The Justice Files: Isle of Manhattan

Last time out, I shared with you a pretty detailed account of my misery following the loss to the Falcons. After I finished writing that article, I actually felt better about the San Diego Chargers' chances this season. It wasn't just due to the cathartic nature of that screed, however. The Bolts showed me something during those wins against Tennessee and Jacksonville.

They made some miscues in those games, obviously. But there was an intangible quality to the team, particularly in the game against the Jaguars. I realize now what I saw in the Chargers was not only heart, but guts. Some outside observers have mistakenly identified this as confidence. I agree that the team now has confidence and it's growing each week. But the improvement of the Bolts began when a sense of resolve appeared and started to spread.

Where did it come from? It was great to see Marty Schottenheimer finally show signs of life on the sideline on Sunday, but I don't think it began with him. But the "addition by subtraction" chemistry experiment run by him and A.J. Smith may have had something to do with it. When we looked at the roster before the opening game in Houston, we knew we didn't have the most talented team in the NFL. But we've had more talented teams in the past that fell flat on their collective faces.

Maybe the club's fire began with the balls out style of Steve Foley. Starting with that first game, Foley's shown an energy level on defense that hasn't been seen since the Junior Seau of the mid 90's. I thought I saw it for a short time in Steve Tovar, but it flickered away before it could spread. The Chargers may have stopped their bleeding with the surprising contributions of Terrance Kiel and Drayton Florence. If that's the case, I tip my hat once again to A.J. and Buddy Nix, who was instrumental in drafting Florence. The rebirth also could have been sparked by the arrival of Quentin Jammer. Even with the occasional lapses in coverage and temper control, Jammer is really starting to look like the shutdown corner we drafted two seasons ago.

The defense may not rank very highly in the passing categories, but they've definitely shown some resiliency. I don't get that sinking feeling every time the opposing team drops back to pass. I still get it a lot, but that has more to do with me than the Bolts. The kicking game has also been a huge lift. Nate Kaeding has been great and Mike Scifres has been even better.

But I think the biggest factor in setting the tone for the Chargers has been the passing game. Drew Brees, pushed to the point of losing his job permanently after the Denver game, has been fantastic. Antonio Gates has become a monster who always seems to be open. As is the case with the rest of the Bolts, his subsequent rise in confidence has caused him to make fewer mistakes. Reche Caldwell finally learned to hang on to the ball and was playing great until his injury. But the Chargers had shown enough improvement to the front office to warrant them going out and getting Keenan McCardell. Hopefully, he'll get even better as he develops a rapport with Brees. Last week, when everything (minus Peelle's fumble) seemed to click, Parker and Dwight looked like world-beaters as they left their feet and snagged passes. Even our above-referenced reserve tight end stepped up.

This week, the media has begun to notice that the Chargers are actually tied for first in the AFC West. Some have actually begun to look ahead to the dilemma that would face The Organization if Brees continues his meteoric rise. That kind of thinking on both counts will get us in trouble. The Bolts should go into each game thinking that they can and need to win. The big picture will take care of itself. To actually make the postseason, this team will need to finally win in December. As for Drew Brees, the catalyst of this amazing journey, we need to put next year out of our minds. God knows he has. Some people think that he was made the scapegoat for last year's disaster. However, I maintain that Brees' regression left us no choice but to draft a quarterback this year. I also think we picked the right one.

But gone are the days when the ox fell down, took up the yoke and plowed the fields around*. You can no longer expect to build a collegiate type "program" where you develop players over the long haul. We learned that the hard way after Bobby Beathard ended up pushing Bobby Ross out the door. More than ever, this game is a business with its emphasis on the bottom line. In the NFL, the bottom line is winning and you can never expect to have the same players two years in a row. Success one season often doesn't translate into success the following year. The same goes for losing. The Organization has finally found players who seem to bring out the best in each other. If we look to far down the road, we'll crash into what's right in front of us. Did I mention how sweet it was to crush the Raiders on Halloween?

*-"Brown Eyed Women," by The Grateful Dead (In case you didn't know)

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