No Surprise Here: Chargers Choke Again
We respectively pointed to the Chargers' most-recent playoff history.
And less than 24 hours later, they not only lived down to it -- losing to a wild-card team, or in a wild-card game, for the third time in their last four playoff appearances -- but reached a new low.
To be sure, what the Jets did Sunday in a 17-14 dismissal of the Chargers as mere postseason fodder may have done irreparable damage to the San Diego franchise as it looked this season and the past few. Their veteran star running back LaDainian Tomilinson was just about catatonic afterward and said he didn't know if he'd return to the team next season. Their star (and star-crossed Tila Tequila-addled) linebacker Shawne Merriman uttered similar phraseology about his status. Their headman Norv Turner, the nicest guy who won't finish first yet again, won't survive his job into next season dangling on anything more than the thread of what in 2010 will be the final year of Turner's contract.
"We thought we had a really good team," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said.
What they had was a good disguise that the Jets ripped off, exposing them for what we've long thought the powder-blue clad Chargers were: soft.
A thought: What a brilliant move it was for Colts coach Jim Caldwell to throttle down his club at regular season's end, losing a game to the Jets that allowed the Jets to make the playoffs. The Jets knocked off the one team the Colts seem unable to beat, the Chargers.
But I digress.
What got the Chargers beat, yet again, was physicality. It wore them down. What unfolded here Sunday was a boxing match, a body puncher debilitating a boxer. By the end of the third quarter, the Chargers were ready to do what they did: fall.
They wobbled when Rivers, backed into a corner of the end zone, made a horrific pass that Jets' safety Jim Leonhard picked off and, four plays later, Jets' rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez turned into a touchdown for the Jets' first lead at 10-7. And on the next Chargers' possession, Leonhard's backfield mate Kerry Rhodes blitzed and hit Rivers with a crushing blow, forcing a fumble that, although recovered by the Chargers, ruined any desperate momentum the Chargers hoped to muster.
And when Jets running back Shonn Greene went 53 yards for the touchdown that was a knockdown blow to the Chargers, he did so by breaking through a tackle in the middle of the line and sprinting free.
"We did some things we didn't do the last 11 games," Rivers said. "We did some things we did do, but we were able to overcome them [during the regular season]."
The Jets turned out to be not only who the Chargers thought they were, but feared they were.
"It was pretty much what we expected," Tomilinson said. "They're the No. 1 defense and they showed it."
Each of the Chargers' last three playoff losses came to teams that were ranked in the in the top five in defense. When the going gets tough, the Chargers, apparently, don't get going except to the nearest exit.
There was not one single play or one player on whom the Chargers could blame for the latest letdown, although their kicker Nate Kaeding certainly got them off on the wrong foot, no pun intended. He lost his team its first opportunity to score midway through the first quarter when he missed a 36-yard field goal, his first miss of 40 yards or less in 70 consecutive tries. He then missed a prayer-of-a-boot at the end of the first half from 57 yards. And with five minutes to go, as the Chargers desperately tried to rally, he missed from 40 yards.
Kaeding is a Pro Bowl kicker based on his regular-season accuracy. In the postseason, he fell to 8-of-15 on field goal attempts. Like his team, he's a mirage when it counts the most.
Tony Romo, Southern California style.
And to wrap it all up was the curious decision-making in crunch time of Turner. He panicked down three points just outside of the two-minute warning.
Instead of kicking deep after a Rivers' sneak cut the score to what wound up its final count, Turner ordered an onside kick. Instead of trusting his defense to get the ball back one last time from a Jets offense that was still pedestrian, he didn't. The Jets recovered the kick and eventually got a first down to salt away the upset.
As the Chargers trudged up the narrow ramp Sunday from Qualcomm Stadium field to their locker room, the click-clack sound of their cleats was all but drowned out by the whooping and hollering reverberating off the walls from the celebratory Jets just down the walkway.
"We did all of the most uncharacteristic things today [Sunday]," Merriman said when he got inside his team's locker room.
He was referring to the turnovers and penalties in the postseason, not losing a postseason game.