards of offense, but the real reason is that they only had one turnover and managed to limit that turnover’s damage.

    Forcing turnovers and capitalizing on them makes a team great, and if the Chargers can stop handing the ball to the other team and start getting some of what they’ve been giving out, they still have a wisp of a hope of a dream for this coming post-season. For every San Diego Charger fan’s cardiac health, I hope the Chargers can play to the whistle, not fumble, and become the team their offensive and defensive stats say they can be. The only thing they seem to be missing is what any high school football player can do: Fight like hell and hold on to the ball.

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