The Justice Files: Isle of Manhattan

Kansas City — how many recent disappointments have the Chargers experienced there? In 1992, the trip at Arrowhead brought their only loss in their final twelve games of the regular season. In 1995, Lew Bush dropped an interception, which would have given the Bolts a win and Tamarick Vanover eventually ran back the winning score, crying the whole way.

In 2001, the Chargers looked like they would finally halt their slide until Rodney Harrison was called for a roughing the passer penalty. The following season, the Chargers desperately needed a win at Arrowhead to keep their playoff hopes alive. But while trying to pick up yardage after the catch, Reche Caldwell coughed up the ball and the Bolts' postseason hopes all at once. Last season, the Chargers began their season in Kansas City and took a beating so thorough that they were 0-5 before you knew it.

So it was fitting that the Bolts needed to make a stand in what has historically been a house of horrors for them. My wife and I, visiting her parents for Thanksgiving, flew back to New York early Sunday morning. I was briefly tempted when I saw that the 8:30 Southwest flight to Kansas City was leaving on time. However, it ended up being difficult enough just getting in front of a television. After landing in Long Island at 11:30, my wife valiantly drove our rental car through the rain to get us back to Manhattan in time for kickoff.

Why am I sharing all this information? I just want to emphasize what an important game this was for the Chargers. After seeing the players and coaching staff miked up on the NFL Network's "Game of the Week," I can see that the Bolts themselves also saw it that way. They started the game by committing many of the same errors that plagued them the previous week in Oakland. Nate Kaeding missed a pair of field goals, which would have really put KC in the hole. Antonio Gates couldn't get free in the end zone and Keenan McCardell was inches away from hauling in a touchdown on a fade route. McCardell was also called for a phantom interference call, which nullified a first down. NFL Films' cameras revealed that even KC's defended thought it was a "bullshit call." But this was to be expected in Arrowhead, wasn't it?

Randy Cross' heart must have lit up as Derrick Blaylock and Larry Johnson ripped off big chunks of yardage on the ground during the first half. I was very happy to see Jerry Wilson shove Blaylock after he tried that poor man's Neil Smith touchdown celebration. But, just as Stan Humphries did in the Chargers' 1994 visit to KC, Drew Brees hung in there and kept the entire team with him. The game films all show him keying on Antonio Gates, but he never forced the ball to him. As Cross was busy declaring Tony Gonzalez the winner of the battle of the tight ends, Brees showed incredible patience. After getting the other guys involved in the passing game, Gates starting getting free just at the right time. Every time the Queefs scored, Brees brought the offense back—something he was unable to do in that crucial 2002 game.

With Sammy Davis' obvious struggles the week before against the Traitors, I was completely baffled why Drayton Florence didn't get more playing time. It was unfortunate that The Candy Man was injured, but Florence's entry into the game marked a tremendous improvement. Florence's confidence, no doubt buoyed by his strong stint earlier this season, was clearly apparent. It was an absolute pleasure watching him reach up and bat that pass down. I haven't seen that since Darrien Gordon and Dwayne Harper were our cornerbacks.

Dante Hall's fumble seemed like the perfect repayment for Bobby Duckworth's 1985 fumble as he ran towards the end zone on Monday Night Football against the Bears. Even if Osgood didn't cause it, he showed a lot of hustle by chasing down the seemingly long-gone Hall, Tasker style. I've criticized Osgood this season for being a little mouthy, but this was an instance of his youthful enthusiasm paying off. His 66-yard reception in the fourth quarter was just the icing on the cake.

What impressed me the most on Sunday was that the Chargers didn't get careless as they tried to capitalize on Hall's mistake. Randy Cross couldn't stop complimenting KC's defense for thwarting the Bolts during their next few offensive series. But the rest of the nation saw that the Chargers didn't panic, as if they were looking at their final shot to take control. Brees and the offense had been moving the ball all day. The oft-publicized Arrowhead crowd was at half-strength and seemed ready to turn on their fading team.

The Bolts' patience paid off as Antonio Gates finally shut Randy Cross up and Nate Kaeding found the uprights again. I wasn't thrilled that Brees took that sack to push Kaeding back, but I'm happier he didn't force anything. Donnie Edwards, playing on what was once his homefield, got the Chargers the defensive turnover they so desperately needed to set up Kaeding's kick. The defense shut down Trent Green just in time as the Bolts left town with a win.

I'll never view Marty Schottenheimer as the catalyst of this season's resurrection, even though he could easily win the Coach of the Year award. What has impressed me about Marty is that he's been more willing to let other coaches and players do their thing. He's clearly let Cam Cameron run the offense and even suggested that the Bolts throw more often in the second half. Wade Phillips has done a nice job compensating for the lack of pressure up front. After Nate Kaeding kicked the ball out of bounds for the second time this season, Schottenheimer eventually let Mike Scifres handle the kickoffs. That's the kind of adjustment the Chargers wouldn't have made in the past. Maybe becoming a grandfather is mellowing the self-described "stubborn German" out.

What encourages me the most about the Bolts going into this weekend's showdown with Denver is that the team seems to understand the big picture. They know they need to win just to keep pace in the competitive AFC race. They understand that winning the division will give them a better chance of getting to the Super Bowl. That might have seemed absurd a year ago, but that's the attitude they need to have. Drew Brees recently admitted that at 8-4, the Chargers simply hoped to split down the stretch in 2002. We all know what happened that year. This season, they've got a whole new mindset. It shows. This team knows that they need to beat Denver to take the division from them.

Even though we took sole position of the AFC West Sunday night, I like how Drew Brees said it. "That helped us out, but it's hard to root for the Raiders."

Spoken like a true Charger.

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