Miracle in San Diego

Imagine this. The San Diego Chargers now have a couple of weapons to choose from. When they entered the season, the only known commodity on the roster was LaDainian Tomlinson. Now Antonio Gates is receiving National attention and Keenan McCardell deserves attention.

How quickly things change. It wasn't that long ago that many were questioning whether A.J. Smith was doing the job. But rather than jump on that bandwagon – we waited it out. You can't judge the man until the results are displayed on the field.

Through seven games, the Chargers have won four and have displayed a tenacity to compete from the opening bell to the final whistle. Smith helped build that philosophy while Marty Schottenheimer instills it.

Smith said he needed a solid core of veterans to go with the youth he has assembled and the plan has worked out.

When the box is stacked, Drew Brees has options. And this year he has been connecting with those options.

Even with his newest addition, Brees has been on target. McCardell chalks that up to the practice sessions during the week.

"We worked hard during the week," he said. "We went out and worked. Drew came out and delivered the ball great."

And he spread the ball around. Instead of seeing Gates, Tomlinson and (insert wide receiver here) on the stat sheet, Brees had a good day at the shooting gallery. More importantly, Brees hit two wide receivers that totaled nine catches – just the second time this year he has targeted his wide outs that much.

And then there is Gates. Clutch on third down, he leads the team in receptions with 44, tying him for fourth in the NFL – three behind the league leader.

One would think the opposition would double him all the time. But now that McCardell is in town, that job became tougher.

"People double him quite a bit," says Brees. "When he is single, we take advantage of that matchup and he produces."

"Gates continues to impress," Schottenheimer said. "He made one terrific catch in the first half. People are trying to slow him down in different ways and he just finds ways of getting open."

Gates is a modest man and refuses to hail himself as the next coming. As with every week, he defers to his coaching staff and the job they do in preparation.

Part of that goes back to last year when Tight Ends' coach Tim Brewster was yelling his name early and often. It hasn't changed much this year and Gates takes it all in stride.

"The coaches did a tremendous job in preparing us," Gates said. "We did a good job of executing (in the end)."

Even Eric Parker had four catches and he has nine over his last two games. Schottenheimer acknowledged that he had a good game.

A whole article and LaDainian Tomlinson's name has hardly been whispered. Throw the running back, and his backup Jesse Chatman, into the mix and the Chargers offense is formidable.

No wonder why they were amongst the top teams in points per game. At the beginning of the season, many doubted they would score much at all. Who is laughing now?

"You just have to look at the weapons that we have," Brees said.

McCardell is the most interesting of the cast. His addition could open up a whole new world for the offense. Look at what he did after two practices…

"It is just not me," the wide receiver says. "Everybody made plays. "Our running game got going and made the play action pass work."

Or the other way around in this case but he was right – everyone is making plays.

Lightning Quicks:

  • Schottenheimer said Drayton Florence will likely miss two days of practice as he rests an ankle injury he suffered on Sunday.

    The coach was pleased with the way Sammy Davis responded to his benching but would not name a starter for next week against Oakland.

    "Sammy did what I had hoped he would do," Schottenheimer said. "He stepped up when it was evident the performance level wasn't where it needed to be. He played quite well."


  • Tomlinson reported that he was feeling fine to the training staff on Monday and Schottenheimer was not eager to ever go a game without his star running back.

    "He said that he felt better today than he has the past couple of weeks on Monday. He will have his days where we rest him."


  • Schottenheimer called the play of special teams the biggest reason for the team's improvement over last year. He applauded the effort of Nate Kaeding despite a missed field goal and had great things to say about the play of the coverage unit.

    A recurring theme is the coach praising the work of Mike Scifres:

    "The punter to me is amazing. He has had 32 punts this year. 13 have been inside the twenty. Only eight have been returned for an average of 5.6. The hang time is huge. They had one punt returned and four fair catches. That is certainly winning in the kicking game."


  • Tim Dwight continues to be bothered by his toe injury but trots onto the field each week. The coach feels he is a block away from breaking another kickoff for a touchdown.

    Hanik Milligan tweaked a shoulder but will not miss any time.


  • Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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