Ugly Wins Count Too

<b>Cleveland-</b> It may not have been pretty. It didn't have to be. When the game ended, San Diego Chargers players were celebrating a win. It was as if they just won the Super Bowl. There is plenty to work on, starting with special teams. Pretty or not, the NFL only counts wins and losses.

"It was not real artistic," said Marty Schottenheimer. "We did not play our best and we certainly created a number of opportunities for Cleveland. Our players battled their tails off the entire ball game and made the plays when we had to in order to win the game. I think we all look at the numbers, but I think they are overrated. The only numbers that matter are wins and losses. It does not matter how you do it."

"We have been fighting our way uphill for the first win," Kwamie Lassiter added.

The parts came together and the defense had its best game of the season. They were put behind the eight ball numerous times by errors on special teams and in a game that could have easily gone to the Cleveland Browns, they made big stop after big stop.

"I got the whole defense together when it was 23-20," Schottenheimer said. "I said, ‘Look at the scoreboard. The scoreboard says we win if they do not score. People have been telling us, you can not do this, you cannot do that, so let's go, stop them, and that will get the job done.'"

And stop them they did. They allowed Cleveland to gain just 14 yards after the pep talk from Schottenheimer. Eight drives were stopped after four plays or less.

"You have to take your hats off to San Diego," said Browns wide receiver Kevin Johnson. "They did things they had to do and got the win. They kept us off balance and blitzed when they had to. They did what they did and they won. They ran the ball when they had to and kept the defense on the field."

The secondary limited big plays. The longest play against them went for 24 yards. With some pressure up front, they kept Cleveland off balance and limited mistakes in the secondary. As a team they gave up just 192 passing yards against and Cleveland quarterbacks dropped back 44 times.

"A lot of teams do things that we don't expect during the week, like zone defenses or man up," said Johnson. "A lot of times you can put a cornerback out on an island and you can do good things. They had those guys on an island all day."

The secondary added two interceptions. Lassiter returned one of those for a touchdown and Terrence Kiel, in his first shot with increased playing time, got the other.

Cleveland got the ball three times in San Diego territory and the defense did its job to minimize damage. Even after two successive penalties to Carlos Polk on fourth downs, the defense rose up to the challenge.

"We had some very good field position, and some great kickoff returns almost to the 50-yard-line," said Cleveland Head Coach Butch Davis. "Then we got some good field position, moved the ball, made some first downs, had some dropped balls, sacks and hurries and never really got anything consistently in sync and in rhythm in the first half. We tried to fight our way out of a tough deal."

The San Diego defensive line provided the sacks and hurries. They took advantage of an injured offensive line and came up with their best effort of the season.

Everything didn't go smoothly, however. As mentioned previously, the special teams unit continues to be a detriment in one way or another. The Chargers committed twelve penalties on the day, something a Schottenheimer coached team cannot do to consistently win. They also failed to produce a touchdown in the red zone, going 0-2.

"We have to put a tape together for the defensive line containing all the movement that goes on when the ball is snapped, instead of going by the sound," said Schottenheimer. "We did not do a very good job of that today. We were not very good in the kicking game, frankly. We did what we had to do. A much-maligned defensive football team went out and showed evidence of what they are capable of doing. The bottom line is we found a way to win a football game in a very difficult environment against a pretty good football team."

Still no matter how ugly it happened, the broad smiles at the end of the game gives the team hope.

"As sloppy as it was at times, just to get the first ‘W' is nice," said Drew Brees. "Everyone is coming in here smiling and we feel good about ourselves. Just to get a ‘W' is great. I think the guys feel confident."

"It is something we can build on," said Lassiter. "There are not going to be any off-days. We have to go to work, build on this and find ways we can get better in the areas we need to. We need to find ways to get rid of our mistakes."

The building better be erected fast. On the heels of this win comes an emotional game against a Junior Seau led Miami team next week on Monday night. At least they were able to get off the schnide in anticipation of a National Game next week in San Diego.

In the end it didn't matter how the win came – as long as they got one. The Chargers were the last team to win a game in the NFL this season.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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