Thus, thanks are needed for the hope they have given their fans of attaining the playoffs for the first time since 1995.
Drew Brees has been a phenomenal quarterback this year. He has made quick reads, pump faked, looked off his receivers and accurate. That has been the main reason the Chargers are in the enviable position they find themselves in. Brees is playing at a Pro Bowl level when many of us, myself included, thought he would be playing tiddlywinks on the sidelines as Philip Rivers took the reigns.
This has nothing to do with the brawl that generated the most excitement for a boring game defined by personalities that think they are bigger than the NBA. Antonio Gates has been the best tight end in football this year. He is a one man wrecking crew and has proven that he can beat any coverage. Despite his size, he is fluid down the field and makes plays each and every week.
Think about this. The Chargers have made four trades in the past seven months that have transformed this franchise into a winner. Each acquisition has been part of a winning team and has brought that leadership onto the field and into the locker room. Philip Rivers did nothing but win for NC State and has been a model citizen on the sidelines. Jamar Fletcher has been a steady force from his nickel back role and has accepted any role given to him. Roman Oben has been a leader on the offensive line and his play warrants applause. Keenan McCardell came in when the receivers suffered a huge blow and has made a seamless transition into the number one receiver's role.
This weekend aside, the kicking game in San Diego has been a positive. When people heard that the Chargers spent a fifth rounder on Mike Scifres in the 2003 draft they scoffed. He is playing at a Pro Bowl level – although the votes go to Lechler. When they followed it up by taking Nate Kaeding in the third round many cried foul. But Kaeding has brought a level of consistency to the field goal game and no longer do they punt from the thirty yard line.
For the most part, the Chargers have maintained their health through the season. Bumps and bruises have made their mark but as they go into the stretch they find themselves with a healthy LaDainian Tomlinson and a line that has played together as a unit for eight of their ten games. Consistency on the line has allowed them to make great strides, allowing just five sacks over the past seven games.
They said he was the prototypical player for the 3-4 defense and they weren't kidding. Steve Foley has been everything to the Chargers defense. He has brought savvy leadership, a fiery attitude and has backed it up with solid play. Foley hustles to the ball and he is linked to a game altering play on a weekly basis.
Besides the aforementioned Kaeding, the Chargers got Shane Olivea in the seventh round of the draft and he simply took over as the starting right tackle and has not let go. He has taken on some of the top talent in the league and shut them down.
Igor Olshansky, a second round pick, continues to refine his game and make a name for himself as a stalwart against the run.
Shaun Phillips, a fourth rounder, adds a third down rushing presence and has been key in forcing the quarterback to hurry his throws.
These gentlemen are the future and finding some gems in the latter rounds is the key to a successful franchise.
I was a big proponent of keeping Marty Schottenheimer around into next season no matter what happened. I believe consistency pays off and the Chargers have been a team in flux. Schottenheimer proved he could change with the game and that has been his biggest attribute. He still keeps his team focused through fundamentals but has loosened the purse strings a bit.
Offensive line coach Hudson Houck is the best in the business. There is no other line coach who could take a line of five players who had not had a single snap together and make them a cohesive unit.
Tight ends coach Tim Brewster has done marvelous things with Gates by staying on top of him and teaching him the finer points of the game. He has turned an inexperienced player into a Pro Bowler in a year.
Cam Cameron has opened up the offense and gotten creative with his playcalling. It has enabled the team to keep the opposition off-balance in a majority of the games.
Wade Phillips has kept the defense focused in stopping the run and making the opposition one-dimensional.
And we would be remiss to think this wasn't all possible without the help of A.J. Smith. The General Manager has assembled a quality group of men that we can look up to and call role models. There is no bickering among the troops or instances of problems that plagued the team a year ago. He has placed character above all else and has been rewarded with leadership and poise.
Admittedly, I was a little concerned about some of his public stances but all of them turned out well and he was the one who ended up getting the better end while the detractors ended up on the short end of the stick.