The controversy started just moments after the San Diego Chargers upset the reigning Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts last weekend. Jogging off the field, 6-foot-6, 309-pound Chargers defensive end Igor Olshansky had a warning for the New England Patriots. He said the Patriots should "look out" for San Diego. Brash words for a team that was a heavy underdog against the Colts, and likely just as big an underdog against the Patriots.
In a locker room follow-up interview, Olshansky repeated his claim that New England should be more concerned in the AFC Championship game than San Diego. When asked about facing the undefeated Patriots, Olshansky again showed his confidence.
"Who? New England?" Olshansky said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. "Seriously, I mean, they're more worried than we are, I promise you. Believe me. They know what's up."
The Chargers had just won their first playoff game since 1995. They defeated a heavily favored Colts team in Indianapolis, and Olshansky wanted to let New England know that he was ready.
If Olshansky's words after the Colts game sounded a bit overconfident, maybe his earlier claim that the Chargers defense could stop any running attack was even bolder.
"Nobody can run the ball on us, ever," claimed Olshansky. The comments can be heard in the prelude to his most recent podcast on San Diego sports talk radio 1090 AM.
Contrary to Olshansky's claim of being able to stop anyone, the Patriots not only ran the ball against the Chargers, they used the run to snuff out any hope San Diego had of a comeback. Holding a 9-point lead in the fourth quarter, the Patriots fed Laurence Maroney the ball time and again. Maroney chewed up chunks of yardage on the ground as the clock ran. The Chargers vaunted rush defense couldn't stop the Patriots ball carrier who finished the day with 25 carries for 122 yards and a touchdown. It was Maroney's fourth 100-yard performance in five games.
The bravado Olshansky had before their matchup against the Patriots barely changed afterwards. Although his run defense claim had been refuted, the Chargers' defensive lineman was no less confident in San Diego's ability to play defense in a post game interview on XX Sports Radio.
"Field position played a big role into it," said Olshansky on why the Patriots were able to get out to a lead and hold it in the fourth quarter. "They [were] working with a short field the majority of the game, which helped out a lot."
Perhaps Olshansky had a case of short-term memory loss. The secret of New England's success wasn't field position. All four of the Patriots' second half possessions began in New England territory (on the 39, 33, 33 and 13). The Chargers were behind by only 2 points in the third quarter, but the defense wasn't able to stop New England from running the ball. The Patriots scored to increase the lead to 9 points, and were able to hold onto the ball for the final nine minutes of the game when San Diego's defense needed to come up with a stop. It was a failure of the Chargers defense to force a Patriots punt when the game was still close that turned out to be the real key.
|Laurence Maroney #39 of the New England Patriots runs the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Championship Game on January 20, 2008 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)|
Olshansky did compliment Patriots running back Laurence Maroney, but refused to credit the offensive line that opened holes in the Chargers defense.
"I've got to give credit to Maroney. It wasn't so much the offensive line blocking, it was more him running and kind of being really patient and waiting until the defensive line committed to a hole and then kind of bouncing outside."
Refusal to accept responsibility or assess the real causes of the Chargers' problems on defense were San Diego's downfall. The Patriots used their power running game to push back the Chargers defensive ends, and seal off the outside linebackers. Kyle Brady and Heath Evans contributed to contain the Chargers ends Luis Castillo and Olshansky. Ben Watson put Castillo flat on his back on the first play in the second quarter (3rd and 1 from the SD 16) sending a message that the Patriots were hardly intimidated by San Diego's defensive ends.
Olshansky claimed that the moves Maroney used set up the longer gains.
"It wasn't like they were just pounding the ball and running it up the gut or the offensive line were knocking people [back]," said Olshansky. "It was more like the offensive line getting jammed at the line of scrimmage and him kind of slow playing it, tippy toeing i,t and then just bouncing it to the outside."
That observation was a bit of a stretch. New England's first touchdown was an interior run by Maroney from the one-yard line. The Patriots also ran inside to convert numerous third downs and sustain drives.
The Chargers' defense had plenty of opportunities to stop the run, but the Patriots' offensive line was able to open holes at the point of attack. One play in particular illustrated the Chargers problems on run defense. It came after San Diego cut the Patriots' third quarter lead to just two points (14-12) on a Nate Kaeding field goal. New England took possession at their own 33 after the kickoff.
The Patriots began the drive by running a counter play, using Stephen Neal to pull from the right and block up inside the hole between Matt Light and Logan Mankins on the left. Light pinned Olshansky in place as Mankins chipped Olshansky's inside edge, then moved to seal off the middle linebacker pursuit. Neal used his momentum to throw a block on the linebacker behind Olshansky and Maroney ran right past the spot Olshansky was responsible for protecting. The combination of blocks opened a hole big enough for Maroney to blow through on his way to an 18-yard gain. The play should have been at most a 5-yard carry, but Mankins' multiple blocks on Olshansky, ILB Stephen Cooper and DE Luis Castillo enabled Maroney to get to the second level.
Three plays later, Maroney cut back on a run to the right. Olshansky tried a spin move to get past Light (unsuccessfully), allowing the Patriots running back a wide hole where Olshansky was supposed to be on the left again. The 11-yard carry typified San Diego's troubles.
The following play, New England decided to exploit Olshansky again by running right at him. True to form, the San Diego defender pushed toward center and out of position. Light pinned him inside cutting off the linebacker pursuit as well. The block allowed Maroney to go through Olshansky's area of responsibility for another six yards.
Laurence Maroney #39 of the New England Patriots runs the ball against the San Diego Chargers during the AFC Championship Game on January 20, 2008 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
The real issue facing Olshansky wasn't the run defense, it was the pre game comments he made. Even his coach tried to back away from the statements the fifth-year defender let fly.
Olshansky said the New England linemen did try to make him pay for his comments, but he was able to circumvent their moves.
"Well Mankins -- their left guard -- he was trying to say something," said Olshansky. "There was one time when Brady threw a pass and I was kind of rushing between the defender and the guard and I kind of jumped up [in the air] to block his vision and they kind of pushed me to the side and on all fours.
"They kind of pushed me down. And I see Mankins kind of try to finish me off. So I kind of have to chin-check him, by hitting with the top of my helmet. He was trying to get me a little bit, but I'm not exactly the easiest target on the field."
In the end, Olshansky opted not to take blame for his actions. Rather he tossed the offense under the bus. Although his comments had merit in that the Chargers came away with three field goals when they had first and goal situations, it was just as much the defense's fault.
Try telling that to Olshansky.
"You've got to put points against a team like that," said Olshansky. "Either that or you've got to play a perfect game on defense. I thought we played a great game on defense playing on a short field. But unless you're playing a perfect game, you have to put some points on the board."
With players like Olshansky avoiding blame, talking trash and then insulting the offense, the Chargers have a long way to go.