The Justice Files: Isle of Manhattan

After watching Sunday's Charger game together, my wife let me have about an hour of space to deal with the loss. When she returned to the apartment, she found me sitting in the dark with a snifter of Patrón and The Doors blasting on the stereo.

"Don't you think you're being just a little bit dramatic? Why don't you vent through your e-mail or write a column about it?"

I don't think I was being that dramatic. That game really stung and I was trying to ease the pain with booze and music. But as I listened to the bleak message of "When The Music's Over," I realized that I wasn't ready to cancel my subscription to the resurrection just yet. As a matter of fact, hold off on sending my credentials to the house of detention. Maybe my wife was right. This might prove to be therapeutic.

Did I expect to beat the Falcons beforehand? I'm not sure. The Chargers had played so well over the last two weeks, I don't know if I had a right to expect them to continue. But I sure as hell thought they were going to win after Nate Kaeding hit that 53-yarder. When he made the Wade Richeyesque mistake of kicking the ball out of bounds on the ensuing play, I couldn't be too mad at him. He, too, has played better this year than anyone could have expected. I knew at the time that Gus Johnson and Brent Jones would jump all over the gaffe, since that kind of error always seems to precede a momentum swing. Remember last year's game at Oakland or the Giants' Monday Night game against Dallas?

LaDainian Tomlinson said after the game that the loss reminded him of the 2002 loss in St. Louis, but did the Chargers really choke in this one? In that Rams game, they allowed an onside kick and Isaac Bruce caught a touchdown pass with Quentin Jammer draped all over him. Tim Dwight dropped a pass that would have sealed the win and might have kept the Bolts from sliding out of the playoffs. In that game, you could say that the Chargers blew it and that they got too conservative while doing so.

But as frustrating as yesterday's game was, I don't think you can cite a similar meltdown. Unfortunately, on that 50-yarder, Peerless Price really made a great catch. I don't think it was like Bruce's touchdown in St. Louis. Unfortunately, it seemed like Vick just got tired of being stifled by the Chargers' defense and Atlanta's "west coast" scheme. He just kind of took over. I don't buy the analogy to Michael Jordan because Vick IS NOT the best player in football. He's the most athletic and plays the position that can have the greatest impact (as opposed to Tomlinson). When he was running for a touchdown or threatening to and allowing his receiver to get open, he was making plays that only he can make. I still would have liked to have seen tighter coverage on that lob he threw to Dez White, however. That's why Sammy Davis is getting so much heat.

But the Chargers were able to mount an impressive drive after the Falcons took the lead again. Brees was finally able to find Antonio Gates, which was important since the receiving corps was reduced to Parker, Dwight, Osgood and Ross. On the third-down pass that went his way, Gates would claim after the game that he simply dropped it. In Gates' view, he lost the game, a lá Tim Dwight in the Rams game. The pass was a little high and Gates was covered pretty well. I wouldn't say that he dropped it. Should the Chargers have gone for it? Even if they had scored a touchdown and gone ahead, who's to say that Vick wouldn't have led the Falcons right down the field? There were about six minutes to go and the Bolts would have gotten the ball back if they could have stopped Atlanta.

That's the real reason they lost Sunday. They couldn't stop Vick once he stepped up. You could fault the Chargers for not having any timeouts once they got the ball back. You could blame the noise or the fact that there were a lot of new faces in the line up. You could make the same case for the numerous penalties. I'm not entirely sure how we got penalized for "illegal touching" on the punt. The ball was clearly taking an Atlanta bounce, so it was "batted" to keep it from going farther in to Charger territory. It wasn't as if we were trying to have the ball spotted at the end of the illegal "batting."

The Chargers didn't collapse they way they did in St. Louis. I would like to believe that this team won't unravel like that one did. But once Vick elevated his (and the other Falcons') play, the Chargers couldn't respond. The youngsters on defense seem to have a habit of penalizing the opposition when they get frustrated. Just as I won't chastise Kaeding for his goof right after kicking a 53-yarder, I won't give Scifres too much of a hard time for his 27-yard net punt. That kid's been fantastic this year. If Gates did drop that pass, I won't make him the scapegoat since they wouldn't have been in a position to win without him.

This team needs to learn how to respond, especially on the road. You could argue there was a lack of leadership on the field and on the sidelines on Sunday. I'd harp on Lorenzo Neal stepping out of bounds on fourth down, but I don't know why Brees passed to him so often. The pass was a little to the outside and his momentum carried him out of bounds. That's not to say it was Brees' fault. Neal is older than dirt and was never much of a receiver. Again, I don't know why we throw to him so often.

Maybe that was the offense's sin on Sunday. So much will be made of Vick's game breaking ability and rightfully so. But I strongly believe that we got the better of the trade that brought us LaDainian Tomlinson. Unfortunately, the Bolts couldn't find a way to get him the ball enough. My wife asked me why the Chargers run up the middle so often when it never seems to work. I told her it might be in order to keep the defense honest so we can run Tomlinson outside. Maybe I'm just making excuses. The runs into the center of the line never amount to anything. After the game, I watched the segment from "NFL Countdown" in which Tomlinson and Brees talked about the plays and adjustment that the Chargers have in the playbook in order to get LDT the ball through the air. That's where they need to focus. We have a weapon that's every bit as dangerous as Vick, but the Falcons never really got the chance to see it. Is that because they really have the best rushing defense or did we just play into their hands.

So while I didn't necessarily expect the Chargers, the six-point underdogs, to beat the Falcons beforehand, they should have once they built that lead. Hopefully, they'll learn from this painful loss and not unravel like the '02 team. I feel better now. But I've still been listening to The Doors as I write this.

"We want the world and we want it. Now? Now."

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