Tales from the SunnySide: Holidays with the Chargers

It’s a strange thing to be in Southern California when the holiday’s roll around. As Steve Goodman used to say, "There’s not a single reindeer and it hardly ever snows: the temperature is 84 degrees."

 I’m hanging out on the beach with Shelby: She’s kind of polite about the trench coat and in SoCal, it’s not the strangest thing you see at the beach. Santa? He’s in Malibu, driving a Rolls-Royce limousine, fronting a flock of surfer chicks doing foofy drinks with the elves in the back. The reindeer are training in the sand for standing takeoffs with a couple of Frisbees working on the side. They have a few illegals handling the cleanup duties to keep the sand flies happy. It’s California.

This is a strange old place for a Bear. The song of the surf is sonorous: simultaneously powerful and soft, it can carry you to a place both relaxed and alert. The coastal waters are where we first were born to the land and its level of salt is perfectly reflected in our blood: The ocean truly runs in our veins. An hour on the beach leaves you in a netherworld of comfortable languor. The weather is so perfect that it loses its meaning – no one comments on it, because there’s nothing to say. It is sattwa, the guna of harmony. The Japanese call it ‘wa’.

It’s a strange old place to be Chargers fans, too. You have to figure out which Chargers you root for – the ones that everyone knew would go to the Super Bowl? The ones who were going to challenge the Patriots for the longest winning streak. Yes, those guys. Seen them lately? Remember all those kinds of articles? Sure, me too. But the team they’re getting out here seems to be mired in qi-sucking mediocrity, while still mouthing assurances of similarities to last season.

A lot of teams get caught up in the joys of next year. Next year we’ll get ‘em, they say. Next year we’ll be better. Even MHR fans talk about next year, next draft. But in the land of the Sandy Ego, it’s all about last year. And there, as Willie the Shake once penned, is the rub.

The San Diego Union Tribune, too, sings the incessant refrain of last year. "The Chargers were just one game better after 10 games last year. This is the week they embarked on an eight-game win streak that took them to the AFC Championship Game." The pelican grabbed that crab and pounded it on the rock with a bossa nova beat. It’s a drum that they love to play out here.

Turner stood at the podium for his post game press conference after Sunday’s game, and he seemed to speak in the tones of the 10 year old that had broken a vase. His posture insisted that it was no one’s fault, and I half expected him to tell a reporter as much. When the Broncos won this weekend I heard a half dozen players compliment Coach Shanahan. I don’t hear that about Norv Turner, that kind of confidence. Turner said he has been impressed by his team's "attitude and resiliency after tough games." He mentioned last year, too. Everyone does.

 "We've been in tough situations where games could have gotten away from us," Turner said. "We didn't let that happen." But oddly, it did happen – they lost those games. The issue of ‘by how many points’ may comfort the mind, but it doesn’t change the W column.

Perhaps it’s just the onus of losing, dampening their sinews and sapping the fire of their strength. Perhaps creeping Norvism really is taking its toll. Teams often take on the personality of the head coach: Shanahan burns with the desire to win another SB. Parcells will not tolerate anything but physical, demanding play. Tony Dungy’s Colts have taken on his cerebral exactitude. And the San Diego Chargers seem to be taking on the bland perplexity that Turner exhibited Sunday night and Monday at the podium.

LDT’s conference was different – his was a burning fury, seething just beneath the surface, his anger spoken yet unexpressed; his frustration is palpable. He believes that he is well now, that he is back. He barely contains himself, and has spoken privately about his discomfort that his number is not called more. To him this is the way home, the golden path of armed resistance. But weeks come and go and the running game doesn’t materialize.

LDT has 182 attempts, 686 yards, a 3.8 ypc and an anemic 5 TD this year. He might not be completely right, but there’s no question that he has a point. The Bolts and the Broncos have been more the same than different in that they both had decided by circumstance to put the weight of winning on the arms of their young and gifted QBs (Rivers has a 100.4 rating, with 296 attempts and 191 completions, he has 2513 yards and a league leading 21 TDs).

But their rivers aren’t flowing in quite the same direction, and the ball and the games keep falling just a little short for the lightning lads. The Broncos seem to be learning and growing but the Chargers haven’t quite figured who they are yet, and in November that’s cause for worry. They lack a path; longing for one, they are homesick for a land they have never seen.

