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- Lightning threesome could prove lethal in playoffs

Sports Critic December 20, 2004
Sports Critic

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By Alex Fitzsimmons, email alexcolumn@aol.com

A quarterback left for dead, a coach ridiculed and scrutinized, and a team with no sense of certainty. That was the state of the San Diego Chargers in the 2003 season. But now, under the commanding helm of breakthrough quarterback Drew Brees, breakout tight end Antonio Gates, and the ever explosive LaDainian Tomlinson, the 2004 Chargers are looking more daunting than ever, and have left young rookie Philip Rivers to swim upstream.

Last season, Brees and the rest of the Chargers’ were the laughing stock of the NFL, scratching and crawling their way to a pitiful 4-12 record, tied for worst in the league. Their quarterback was deemed a fluke, sporting a deplorable passer rating of 67.5. The team was 27th in the league defensively in yards per game, and was second to last in surrendering points, nearly giving up 28 points per game. The only notable player worth wasting a breath on was running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 1, 645 yards and caught 100 passes, which, obviously, led the team. The Chargers seemed to be the butt of every joke, as analysts would often compare bonehead teams and players to the Chargers.

But with every sad story, there is a silver lining. And San Diego’s came after first round draft pick Rivers decided to hold out after being drafted. The hold out would prove to be a blessing in disguise because not only did the Chargers not have enough time to train Rivers fully before Week 1, thus benching him, it opened the door for the washed up Brees to earn his stripes, and he certainly exceeded his anticipated numbers.

Bress’ productivity has increased dramatically with a 102.7 passer rating, 2784 yards passing and 23 TD passes all at age 25. Tomlinson is having another astonishing season, boasting 1143 rushing yards and 14 rushing TD’s. By the way, Tomlinson is also only 25 years old. Tight end Gates is making a name for himself at the youthful age of 24, compiling 843 receiving yards to this point, snatching 73 receptions and 11 TD catches, all team leading. The scary part about Gates: he played college basketball, not football.

Offensively, the Chargers currently rank sixth overall in rushing yards per game, third in points per game, averaging 28.5, and are tied for third overall in third down percentage, converting nearly 50 percent of the time. All are remarkable improvements from last year’s statistics.

But offense is only half the game (excluding special teams), and the Chargers are a solid team defensively. San Diego is tied for third overall in Giveaway/Takeaway ratio, at 13. In addition, they are tied for second in the league with 17 interceptions, and defensive superstar Donnie Edwards has rapped up a team leading 129 total tackles, forced one fumble, and picked off three passes.

With a team this good, it’s surprising they were so bad.

So the question now: should head coach Marty Schottenheimer, who by the way deserves to be Coach of the Year, stick with the surprising Brees at signal caller, or potentially disrupt the strong chemistry this team has, in favor of the untested Philip Rivers, whom the Chargers paid so much to acquire? In my opinion, its Brees’ job to lose. Why change a system that obviously works? If, however, Bress plays poorly next season, the door can be opened for Rivers to enter.

Despite the seemingly blissful state the Chargers seem to be consumed in, they aren’t perfect. A still moderate defense that has shown spots of brilliance, and disaster, will need to be improved in the off-season. And offensively, the youthful posse of Brees, Gates and Tomlinson is a great foundation, but with minute productivity from the wide receiver position, they should look into acquiring a high-quality receiver. A great tight end is always a bonus, but the Chargers need a consistent receiver if they seek to find any long-term success in the NFL.

The future of the Chargers lies within Schottenheimer’s ability to call the right plays, both on the field and off. This team has the ability to get past the first round of the playoffs, and maybe even further. This team is still young, which means they could become over-zealous come playoff time. It will be Schottenheimer’s job to keep this team’s ferocity at a controlled level, because it’s no doubt they possess much of it. If the whole team shows enough maturity, poise, determination, and desire to play football, their possibilities are endless.


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