Three weeks into the NFL season, and the San Diego Chargers have emerged as the biggest media darlings since the 1999 St. Louis Rams. After staggering through a disastrous 1-15 campaign last season, the Chargers are off to a 3-0 start behind the mobile quarterbacking of Doug Flutie and powerful running of rookie LaDainian Tomlinson. San Diego residents pile onto the bandwagon even as the national sports media falls over themselves to sing the Chargers praises. In Buffalo, diehard Bills fans kick their dogs and take to drinking alone in darkened rooms. Most disturbing, the Chargers themselves start buying into the hype.
There's just one problem. San Diego has built its perfect record on the backs of the sorriest trifecta of NFL teams in league history. The Washington Redskins have been outscored 112-16, the Cowboys may not win a game in 2001, and the Bengals are, quite simply, the Bengals. A week three computer ranking reveals that the Charger's strength of schedule rates just above that of the Orange High School Junior Varsity football team.
So when the untested San Diego offense squares off against a top-flight Browns defensive unit--at Cleveland Browns Stadium, no less--the results are spectacular. Gerard Warren dominates so thoroughly that he makes Warren Sapp look like Warren G. Harding. On three straight plays in the opening series, Big Money utterly collapses the middle of the Chargers line. Center Kendyl Jacox and right guard DeMingo Graham--both undrafted fourth-year players--simply lack the speed to contain the defensive tackle. Warren twice stuffs LaDanian Tomlinson in the backfield, before batting a Flutie pass into the waiting hands of Dwayne Rudd for a touchdown.
In fact, the defense is so dominating that the Chargers offense not only fails to score in the first half. It never even manages to [i]punt[/i]. On eight straight series, the Cleveland defense forces a turnover, returning the ball each time for a touchdown. At the half the score is 56-0, and the Browns offense has yet to take the field. Chargers coach Mike Riley is livid, offensive coordinator Norv Turner is enraged, and defensive coach Joe Pascale is fast asleep.
Matters get so out of hand by the third quarter that Butch Davis sends the entire offensive unit home. When the Browns defense at last fails to return a fumble for a score (on a heads-up stick by Jamir Miller that puts both tight end Freddie Jones and the ball on the ground), Butch opts to send in Phil Dawson on first down to attempt a 72-yard field goal. Kicking into a five mile per hour wind, Dawson splits the uprights, sending the crowd into a frenzy.
By the end of the game, LaDainian Tomlinson has racked up 47 carries for negative 123 yards and six fumbles, an average of minus 2.6 yards per carry. Tomlinson started the day with 310 yards and a 3.7-yard per carry average, but he finishes with just 187 yards rushing for the season and a dismal 1.4 yard per carry average. Doug Flutie completes just three passes for negative 13 yards, 0 TDs, and 12 interceptions. As for Junior Seau and the vaunted San Diego defense--they never even take the field.
Final score: Browns 129, Chargers 0.
And that's the way I see it.