Of hype, that is. I admit that I was pleasantly surprised with the Chargers’ performance in Dallas. It was also nice that KC lost to the Bills. But the amount of attention the Bolts have gotten is a little frightening. The fact that they were the only team to lose to the Browns last year serves as a reminder of how quickly things can change. Every doubter (and San Diegan) wants to see them stumble in these last five games. A loss on Sunday would be the end of the season. That’s not because I think Cleveland is so bad. But there is no way the Chargers would recover and win their final four games to give themselves a chance at the postseason.
I’m not even sure 9 wins would get you into the playoffs. But the fact that the Browns are once again winless ensures that there is no coming back from “stubbing your toe.” As was the case in 2013, the Bolts no longer have a margin for error. Thanksgiving gave a glimpse of what this team can do. Throwing to set up the run seems to be working, so hopefully Wisenhunt won’t go back to run-run-pass. Letting Gordon get swallowed up on the early downs sets the offense back constantly. Plus, Gordon is that much more effective when he get some momentum. I think I read somewhere that he’s the second most effective running back in the NFL coming out of the shotgun.
Nick Hardwick has pointed out on Twitter more than once this week that Barksdale deserves more credit for neutralizing Lawrence after returning from injury. I wasn’t paying much attention to Bazooka Joe, but the fact that I didn’t notice him coming back into the lineup is a good thing. In fact, along with Benjamin and Tyrell Williams, all three of the guys I constantly bash justifiably, didn’t spoil the game. Benjamin still can’t return kicks or endure any kind of contact but didn’t drop any passes. Williams paddled that pass into his hands for a touchdown.
Of course, Keenan Allen’s monster game made all those guys that much better. I’ve criticized the “Slayer” for his preening in the face of injury. However, since his rookie season he’s been one of the best receivers in the NFL. Had Wisenhunt decided not to give the ball to Woodhead up the gut in Denver and take the shackles off Rivers earlier, we might have won that playoff game. Thanks for 3rd and 17, Eric Weddle.
Yes, I know I constantly bring up the past. But with this team it’s very often repeated. I don’t trust Wiz, but clearly he needs to focus on matchups each week. It seems obvious, right? Why didn’t we attack New England’s secondary? We’ll never know, but if they keep winning maybe they can get a second chance. If Gordon can’t get going early, then using the pass to set him up seems like the way to go. Speaking Woodhead, Ekler has been doing a really nice job, especially for a rookie.
In terms of mathcups, Henry simply cannot be ignored. I love Antonio Gates, even though he’s had his share of drops over the years. But this is the time for this kid to break out. We need him if we want this season to mean anything.
In the same week Eli Manning got benched for Geno Smith, Rivers had one of the greatest statistical games of his career and everyone is talking about the greatest #Philcember of all. I’m sure Phil would trade it all for a couple #Janurivers or a #Feburivers. But the line needs to keep him upright as they have. Throwaways are better than sacks but if other guys can contribute and maybe sprinkle in a screen or two then offenses can’t pin their ears back and force him into the “chuck and suck” offfense.
On defense, you couldn’t ask for a better performance right now. The U-T wrote a nice piece about some of the less glamorous contributions from the Dallas game. Liuget is doing good grunt work, Tom Krasovic wrote. That’s a good way to describe it. Of course, he was drafted and paid to do a little more. But the other guys on the line, in the linebacking core, and in the secondary are allowing him to play a good supplemental role. That’s who he is, I suppose. He’s not a star, but that’s ok if we know it now. AJ Smith also drafted Melvin Ingram and it’s hard to argue with that selection right now.
It’s awful that Casey Haywward’s brother was killed in a car crash this week. The guy followed up a Pro Bowl season with an even stronger one. He dropped some picks early this year but the one in Dallas was a thing of beauty. He apparently plans to play tomorrow, which is totally his call. Jason Verrett is simply a non-factor at this point. He can’t get another deal from the Chargers. I’m not saying that Trevor Williams will be a superstar, but Verrett makes Chargers-era Bob Sanders look like an Iron Man.
As for the kicking, Novak still worries me. Any Charger kicker besides John Carney would. In fact, if Carney had made that kick in Miami in 1999 then Mike Riley and Jim Harbaugh would have gotten into the playoffs together. Novak did make a 50 yarder in Jacksonville even if the Bolts made it useless. I guess we should excuse the first miss in Dallas since he was too hurt to continue. I didn’t agree with the decision to go on 4th down (this is when Lynn finally elects to be bold?), but after seeing Kaser miss the net I guess it makes sense. However, try to throw beyond the sticks? This is something Rivers has done a few times this season. If it’s not Allen on a crossing pattern, we’re not getting a first down.
So here comes the Browns and Josh Gordon. I went to the Charger game in Clevleand, which is pictured above, in ’92. I also attended the division-clincher twelve seasons later. Yeah, those years in Rochester toughened me up to the cold. I luckily missed the Browns game twelve years after that. I just saw the lowlights of that game and it all came rushing back. We lost to Robert Griffin even though we got a miracle 4th down pass to Gates. Josh Lambo should have lost the Cleveland play the year before if not for a penalty.
NYC resident Mike Strange, one of the few who still writes in, pointed out that this needs to be a statement game. I couldn’t agree more. The Browns may not be as bad their record, but the Bolts need to handle this. They can’t play scared or stupid. The kicking situation worries me, but hopefully it won’t be a factor this week. This is what happens when you go 0-4 and throw away winnable games. You don’t have any more room to screw up.
I mentioned last week that the most “Chargery” thing to do would be beat Dallas and lose this game. I’m not the only one to say that. ESPN’s Bill Williamson Tweeted as much this week. At this point it’s what everyone expects. But maybe, just maybe, they won’t break our heart.
Lastly, tomorrow is also my beautiful wife’s birthday. While we won’t get to spend the entire day together, due to this football business, I think she knows how amazing she is. This has been one of the toughest years of my 46, having nothing to do with the Chargers. The fact that it hasn’t been THE toughest tells you all you need to know. I love you, Sammy.
PS The royal blues will be out tomorrow to honor Don Coryell, thus all the Fouts pics. You know the best way to honor him? By not losing to the Browns.