Fan Aussiecharger noted, "I am sick of hearing how "we came back last year". This is not last year. It's not going to happen just because we went on a run last year. This team has not looked motivated all year and the fact they keep referring to last shows they are not focused on the present. You can't drive a car looking in the rear vision mirror." Good points, all.

This is a team that had a top rate defense last year: they have gone 4 games without a takeaway. Last year their four starting linebackers held 4 of the 5 top slots for tackles. This year, 4 of the top 5 players in tackles are defensive backs. When the opposing players are consistently in your secondary, two things are true. You’re probably not getting a good rush, and you’re probably not winning. In these areas the Bolts are 2 for 2.

There have been bright spots. Jacob Hester showed once that he showed fast hands and great awareness in snatching a fumbled kickoff that should have tied the Miami game, but he turned out to have hands that too often dropped the ball and he hasn’t played his way back into a regular role yet. Cason is coming along, but he too is having growing pains. If he can overcome injuries, Jyles Tucker is going to be a heck of a player in time, but right now Tucker fights injury as much as opposing players. This is not a team that stands before the gates and cries ‘Havoc!’ Too often, it seems to await a written invitation on silver tray and chafes at the endless failure of its arrival. It is a team that seems as if has a goal, but not a vision.

There is a bright spot: the schedule. The Bolts only need to make up one game before the Broncos conclude their regular season in San Diego. They would need to win that one and hold the tiebreaker. It’s a very doable thing. They have more home games and have weaker opponents. The Broncos may have to defeat Carolina and the Jets, a tough row to hoe, and hold their other 4 games. The Chargers can yet win the division, but the Broncos have the keys to their own destiny now.

Rivera is contributing his own strength of character to this San Diego defense. Despite the lack of turnovers, I noticed a substantial difference in their resiliency on Sunday. He’s having a good influence and he took over a club in serious seasonal affective disorder.

This season, the Chargers' average time of possession of 27:59 is 25th in the league. Their average of 55.4 plays per game ranks last, while their opponents' average of 67.5 plays is second-most , yet they held Pitt to 3 FGs (officially, at least). Even then they found a way to lose in the final minutes; wilting on the final drive.

Of course, in the team’s last four games, Rivers has thrown six interceptions and dropped three fumbles, one of which ended in a safety. Two turnovers in 4 seconds against Buffalo may be a new AFC West record. In a league in which you’re only as good as your last game, he’s currently pretty darned bad. His QB rating against the Steelers was 43. He gave up a fumble in the end zone that lead to a safety and he ended two red zone drives—one with an interception and another with ugly passes that fell incomplete on second and third down.

In another city, Cutler’s Broncos seemingly have started to strengthen. They are winning on the road, making the big play, learning a better defense and clearly are convinced that they can win. They are not ‘there’ but they are going in the right direction. SD maybe hasn’t picked a direction yet, and you wonder what they’re waiting for.

If this is the direction they’ve picked, it’s nice of them to like Denver so much. Super Bowls are earned. Time really is running out. Platitudes still are as meaningless as a hooker’s kiss and last year was a couple of decades ago in NFL time. But a win here, maybe another there and the Chargers could still go into the final game of the season with the right to hammer the Broncos into the sand and put them out of the playoffs.

Maybe it’s the sound of the ocean. It can lull you to sleep, convincing you that there’s plenty of time, no need to panic, and that the answer is just over there on the next beach. And, it can still be true. They can still pull this one out and win their division, but the Chargers need to wake up before it’s will be too late.

From Joe Fortenbaugh’s The Good, The Bad & The Ugly :

THE BAD 1. Philip "The Ship Is Sinking" Rivers:

San Diego is in big time trouble right now. A popular pick during the preseason to win the Super Bowl, the Chargers are currently 4-6 and in must win mode from here on out (too bad Indy comes to town this weekend). While playing Pittsburgh is certainly no easy task, Rivers had a miserable game on Sunday, completing only 15 of 26 passes for 159 yards, NO touchdowns and two interceptions. While there is still the off chance that Denver stumbles and San Diego gets back into contention, does it really matter? Their goal was to reach the big game this year and with the defense they currently put out on the field each weekend, the chances of them slowing anybody down come January are slim to none.

If you want to listen to someone talk smack about Rivers, Eric Gomez of the bleacherreport.com has an analysis that doesn’t pull any punches. The title says it all.

Originally posted at MHR

Learn to laugh at yourself. You will be ceaselessly amused. - Sri Gary Olsen

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