The plus side of the 30-24 overtime loss to the Redskins, if there is one, is that it brought expectations back down to earth. It is important to remember this Chargers season is not about chasing the Lombardi trophy; instead, it is about developing young players and evaluating a roster in transition.
San Diego's performance in Washington is a reminder of how far this team has to go. The secondary is a complete mess. The Chargers' pass defense allows 275.4 yards per game, worse than every AFC team except one -- the Broncos allow 299.1. The two players who were supposed to carry San Diego's secondary, Eric Weddle and Derek Cox, have been the team's biggest disappointments.
It doesn't help that John Pagano has no outside pass rushers at his disposal, a detriment which will prove all the more crippling this week with Peyton Manning coming to town. The Broncos have two injured offensive tackles, but the Chargers do not have the personnel to take advantage of it.
This week's game feels different than last week's. Instead of fighting for playoff positioning, the Chargers are playing the role they were seemingly destined to play all season long: spoiler. Half of San Diego's remaining games are against either the Broncos (7-1) or Chiefs (9-0), so the Chargers will play a heavy role in determining the AFC West champion, even though the division crown will be claimed by another team for the fourth consecutive season.
This is not to imply San Diego's season is over because it failed to gain a half-yard in crunch time in Washington. There are still winnable games on the schedule, including three foes (the Dolphins, Giants and Raiders) that enter the second half of the season without winning records. If the Bolts sweep those games and steal a couple against the Broncos, Chiefs and Bengals, they could sneak into the playoffs in a conference where the second wild-card spot appears wide open.
But as we have learned about this team through eight games, the Chargers are not a playoff quality football team. If they make it to the tournament it will be a feather in the cap of the new coaching staff, but the journey is sure to be short-lived.
There is still plenty to accomplish this season. Young defenders like Manti Te'o, Kendall Reyes, Shareece Wright, Marcus Gilchrist and Andrew Gachkar are developing as part of an overachieving unit. Over on offense, Keenan Allen, Johnnie Troutman and Ladarius Green are coming into their own.
The coaching staff is developing too. Late-game decision making played a major role in losses to the Titans and Redskins, which are things this first-year staff can (and will) learn from.
These developments are the most important things that will happen over the next eight weeks. And if the Chargers are able to upend a division front-runner or sneak into the playoffs in the process, that is just icing on a half-baked cake.
Talk about the upcoming Chargers-Broncos game inside the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
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