This has been a trying season for even the most dedicated San Diego Chargers fan. Last week’s home game against the 8-2 Baltimore Ravens didn’t sell out and the game was blacked out locally—thankfully. The words “4th-and-29” will forever live in the lore of San Diego Chargers and cut as deep as “Ryan Leaf.”
It hasn’t been all bad for the Bolts in 2012. They have won four games this year, and three of them have been against their hated division rivals Oakland Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs.
This season began with such hope and promise; a healthy team, a seemingly easy schedule and the AFC West looked to be in its worst shape in recent memory. The Chargers could not capitalize on any of those and actually found new and interesting ways to embarrass and alienate fans.
Here is a closer look at what has been good so far for the Chargers this year, what has been bad and what has been downright ugly.
The Good: Mike Scifres
When the Chargers drafted Mike Scifres in the fifth round of the 2003 draft, I was a little perplexed. They had one of the best punters in the league in Darren Bennett, and teams rarely carry two punters.
Bennett taught Scifres his famous drop punt that he learned from his days of Australian Rules Football and adapted it to the NFL. Scifres took over the punting duties full-time in 2004 and hasn’t looked back.
In his nine-year career with the Chargers, he has done it all. He has 544 punts, with only nine percent of them being touchbacks. More importantly, he has pinned 218 of those punts inside the 20-yard line for a 40-percent ratio—the best in the NFL.
He leads the league this year in average punt with 50.6 yards per punt and is second in net punt yards with 43.8. He has placed the ball within the 20-yard line 21 times this year on 52 punts, and his return average is a scant 8.3 yards.
It’s a sad state of affairs when the best player on your team is your punter, but he has been instrumental in saving the offense when it has had its share of struggles.
The Good: The Defense
Despite giving up the dreaded 4th-and-29 last weekend, the play of the Chargers defense has been solid.
They boast the sixth-best rush defense in the NFL, having only allowed 1,006 yards this year and surrendering a mere four touchdowns. They have forced 14 rushing fumbles, recovering eight of them and returning one for a touchdown.
They rank sixth in the league in total sacks with 32, with Shaun Phillips leading the way with seven while Corey Liuget and Antwan Barnes have three apiece. Their 215 yards lost due to sacks is the fourth-best in the league.
When it comes to tackles, the defense also hits high numbers with 779 on the year, good enough to bring in a No. 7 ranking with Donald Butler leading the way with 72 and Atari Bigby close behind with 68 and Eric Weddle with 64.
Coming in with 14 interceptions so far, the Bolts are third in the league and have returned four for the score from standouts Eric Weddle and Quentin Jammer.
The Good: Receiving Corps
It’s difficult to say that the receiving corps is good when the donor of their passes is having arguably his worst season in recent memory, but I am saying it anyways.
Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates both have four touchdowns each this year, but the biggest surprises are Dante Rosario and Danario Alexander with three apiece.
Their 211 receptions rank them as the 11th-best squad, and their 18 touchdowns bring them into a tie for ninth in the league.
Malcom Floyd has 13 passes for over 20 yards for 10th-best and is tied for 11th with former teammate Vincent Jackson for most receiving first downs with 41.
New addition Danario Alexander averages 18.3 yards per reception, while Robert Meachem averages 14.8.
The Bad: The Running Backs
This was supposed to be Ryan Mathews’ year to shine, to prove that he is the franchise running back that they had planned on him being. Instead of shining, he is looking to be a dud.
With only one touchdown on the year and 594 rushing yards, Mathews ranks as the 22nd-best rusher in the league in total yards and 19th in yards per game with 66.
The team as a whole has 1,094 yards, which clocks in at No. 25 in the country, and their four touchdowns rank them at 28th. They are 24th in the league in yards per attempt with 3.8 and 25th in yards per game with 99.5.
Jackie Battle started off great with a 52-yard scamper in Week 3 against the Atlanta Falcons and three touchdowns in his first four games, but has only had 20 attempts since gaining 59 yards.
Ronnie Brown was supposed to be a great addition out of the backfield, but has only averaged eight yards per reception and 4.5 yards per rushing attempt and has yet to find the end zone.
Fullback Le’Ron McClain has not lived up to the fullback legacy that Mike Tolbert left behind with 11 rushing attempts for a paltry 38 yards.
