As the clocked ticked down in the third quarter my heart began to race, and visions of late game (and late season) collapse began to fill my mind as they have in years past; these images grew as a Kerry Collins pass found the waiting arms of Oakland tight end Teyo Johnson in the end zone. The momentum had shifted, the Coliseum rumbled as if you were in the heart of Rome, amidst a great battle. A two point Charger lead no longer felt like a lead at all. To say I was skeptical is an understatement, but one thing we have learned from these Chargers is that they truly are a team, and do not appear kin to those of recent past.
Following a solid return by Tim Dwight, the Chargers offense took over on their own thirty seven yard line, with two minutes remaining in the third. On first down Drew Brees threw incomplete to Eric Parker, followed by a false start on Antonio Gates. After a six yard carry by LaDainian Tomlinson, Brees faced a critical third down and nine against an energized Oakland defense and crowd. This was the defining moment of the game I told myself, a first down here would send a message to the Raiders. Always the underdog, Brees delivered an eighteen yard strike to Keenan McCardell and for a moment I could breathe, but this battle was far from over. On the next set of downs Brees faced a seemingly insurmountable third and fourteen only to find Eric Parker seventeen yards down the field.
It was at this point that I began to question why I had become so nervous; did I not realize that THE DREW BREES was under center?
I mean what third down couldn't he convert? So when third and five came along only minutes later, and Brees found Antonio Gates for twelve yards, not only was I unfazed, but I might even say I expected Brees to convert.
In the final seventeen minutes of the game Brees was four-of-five on third downs, punctuated by a phenomenal third and five pass to McCardell with under three minutes remaining in the contest. This was a game that the Chargers were expected to win. Drew Brees understood this and came to the fight with grit and determination.
However, his clutch execution did not end in Oakland. This past Sunday he had another impressive performance in the unfriendly confines of Arrowhead Stadium, putting on a clinic in the fourth quarter. Facing a 23-17 deficit, Brees led a seventy-one yard touchdown drive to put the Bolts ahead by one, only to be negated moments later by a ninety-six yard kick return by the always dangerous Dante Hall. On the ensuing drive Brees quickly found himself in second and twenty-two from his own nineteen yard line. Hope of a victory was quickly slipping away when Brees hit Kassim Osgood for sixty-five yards, and a game breaking first down. Three plays later he silenced the boisterous Arrowhead crowd, finding "Go to Gates" for an eleven yard score. On his final drive he threw only one pass, but got the team in range for a game winning field goal by Nate Kaeding. The stat line for Brees in the fourth quarter goes something like this:
12/13 163 Yds. 2TDS
Over the past two weeks, OUR QUARTERBACK has slammed the door shut in the face of two division rivals. The reality is that the Chargers had to have these two games in order to keep up with the other thoroughbred in the AFC, and now the Bolts are poised to bring home a division title.
To all the critics out there I say this. Contract year or not, his decisions have been exceptional, his passes have been crisp, and pressure is not a word that Drew Brees comprehends. Brees has proven to us that he can win by a blowout. He has also shown his ability to win a tight contest, and most recently we‘ve discovered that when there's a shootout in town, Brees rides in with guns blazing.
If you hadn't noticed, the Chargers have been busy winning back-to-back divisional road games. If you watched closely you might have seen a man leading the Chargers, not a boy. If you watched closely you may have seen a general commanding his men downfield with confidence and poise. If you watched closely you may have overcome your own fears of collapse…. and if you watched closely you may have started to believe, in the heart and determination of our Chargers.
For those who have not witnessed this evolution, heed my words. When the reeling Broncos come to town this Sunday, they will step foot onto the playground where Drew Brees has grown up before our eyes, and he will close the deal when it counts.
Hitting his stride
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