Defense wins Championships

The Chargers were happy to play the field position game on Sunday. The return of Marty-ball seemed apparent and it was the defense that came up big in San Diego's 20-17 win over Denver.

With a rain slicked field and no poncho in sight, the Chargers relied heavily on the running game and their defense.

Instead of the knock ‘em out philosophy of the past featuring an air attack that would have made the pre-game parachutists proud, the Bolts relied on keeping Denver off the field and working in Mike Scifres for field positioning.

Scifres was the weapon that head coach Marty Schottenheimer figured would be a difference maker on the wet field and he wanted to use that resource.

"Once again, Mike Scifres did a tremendous job for us," Schottenheimer said.

The second year punter, for his part, had eight punts with three inside the twenty and another that was pushed into the end zone by Jerrell Pippens when the ball could have been downed at the five.

Beyond that, it was about the Chargers defense. Coming in, they knew the Broncos would be able to move the ball, but the Bolts wanted to contain the big play. Giving up yards quick to the Denver offense was a recipe for disaster.

"They had the yards and we had the takeaways," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "Certainly we gave up a bunch of (big plays) down the field today."

The count was four and normally that would be enough to finish off a team but Denver could not punch it in to the end zone, thanks to a Chargers defense that wouldn't let up.

Ahsley Lelie had two long gains, Rod Smith and Jeb Putzier added one apiece to round out the shots down the field. There was also a 26 yard pass interference call on Jerry Wilson, a roughing the passer call on Jamal Williams, coming on third and nineteen, and two face mask penalties.

"They did throw the ball deep a lot," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "We weren't really expecting them to throw the ball deep as much as they did. They came out and were running double moves and getting down the field. Their receivers were making some great catches."

And that was it. The Chargers weren't caught out of position. Jake Plummer was simply delivering a nice ball and the Denver receivers were making fantastic grabs.

The Chargers got some pressure up front and that created misfires and turnovers. Just as the Broncos bandied together for four gains of thirty plus yards, they also committed four turnovers to the Chargers two.

"It was a great effort by the defense," cornerback Drayton Florence said. "I can't do what I do unless the d-line gets pressure on the quarterback. We played together as a defense better than we have all year."

Florence had a pick, was responsible for another that goes on Jerry Wilson's resume, and two linebackers, Steve Foley and Shaun Phillips, added picks.

The defense played exceptional through the first forty minutes. Then, on the final four drives, the Broncos gained 202 yards – an average of 50.5 per drive. That included the final drive that only netted 23 yards. Despite the success, the Broncos came away with just ten points.

On the ten previous drives, the Broncos gained 135 yards total. So there was the potential for a huge letdown. But this is the Chargers year. It isn't 2003 anymore. Somehow, someway the Chargers are finding ways to win.

"The way our team fought through," linebacker Donnie Edwards pointed to. "Ups and downs and turnovers here or there but we played strong and finished the game."

It can be summed up in one question – well sorta. After the game, Darius Watts was asked, rather nicely mind you, what was going through his mind on the final play of the game when he essentially let the clock run out by not getting out of bounds.

"I don't understand the question."

Rephrase went something like this, was it more important for you to get out of bounds or to get the first down on that last play.

"I don't understand the question."

And alas, the Chargers have an understanding that Denver suddenly doesn't. Things have changed in the AFC West and when it comes down to playoff time it starts with defense. Schottenheimer knows that and in the rain on Sunday he executed his style of play to perfection with the help of his team.

Denis Savage can be reached at

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