When you play a good team like San Diego, or anybody, there's always going to be a handful of plays that really determine the outcome. And obviously the one that we remember most is the last field goal that we attempted and didn't make it in overtime. I thought we played the overtime well. Our defense held them three-and-out, no yards, punt to us. We took over at the 24-yard line and moved on down the field and put ourselves in position to win that game. So we remember the field goal most, obviously, but really when you evaluate and grade the entire game, which you need to do, and look at certain plays that occur during the game, and then maybe it doesn't come down to an overtime. We have to approach it in that fashion.
This playoff race is getting quite interesting. There's only two teams in the league that have better records than we do - 8-2 Green Bay and Tampa. And they happen to play each other. And then we sit with 7-3, same as Philly, and we happen to play each other. So it's going to get interesting here. Just like the league wanted it, just like we expected. We thought it would be a dogfight from the beginning to end, and that's exactly what we have.
I don't have any doubt that we'll freshen up mentally and physically and put a good week of practice together. The character on this team is tremendous. I thought we played hard and played well most of the time.
(LaDainian) Tomlinson had 22 carries for 38 yards. Then there was two rushes where he popped through there for 23 and 26. But you've got to play an entire game. You can't stop him 22 times and not two. It makes a difference. Same thing with pass defense. Longest pass play of the year against our secondary was 27 yards. Well, in this game, we had three for more than that. We had a 46, a 41 and a 31. And they were big. And they were in a timely fashion. They were big plays in the game, most of them. Out of 50 snaps we failed to sack the quarterback for the first time this year. And that surprised me a little bit. But they did a nice job of putting Drew Brees in the shotgun getting the ball out of there, throwing it quickly for the most part, max protecting often times and they protected him well.
There was a lot of instances where we feel we had our chances. Both sides of the ball. Not just the last field goal. When we have an opportunity to make those plays next time, we simply have to.
Q: What does it do philosophically to your offense when you don't have confidence you can make a clutch kick?
Mariucci: You've got to be confident in the 40-plus (yards) kick. We chose not to kick a 50-yarder, but that's understandable. But you simply have to like your chances inside of 45 yards, I think. And we do. And we usually do. We went for a fourth-and-4 in the first half, it proved to be a good play with a touchdown. We had a fourth-and-4 in the second half and we chose to punt it down there and get it inside the 10 and punted in the end zone. The confidence in your kicker is always going to play an important hand in those decisions. But 41, 45, 39 – those you should be confident enough to pop it through there.
Q: Does your philosophy now become that you have to score a touchdown when you get in that kind of overtime situation?
Mariucci: You know, if you can win it with at touchdown, great. But on fourth-and-8 from where we were, we're probably going to kick a field goal again, you know? You've got to trust that whoever's lining up there is going to get the job done. Sure, you're going to try to score a touchdown first, but if not, put yourself in a position to hit one.
Q: What are your feelings about the job Jason Baker is doing as your punter?
Mariucci: He's been inconsistent. He knows that. He's been better in practice than he has on game day, for whatever reason. He kicked three touchbacks in this game. We'd like him to stick the ball on the 8- or 10-yard line for a fair catch or where we could down it. Our cover units on the punt were terrific. Because Tim Dwight was back. They had some return men now. Ronnie Jenkins on kickoff returns and Tim Dwight their punt returner – very dangerous. A lot of touchdowns between those two guys. They didn't get any good returns on us in the punt game. One time the ball bounced and rolled and that helped us a little bit. We're covering like crazy. But we'd like better performance. He knows that. He'd like a better performance, too, in the punt game. He happens also to be our holder. That figures into the equation. So right now, we do the best we can in coaching him, and keep believing in these guys and try to improve them every day and see where it takes us.
Q: Looking at what happened around the league, do think you missed out on an opportunity to put yourself in a great position in the NFC?
Mariucci: Sure you do. Naturally, you feel that way. Every loss is a missed opportunity. And every win is, in some ways we dodged a bullet. We hung in there, we got it done somehow. It's going to be like that when you play a 16-game schedule. Most of the games are going to be close. Most are going to be decided late. So every team is going to have a missed opportunity or two. It would have been nice to share the same record with Green Bay and Tampa, that's not the case. We're just a game away from it. We're getting to a point where we'd like to be right there. Stay there at the top. It's easier said than done. We're close. We're a game away from being the best record. So we just keep fighting. It's going to go down to the last few weeks, I'm sure. A lot of the teams that are still in it play each other. But even given that, it's probably not going to get settled till very late.