We have all had 24 hours to TRY to get the taste of Sunday’s inexplicably awful play calling out of our mouths, which resulted in a crucial loss. Nothing is more maddening than firing a head coach for being a bafoon, and having your newly hired offensive coordinator do the exact same thing. When you are on the road, and you have a chance to punch the ball into the end zone, you just can’t afford to get fancy. It’s already hard enough to win on the road in this league. You shouldn’t overthink your game plan, and keep your best red zone weapon on the bench. But, this article isn’t about Whisenhunt, so I will move on. I only hope that Tom Telesco, Mike McCoy, and the Spanos family feel as embarrassed as we do, and swiftly address this glaring flaw…. again.
Much like the players, it is time for us to put this loss in the rearview mirror, and turn our heads to the next game, and our path to reaching the playoffs. Before the bye week, we held the 6th, and final playoff spot. With that awful loss, we have now plummeted three spots to the 9th slot. Cleveland is right on our heels with a 4-5 record in the 10th spot. Then, if you weren’t already depressed, Oakland is at the 11th spot with 3 wins. The Jets, The Titans, and The Dolphins all leapfrogged us this week with victories. The Jets have the best record at 5-4, and the Dolphins are at 4-4, but have a better conference record. As we know, we blew that game against the 4-4 Titans, AND they have a better conference record. That’s how fast things can change in the NFL, and how important Sunday’s game was. Apparently, The Chargers coaching staff didn’t get the memo.
So, where does this leave The Charger’s playoff hopes? Many fans didn’t have any to begin with, so this shouldn’t be that disappointing to those people. As for the people (including myself) who thought that our coaches had helped this team turn a corner, Sunday’s game only leaves us to guess what they will do to shoot themselves in the foot again. Will it be awful play calling by our coordinators? Will it be Philip chest-thrusting an official, putting us out of striking distance? Will it be Derek Cox giving away big plays, like Halloween candy? Will the players come out like the best team in the NFL, and then finish like a Pop Warner team? Will it be the officials calling phantom penalties, and spotting the ball incorrectly, per their usual routine? We can only hope the Chargers get their act together quickly, and go ballistic for the next 8 games.
Despite having a rag-tag roster of no-names, rookies, depth players, and oft injured vets, this team has shown flashes of improvement against good teams. If the players & coaches can get out of their own way, this team CAN make the playoffs. It’s a long shot, but the race is still on. Let’s assess the damage, and see if we still have a chance. There are 8 games left, and our record is 4-4. Here is our remaining schedule:
Denver, @ Miami, @ Kansas City, Cincinnati, New York Giants, @ Denver, Oakland, Kansas City
What they have going against them: To make the playoffs, they will need to win 5 or 6 of those games. Unfortunately, 5 wins might not get the job done, even though the AFC wild card race seems a little bit soft. The big problem is that we play Kansas City & Denver twice each during that stretch. Even if we split those 4 games, we would still have to beat out The Bengals, The Dolphins, The Giants, and The Raiders to end up at 10-6. If they can beat Denver in San Diego, beat Kansas City on the road, and beat Kansas City in week 17… then we could lose one of the other non-division games (I’m guessing Cincinnati) and still end up with a 10-6 record.
I hope that this team can beat The Raiders, The Dolphins, and The Giants. If we lose any of those games, we are likely done. The Dolphins game will be especially important, as it is a conference game, and a tiebreaker game with a team that is competing with us for the final spot. The Raiders game is also a very winnable division, and conference game. Unfortunately, of all of the teams competing for the last playoff slot right now, we have the hardest road to the playoffs, and will need a lot of help from bad teams. Hopefully they can beat out our competition. Here are the schedules of the current wild card contenders:
The Jets: @Buffalo, @Baltimore, Miami, Oakland, @Carolina, Cleveland, @Miami
The Dolphins: @ Tampa Bay, San Diego, Carolina, @ NYJ, @ Pittsburgh, New England, @ Buffalo, NYJ
The Titans: Jacksonville, Indianapolis, @ Oakland, @ Indianapolis, @ Denver, Arizona, @ Jacksonville, Houston
Of course if the teams below us like Cleveland, Baltimore, and Oakland come on strong, they could still creep up into the race. Any of the above teams could have an epic meltdown, including The Chargers. But, it’s already hard enough figuring this out, without going down that road.
What we have going for us: If we can split the Denver & Kansas City games, we host 3 out of the 4 non-division games on the schedule. Only the Bengals are above .500 right now with 6 wins. The Dolphins have 4 wins, The Raiders have 3 wins, and The Giants have 2 wins. We are lucky that we host the Bengals, who are the best team of the bunch. They also lost their best defensive player (nose tackle Gino Atkins) to a torn ACL on Thursday night. Not to mention, Miami exposed their offense, holding them to just 20 points in an overtime victory. If we are going to play any of those guys on the road, I’m glad it isn’t Cincy.
As for Denver, maybe we can take advantage of the fact that their first game back from the bye is being played in our stadium, and without their head coach. Jack Del Rio will now take over for the ailing John Fox. Del Rio was a head coach in Jacksonville, but it could play a role in the game. Especially, if they make a few coaching mistakes here and there. It’s not much of an advantage, but one can hope that it throws off the Broncos defense enough to cost them the game. Peyton Manning is hard to stop, so we can pray that we can keep their defense on the field, and tire them out. We need to keep Manning on the sideline, and control the clock, like we WERE doing extremely well before Sunday (I am looking at you, Ken Whisenhunt).
Kansas City is going to be a tough match up, as well. They are on an unprecedented winning streak, as we all know. But, they haven’t exactly gone up against any teams that have their quarterback playing at a pro-bowl level, like Philip is playing. Their defense is on point this season, but they have only faced one QB that can beat them with his arm. We will meet them in week 12 at thunderous Arrowhead Stadium, and will at least have a shot at testing their defense. It is a scary thought, when you look at how their defense is forcing turnovers, and getting sacks. But, if the Chargers we have seen in our victories against Indy & Dallas show up, this is a very winnable game. We would also get the next two games at home. Furthermore, if we fared well during this rough streak of games, we would have home field advantage in week 17, when the Chiefs come to Qualcomm. The Chiefs might sit their starters, having already clinched the division title by then. If they don’t, at least we can smash them in the mouth in front of the home crowd.
Well, that is the best I can do to muster some hope that we might still make the playoffs. This is as scotch-taped a scenario as DX’s knees. But, in week 10, it would be foolish for the Chargers to throw in the towel. They have a long & hard road to the playoffs from here, and only have themselves to blame for it. However, this is the NFL, and anything can happen. Just ask Tim Tebow. The Chargers must persevere, or they will be watching the playoffs from their couches. I have always been a glass half full kind of guy, so I still believe they can pull it off. I know a lot of you are chuckling at me. But, isn’t setting one’s self up for major disappointment the Charger way? One more year doesn’t really make much difference, does it? Actually, don’t answer that. Just vote in the poll below.
Keep Bolting Toward Excellence!