Schottenheimer and accountability

After making the playoffs a year ago, many believed the Chargers would be in position to compete for the AFC West title again. Yet, an early slump led to desperation early and it was a wonder they lasted as long as they did. Where is the blame?

The season began without star receiver Antonio Gates, out due to a contract dispute that saw him suspended by general manager A.J. Smith. Despite his absence, the Chargers were in position to win the game in the final seconds, only to see Drew Brees foiled on four attempts from the seven-yard line.

The next game, in Denver, the Bolts had a 14-3 lead until the first play of the second half – a Champ Bailey interception that resulted in a touchdown. The game came down to a late field goal by Denver with the game tied at 17, dropping the team to 0-2.

The Chargers roared back, beating the Giants and Patriots in convincing fashion to even their record.

San Diego played Pittsburgh the next week on Monday night and led by one until Jeff Reed hit a 40-yard field goal to win the game as time expired. Two weeks later the real heartbreaker came when they had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown, dropping the team to 3-4.

The team would then roll off five straight wins, but those four losses early meant little margin for error in the final weeks of the year.

When they lost in Miami, the Chargers knew they had to win out – and even then they would have missed the playoffs at 11-5 – by virtue of the loss to Pittsburgh. The Miami loss doesn't look nearly as bad as it did at the time – the Dolphins closed the season out with six straight wins.

Still they won an emotional game in Indianapolis to end the Colts reign of perfection, dropping them to 13-1. The next week in Kansas City, the emotion could not be sustained and Saturday it simply appeared the Chargers were ready for the off-season.

How much can be put on the head coach?

The final two games could, conceivably, be placed on Schottenheimer. But sloppy conditions meant the Chargers could not use their skills to the best of their ability. His biggest err may have been not using Michael Turner more in the muck.

"We didn't do a very good job in the mud," Schottenheimer agreed.

Marty Schottenheimer got his team ready to play and had them in position to win in four of their seven losses. The players, however, failed to execute.

Say what you want about the man – his team was prepared for most of the season.

The Chargers played the NFL's most difficult schedule in 2005, facing opponents with a .559 winning percentage and a record of 143-113. A league-high four of the Chargers opponents were coming off byes and it could be argued that five teams had the luxury of extended weeks with Kansas City playing on a Friday the week before facing San Diego.

It was, therefore, an uphill battle. At the beginning of the year, Schottenheimer welcomed the schedule, embracing it close.

"We look at the schedule and see what might appear to many to be a daunting task – five games back east, tough opponents – but I don't think that is anything any of us have to be concerned with," Schottenheimer said prior to the season. "Bring on the best. Bring on the best and let us go toe-to-toe with them. In doing that, all you do is prepare yourself when you meet that same team once again in the postseason."

The Chargers ended up playing 11 games against teams with winning records, going 5-6 in those games and 4-3 against playoff teams. Last year, they were unable to beat many teams with a winning record, going 1-4 versus playoff teams and 2-4 overall versus teams on the plus side of .500.

The easy thing to do is look at the coach. But he improved this team by putting them on the positive side in games versus playoff teams. He also guided them to a 5-3 record on the road. All year he stressed, "this is our home", but the message fell on deaf ears with their play at Qualcomm.

At some point, the players are accountable. They get motivation from their coach but must carry that to the play on the field. Schottenheimer is tasked with the preparation but can't be on the field to execute. It may seem cliché but it is true.

Blame Brees for an interception or a fumble on his five yard line, blame the run defense for suddenly becoming porous, blame the pass defense for not coming up with turnovers despite a pass rush.

"They have competed their tails off throughout this season," Schottenheimer reminded.

They played hard for their coach, themselves and the fans. Sometimes that simply wasn't good enough. But to blame the coach is folly. Watch the games again. It comes down to making plays and the Chargers didn't accomplish that enough in 2005.

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