Monday, January 20, 2014

I'm Already Missing this Chargers Team

It's hard to talk about it while Peyton Manning is still out there throwing 1 yard touchdowns and on his way to the Superbowl, but we probably really need to go ahead and talk about this season.

The bottom line is that you have to be pretty happy about the overall return on a season that those "in the know" all claimed would be some sort of rebuild or the final nail in Phillip Rivers' coffin. Even I, who pegged us at 12-4 and winning the division (a feat not so far off had we not given up a few games we had no business losing), am tickled pink by what this group was able to accomplish this year. A 9-7 record and a playoff win on the road is nothing to scoff at, even if bitter dickwads want to continue to complain that we should have been eliminated by a silly ticky-tack penalty that went uncalled and that clearly if the refs hadn't been in the bag for us the Steelers would be taking their rightful place in the Superbowl on the strength of their wicked 8-8 record. Pfft. Win more games, Pittsburgh.

Obviously there are things that will stick in our craw about the season.

1) That crap penalty the officials did call on a field goal in the first game of the season that led to an opening Monday night loss to a team that went on to garner a 14 game losing streak. Where's the outrage on that one Sports America?

2) The mere fact that we once again were forced to open on Monday night for the 3rd time in 4 years. Get used to it, I guess. Fact is, we're pencilled in there going forward because they aren't going to punish the Seahawks or the Niners with that shit.

3) That last desperate TD pass by Jake Locker to steal a victory in Tennessee. Jake Locker?! That pass made everyone believe Locker was a viable solution in Tennessee for like four weeks!

4) Moving the Raiders game to 8:30 Sunday Night because freaking baseball! I'm not going to blame that loss completely on that move, but it was still pretty weak. I mean, it's not like they just this year realized baseball is a thing. Seriously, look at half the fields in football in September. There's a frickin' baseball diamond on there and it isn't because Russell Wilson is about to start hammering dingers at halftime! He was a two sport athlete, so it makes sense.

5) The Redskins game.

6) Ryan Mathews capping off an outstanding season by being injured once again and when we needed him most. Look, injuries happen, but if they're your thing, they're your thing, and I don't know how that doesn't factor into what we decide to do with him during the offseason.

7) The coaching staff inexplicably refusing to acknowledge that the running game wasn't going anywhere without a healthy Mathews and refusing to go down field until the final minutes of our playoff loss to the filthy Broncos. That's a tough pill to swallow. And I don't think it has as much to do with job interviews as it does with a stoic refusal to bail out on a gameplan that was not paying any dividends.

That's a long list. I hate to sound gloomy there, because I don't feel gloomy about this season. Damn if there weren't things to be happy about.

1) The draft. The jury's still out on Teo, but there's still time. Next year hopefully he'll have a full training camp and be up to game speed opening day. Fluker is a monster on the line and Keenan Allen is a superstar. Everything else is gravy in a draft like that.

2) Phillip Rivers proving a lot of fans wrong. It takes a line, people. And this season we managed to field one. Rivers looked like he's got at least five years left in him. No chants for Whitehurst from frustrated fans this year. Hopefully never again.

3) The police docket. I'm not sure if you noticed, but aside from one scrub LB getting tossed by the SDPD for a barroom scuffle after the last regular season game, no Chargers showed up on the police report this season as far as I can remember. No DUIs. No domestic disturbances. No champaigne bottles upside the skull. While we may miss the on field production of a guy like Shaun Phillips, I dare say we don't miss the locker room presence.

4) Rehabilitation. When the team was 5-7 and a lot of people-myself included-had all but written them off for the postseason, nobody even wanted Melvin Ingram to try to return for the season. Why risk aggravating a serious injury for a lost season. Well, Ingram came back, contributed to great effect, and apparently gave a struggling defense something to rally around. Things never got perfect on defense this year, but they definitely showed us something in those last few weeks, and much of that starts with Ingram's unlikely return.

4) Danny Woodhead.

That shifty little SOB. You gotta love him. Especially if you drafted him late in a PPR league. His output diminished some as Mathews came on late, but what a season he had. So many people like to refer to him as Sprolesish, but Norv never used Sproles the way this staff used Woodhead. No disrespect to the very deservedly beloved Sproles, but Woodhead's performance far eclipsed anything Sproles ever did with this team. Lock him up.

5) Ryan Mathews. It's only fair after blasting Mathews for being injured during our dimissal from the playoffs, to point out what a tremendous year Mathews contributed. Protected the ball well and achieved statistically on the same level as a guy like Shady McCoy. No matter what happened to close out the post, it would be crazy not to see if you can keep this guy in the stable.

6) Competitiveness. So many of our losses by a pittance. That's a sign of a team on the come. A field goal here, a stop there. We're a team getting better, and those things will start to go our way. Being in every game means something. It'll make these players hungrier. We have guys who've accomplished those things and guys that will yearn to do so after being so close. And I think this management and coaching staff will nurture that. It's a fabulous mix right now.

7) Discipline. This goes hand in hand with #3, but this team sure seemed focused on the fundamentals this year. Protecting the ball. Controlling the clock. At times it was frustrating to watch them do things by the numbers or too conservatively, but I can't help but feel that the idea was to lay a foundation for the future. In that respect, maybe this was something of a rebuild. A rebuild with a side of success, perhaps?

And for the first time in a long time I feel like there is success on the horizon. I'm not worried that our management will decide to throw the locker room into turmoil by making an example of our most talented players in off-season negotiations. I'm not concerned that our coach will merely update the cover sheet on the playbook to read 2014. I'm excited to see what new talent Tom Telesco will bring in. I'm excited to see the way the current roster responds to this years' accomplishments and I can't wait to see what new wrinkles the coaching staff will have in store for next season. Man, it's been so long since I could say "Wait til next year" like it's a good thing, but I feel like that right now.

Thanks for a fun season, Chargers. Thanks for making me care again. Go Bolts!!!

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