A new year, a new game

The loss to Jacksonville was just one of many and their fifth in a row to open 2003. The San Diego Chargers are back – and it is the fifth game of the 2004 season. Oh, how far the troops have come.

The nightmare you wake up from leaves you with a trailing thought. Like an old school teacher that has haunted your dreams, Marty Schottenheimer can be heard in the background, "We have a long ways to go."

Every week, win or lose, the dream returns – along with the saying. But this team has already won half as many as they did all of last year. So what. Half of four ain't that impressive.

There are still twelve potential losses on the horizon and with nostalgia and the powder blues making their appearance this weekend, fans remember when it all started back against the Jets two years ago.

But that is not what destiny holds for this team, no matter how many times you say S.O.C. – Same Old Chargers.

This is a team with emerging talent. When given the opportunity, they score. Just look at their 8-of-11 conversion rate of possessions inside the twenty ending in touchdowns. They are also allowing just 3.3 yards per rush through the first four games.

Now the golden child is coming to town. The Jacksonville Jaguars have become the Carolina Panthers.

The Chargers squandered opportunities that could have made them 4-0 while the Jaguars converted most of theirs when the game was on the line.

Tough to believe based on the stats. Most of it has come on the arm of Byron Leftwich. Until last week, he had not been relied upon. Then he bust out, winning the FedEx Air Award for the week.

"He is young and doing pretty well," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "Last week, I think, he threw for over 300 yards. Fred Taylor really helps them out."

This is the same guy who did it all at Marshall. He has a cannon of an arm and has kept the turnovers to a minimum in his second year. He has already faced the Chargers once.

"It was the first game that he started against us last year and he did pretty well," linebacker Donnie Edwards recalled.

Leftwich did more than well, truth be told. He threw for 336 yards on just 19 completions. Jimmy Smith also returned to the lineup and toasted the secondary for 137 yards receiving.

He comes in this year with a defense that is playing well and an offense that is also just beginning to click. While the Chargers stress run defense, Leftwich could hold the key in his arm – and body.

"He seemed to be very calm," Schottenheimer remarked on Leftwich. "From a physical standpoint, he is a giant of a man. They have used him more of late in the shotgun. Almost 40 percent of the balls he has thrown have been in the fourth quarter.

"You can pressure him but he is very difficult to sack. It was like Jim Kelly used to be. You could be hanging around his waist and he still had the strength to get the ball off."

Of course the Chargers have to actually get pressure before they start talking about sacks. The defense believes they will come this week. They have identified some weaknesses on the offensive line and will look to bring the big man down and put hands in his face.

This isn't the same team that lost 27-21 to the Jaguars last year. There is a different aura. It was sensed in training camp and has carried into the season. Being 2-2 may not be something to boast about, but they have begun to take on the characteristics of coach Schottenheimer. They live the dream daily.

"We came off a big victory and we are moving forward," Edwards said using his best of Schottenheimer book. "We are trying to get a few in a row, starting this week against the Jacksonville Jaguars."

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@Sandiegosports.net

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