Chargers close, yet so far away

The San Diego Chargers are a team that is on the hump. They are a team that is good enough to lose. When they do lose, and odds are it will occur many more times this year, the games will be much closer than a year ago.

"We were not going to stand around and be a punching bag like we've been in the past," Marty Schottenheimer said. "I think our guys met that challenge today."

It was a day that left you wondering in Denver. There was reason for optimism as the Chargers showed certain things that were missing a year ago. It also left a bitter taste in the mouth.

LaDainian Tomlinson said it best. He mentioned the embarrassment of defeat a year ago – when the team was down by so many points it had no chance to win at all. Fast forward to this season…

"‘Man we missed one', but you feel like you are going to get that chance again and you have to capitalize the next time you get the chance," said Tomlinson. "That is the way you have to look at it because if you look at it in a negative way it is going to affect you the whole game."

And this team, despite all its mental lapses, was in the game until the end.

Down 10-3 in the second quarter, there was a pang through televisions tuned into the game. It was the moment when you throw the football at the screen. It happened when Drew Brees lost the ball.

A funny thing happened that it made it possible to pick up that ball and hold it securely again. The Chargers held the Broncos to three points – the second time in a row that the Broncos had gotten inside the twenty and been held to three. Suddenly there was hope again. Down 13-3 isn't that bad.

Holding Denver to just two third down conversions in 11 attempts and 37 yards rushing was outstanding.

"They really stepped up and did a great job taking away the run," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "We had our chances. We put some points on the scoreboard, but we just couldn't get it done on third down and in the red zone, and that's a credit to them."

The offense began to get Tomlinson the ball in space just before the half and the open lanes in the passing game became more evident. It wasn't until the third quarter that Brees cashed in, hitting four straight passes and running one in from a yard out.

In Denver – third quarter – down by three – enviable position.

A big stop forced the Broncos to punt and well – we know what happened from there.

A blocked punt attempt turned into a roughing the kicker penalty which turned into fourth and nine which turned into a touchdown.

Things just work out like that sometimes, more often to the Chargers.

The point is the team was in the game.

And they had lots of errors. Start with an offense that barely knows how to move the ball to a defense that can't defend the pass. How about a special teams unit that allows a big return or a pass rush that would have been better served by dropping everyone into coverage – that is how close they got anyway.

They were in the game.

Which makes it all the more frustrating and it does make you believe this team can eventually turn the corner.

Listen and choose whether you believe:

  • "We have to play as a unit and we didn't do that today," linebacker Randall Godfrey said.

  • "It's the things that we're doing and not anything that they're doing," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "We have to learn to capitalize on mistakes."

  • "One thing we know that we shouldn't do is put our head down because we'll pull through," linebacker Ben Leber said.

  • "I think the Denver Broncos will be able to say they respect us, because we played hard and we played physical today," offensive lineman Roman Oben added.

  • The lunch pail mantra seems to be in full effect. There is a belief on this team and the veterans are making sure the youngsters hear about it. Will it pay off? Time, and perhaps a new quarterback, will tell.

    Denis Savage can be reached at

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