The Bad: The Offense as a Whole
I know I previously said the receiving corps was part of the good, yet it is the only saving grace. I have also discussed the atrocious running game, which is only a part of what makes this offense horrendous.
Gaining only 3,568 yards over the first 11 games is the eighth-worst in the league, and their 324.4 yards per games comes in at the same ranking.
The passing games ranks 18th in the country on two occasions with 2,474 total yards and 224.9 yards per game.
It isn’t all doom and gloom as they manage to be in the top 50 percent in total points with 245 and points per game at 22.3.
I long for the days of defenses not knowing how to defend, as the Chargers had so many different weapons with Rivers going deep to Gates, Jackson and Brown while having LT, Sproles and Tolbert out of the backfield.
Those days are long gone, and the offense has become anemic.
The Ugly: Philip Rivers
What has happened to Philip Rivers?
After showing so much promise by making an immediate impact by leading the Chargers to four straight division championships and three 10-plus win seasons, Rivers was the real deal with 105 touchdowns and 35 interceptions in that 2006-2009 stretch.
Then came the 2010 season, and the Bolts haven’t seen the playoffs since. Over the past three seasons, Rivers’ touchdown-to-interception ratio stands at 75 to 47.
When he threw 20 interceptions last year, I thought it was just a fluke, but he has already thrown 14 through 11 games, second to only Tony Romo. He has had 15 multiple-interception games over the past 26 games and has only had four games in that span where he didn’t throw an interception.
During his first five years, he only had 14 total multiple-interception games and had four-game streaks where he didn’t throw an interception several times.
If there is any silver lining to be found with Rivers, it’s that he has performed his best coming down the stretch the past two years, even with the playoffs outside the realm of possibility. In 2010, he won seven of the last nine games with a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 15-to-6, and in 2011, he won four of the last five games with a ratio of 11-to-3.
Even if he were to rally the team and finish 9-7, the Bolts will not be making the playoffs and it will be time to end the Philip Rivers experiment. There isn’t much hope in Charlie Whitehurst either, so I think it would be in the best interest of picking up a player from the vaunted quarterback draft of 2012 on another team, namely Brock Osweiler from Denver.
Two quarterbacks from that draft have recently ousted standout veterans from their starting jobs, so perhaps take a look at Alex Smith in San Francisco or Matt Flynn in Seattle.
The Ugly: Norv Turner
I’m still trying to figure out how Norv is still the head coach in San Diego. Losing five out of the last six games, including a zero-win New Orleans Saints team and a one-win Cleveland Browns team.
With Turner at the helm of the Chargers, they have failed magnificently this year, giving up 17 unanswered points to the New Orleans Saints in Week 5, only to give up an incredible 35 points in the second half a week later to the Denver Broncos.
Coming off their bye week facing the hapless 1-6 Cleveland Browns, the Chargers failed to cross the end zone during hurricane conditions in Cleveland and lost 7-6. Turner must have known at that time that his head was on the chopping block.
Four days later at home, the Chargers thumped the Kansas City Chiefs, 31-13, and saved Turner’s job, only to go forward and lose consecutive games to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Denver Broncos.
Then there was the debacle last Sunday where they were leading the 8-2 Baltimore Ravens 13-3 with 7:09 remaining in the game. A touchdown and a 4th-and-29 conversion later, the Chargers are seeing overtime for the first time this season. As with everything else this season, that didn’t end well, and Turner blew another lead and hopefully his job.
I am so ready to get rid of Norv and bring in somebody new; anybody will be better than this disaster.
The Ugly: 4th-and-29
This play will go down in the annals of one of the greatest plays in Ravens history. Unfortunately for the Chargers, it is also one of their worst.
After watching the Chargers give up 35 straight points at home to the Denver Broncos in one half, I had thought I had witnessed the worst way to lose a game. I was wrong.
The unbelievable happened last Sunday afternoon when Joe Flacco had an eternity to find Ray Rice open, and Rice ran right by eight Charger defenders en route to completing a unheard of 4th-and-29 conversion.
My hopes and dreams for the San Diego Chargers season died a slow death while waiting over 10 minutes to see if they did indeed convert. It was eventually called a first down, and the Ravens went on to score a field goal and send the game in to overtime, where they bested the Bolts 16-13.
I walked away from the TV along with the season.