Chargers play not to lose

The Chargers rushed for nearly 100 yards more than the Ravens did. They won the turnover battle too, generating a season-high three takeaways while giving it up but once.

So in a game with a playoff aura about it, the Chargers ran the ball well and played great defense.

Somehow, the team turned that tried-and-true recipe for big-game success into a 16-13 loss in Baltimore.

How did this befuddling feat occur, you ask? Actually, snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is a simple task when your head coach is conservative enough to make Rush Limbaugh look like a leftist.

On the Chargers' first drive of the second half, the team marched all the way down to the Ravens 28-yard line. Rather than trusting quarterback Philip Rivers to make a play through the air, Marty Schottenheimer decided to run on three consecutive plays and settle for a 40-yard field goal attempt. Apparently, that strategy worked so well against the Jets in the 2004 playoffs that Coach decided to give it another go.

"They were more aggressive," conceded LaDainian Tomlinson. "They won the game and we lost it."

Great coaches make great adjustments on an opponent-by-opponent basis. It is hard to imagine that Schottenheimer believed the same strategy that made him look brilliant in Oakland three weeks earlier would be just as effective against a far better Ravens squad. After all, Aaron Brooks is not exactly known for his clutch come-from-behind victories. Steve McNair, on the other hand, has made a career of them.

"Great props to him, because he made the plays when they really needed it," said Luis Castillo about McNair. "He got out, he scrambled a little bit and he made some great throws. He found a way for his team."

While McNair was finding a way to win, Schottenheimer was more worried about not losing his team's six-point lead. It's incredible that after watching his team blow fourth-quarter leads time and time again in 2005, Schottenheimer was not more forceful in trying to make the Ravens game a two-score affair.

Coach cannot take all the blame for the loss, however. It's not as though his team put forth a faith-inspiring performance. Rivers missed a wide-open Antonio Gates on his first interception of the season, resulting in what was likely a 14-point swing. Then, when Schottenheimer got aggressive and decided to attempt a 52-yard field goal late in the game, he was rewarded with a mishandled snap and a turnover on downs.

Still, this is Schottenheimer's team and he is responsible for it. He would be well-advised to heed the rant of former pupil Herman Edwards: "You play to win the game!" The Chargers have enough talent to knock out any team in the league, as long as their coach let's the throw the K.O. punch.

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