The Big Tease

Remember those hairdos of the eighties – a lot of fluff and so little style? That summarized the Chargers season.

The Chargers entered 2005 with a dose of confidence and the accompanying strut that hadn't been seen in San Diego since Bobby Ross was roaming the sidelines in the mid-1990s. Fresh off their first AFC West title since 1994, the Chargers were certain they would build on the previous season's success and deliver an impressive encore.

And they did.

And they didn't.

The Chargers deserved the spotlight in stopping the Colts' bid for a perfect season. For ending the Patriots' 21-game home winning streak. For going three time zones away and defeating the Jets and Redskins.

But that has to be countered with a shoddy 4-4 home mark, which included a playoff-killing loss to the Dolphins, who were a two-touchdown underdog. Or stumbling in the opener against the Cowboys when All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates was made unavailable because of general manager A.J. Smith's heavy-handed negotiating tact.

"In order to build a championship team, I don't believe you can afford to lose four home games," Smith said.

And they didn't show up for the season finale, when they seemed disinterested in losing to the Broncos - who had even less to play for than the Chargers did.

So while nine wins in these parts once called for a parade downtown, that is no longer the case. Despite winning 21 games over the past two years - not done by the Chargers since 1980-81 in a two-season stretch – the Chargers are moping around like a toddler after someone knocked over his glass of milk.

A sour taste is what the Chargers take with them into the off-season. They wasted a season that included a dynamite and versatile offense that featured three Pro Bowlers. They let a defense that earned the NFL's top ranking against the run be squandered. They let a season go by in which they recorded 46 sacks, but got, well, sacked.

The organization knows it let a prime opportunity pass by not making the playoffs in consecutive years, last done by the Chargers in 1994-95.

"Absolutely disappointing because I though we were a good football team with very, very good players," added Smith.

Yes, the Chargers played the NFL's toughest schedule, four of the eight road games were to the Eastern time zone, and four teams were coming off their byes before playing San Diego.

But all that means squat. There's no other way to put it other than the Chargers folded by losing three of their final four games. And two of those losses came at home.

So what now? Indications are the Chargers will attempt sign quarterback Drew Brees to a long-term deal, although that might be challenging to get done considering he is coming off shoulder surgery on his right (throwing) arm.

What needs to be put under the microscope is the inconsistent play of the offensive line. It was so bad that one of the NFL's best backs, LaDainian Tomlinson, often looked like an ordinary runner. Clearly he's not, but it's tough to run the ball when greeted in the backfield by a host of defenders.

Also, a speedy receiver would help. The Chargers have solid possession-type guys in Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker. But there is no one to blast down the field with any consistency to loosen up the defenses for Tomlinson and Gates.

Don't overlook the secondary, which was picked on time and again. Quentin Jammer has been anything but a shutdown corner. He has flashes of solid play but has never lived up to his billing as a fifth overall pick. And opposite him is Drayton Florence, who is merely OK.

To illustrate, Jammer and Florence each had one interception, and both of them came in the season's last month. That's not good enough.

And neither were the 2005 Chargers - on a consistent basis. While they had their share of games that got the NFL's attention, they couldn't perform with a high degree of competency weekly. That in turn left the Chargers out of the playoffs for the ninth time in 10 years.


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