Is this an indication of the Chargers' talent and potential? Absolutely. Unfortunately, it's also a reflection of how frustrating they've been. They're good enough to beat any team in the NFL, but they're flawed enough to lose to anybody as well. Which team would show up in the RCA Dome? Both.
Before the season began, we were promised that our suspect secondary would be evaluated only after they were accompanied by an improved pass rush. On Sunday, Shawne Merriman played out of his mind. A few games ago, Marty Schottenheimer weakly argued that Merriman needed to come out on 3rd down. Last week, #56 saved our butt on 4th down. When forced to defend his decision to keep the ball, Peyton Manning admitted that it was Merriman's speed that shut the play down. Without him, that would have been a touchdown.
There is a great gatefold photo in this week's Sports Illustrated showing Jamal Williams, who also had a great game, blowing up the line of scrimmage. If you look on the bottom of the pile, there's Merriman keeping Manning down with ONE HAND.
To their credit, the secondary played extremely well. Drayton Florence, who has definitely taken a step back this year, displayed the age-inducing anxiety that is this year's Bolts by intercepting Manning and fumbling back the ball on the same play. Sure, Quentin Jammer had his prerequisite penalty. He probably could have been called for another. But he was staying with Marvin Harrison and actually looked back for the ball.
It would have been nice to score a few more touchdowns in the "Gold Zone," but I didn't have a problem with Schottenheimer's decision to kick field goals. Hell, Keading looked clutch and we did have a 16-point lead. Of course, we all expected the Colts to make a push. But we didn't expect Drew Brees to make it so easy. For the second week in a row (and the fourth time by my quick estimate) Brees fumbled the ball away in a critical situation. I know Leander Jordan and Co. have been shaky and that even LT has whiffed on a few blocks. But a winning quarterback simply CANNOT turn the ball over in those situations. He also can't throw a pick in his own side of the field (as he also did in Denver) or get picked off in the end zone right after your defense gets a momentum-turning takeaway.
Don't get me wrong. I am not citing Drew's mistakes as fodder for the "Rivers In '06" campaign. But Sunday made me really wonder about Brees' flaws. I would not want to be in A.J. shoes this off-season. What really frightens me is that Drew is no longer taking public responsibility for his turnovers even as he makes more of them than he did earlier in the year. Did you see him jawing with Caldwell after the last interception? Sure, he also made some nice throws. But those mistakes should have killed us. In one of the rare things Marty has said that I agree with, we are extremely fortunate to have won as many games as we have given the amount of times that the opposition has started on our side of the field. While some of those drives are the result of shallow kickoffs and poor coverage, the majority of those instances were the result of Brees turnovers. That simply cannot happen any more. I'm not talking about for the team's future, either. I'm talking about winning these next two games.
We all know that if Jacksonville and Pittsburgh win out, we will not make the playoffs. But I believe that if we can win these next two, things will work out. But if the Bolts are already thinking about how they could be the first 11-5 team to miss the postseason, they're finished. There's no way they can win these next two games unless they understand exactly how they got here. Sure, the schedule was tough. But does anyone really think that the Chargers lost to Dallas, Denver, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Miami because, as Lorenzo Neal says, "the football gods were unkind to us?" The Bolts put themselves in this spot and now they need to get themselves out of it. I know that the media needs an angle, but I really hope that LT and friends aren't actually contemplating their status with 11 wins before they get there. Right now, the Bolts are not "the most complete team" in the NFL. They are, however, the team that could knock any other squad off on any given Sunday. But, they need to bring it all together for these next two games in order to get the opportunity to do just that.