Week 16 was in many ways quite symbolic of the entire 2010 season for the Chargers as the team stumbled out of the gate before giving false hopes to supporters at the midway point only to fall flat on their faces when the end ultimately arrived.
Much like the opening week was a disaster on Monday night against the Kansas City Chiefs the opening drive on Sunday was a similarly dissatisfying effort that began with a loss of 19 yards. A half shanked punt from Mike Scifres properly punctuated what a pitiful effort the Bolts managed to produce from their first offensive series. Cincinnati wasted no time capitalizing on the ineptitude from San Diego as they took just five plays from that point to reach the end zone and immediately put the Bolts in a trailing position.
That view from the rear only worsened with the frightening injury to Mike Tolbert when he lowered his head just beyond the line of scrimmage and contact immediately propelled the ball from his grasp. It was apparent that the bruising back was injured instantly and he was taken from the field on a stretcher with a sprained neck and shoulder.
Even though the deck was stacked against the Bolts after that costly turnover in their own territory, the team showed some resiliency fighting back to stuff the Bengals on a fourth down play and keep things close. This proved to be fool’s gold however as their inexplicable offensive incompetence managed a mere negative two yards in the first quarter of action.
The Bengals may have been undermanned offensively, but it seemed the Bolts didn’t get the memo as they made the likes of Andre Caldwell, Jerome Simpson, and Quan Cosby look like Jerry Rice clones. Broken coverages and disorganized play in the secondary gave Carson Palmer acres of space to deliver balls to and his receivers tons of room to make the grabs. Perhaps the worst aspect was the fact that safety Eric Weddle was the team’s leading tackler by a huge margin during the game. If a safety is the team’s top tackler during the course of a game, this generally shows that the front seven aren’t doing their jobs very well.
Cedric Benson’s relatively benign day on the ground by the numbers doesn’t really bear this out in terms of stats as he was only able to accumulate 52 yards on 24 carries. Second stringers were the guys doing the most damage for the orange and black as Bernard Scott gashed the Bolts 11 times for 50 yards of his own.
Where the game really turned and seemed to slip out of grasp for the Chargers was actually in the midst of a positive drive by the team. Nearing the end of the opening half, the Bolts trailed by a 13-3 margin and were gifted a fumble by Benson with Cincy on the brink of entering the red zone once again. The ensuing Chargers’ drive was balanced and methodical setting them up with a first and goal at the one yard line. A run from Ryan Mathews, a second down tote from Jacob Hester, and a final third down plow into the line of scrimmage from Mathews later and the Bolts were settling for a field goal after what should have been a demoralizing drive for their opponents to endure.
With a massive target in Vincent Jackson on the outside and a nifty underneath route runner like Legedu Naanee, some offensive ingenuity at that point in time could have really been a nice change of pace from San Diego. A little fade route to Jackson or a drag from Naanee on first down may have opened things up nicely for a run on second or third down, but instead the predictable play calling pigeon holed the Bolts into failure.
Clearly when a team with the expectations that the Chargers had coming into the season fails so miserably, its difficult to pinpoint just one area where the club had a fundamental flaw. With San Diego however, the issue just might be a bit of a trickle down effect. There were plenty of times throughout the year where the players just looked lost with a lack of focus reflecting back on the coaching staff and the staff which was assembled by team management.
One loss doesn’t make or break a single season, but the Bolts repeated the process of losing to inferior competition at least a handful of time during the 2010 campaign. The errors that led to these tough to swallow defeats were mainly simple in nature from broken coverages from this past week to the special teams’ gaffs that began things back in week one. Much like team management, the players out on the field committed a bevy of errors of the mind-boggling variety that just cannot happen with a championship caliber team.
The waiting for the Bolts to snap out of this funk is finally over, but the conclusion is not what many expected from a team with so much promise. It only seems logical to expect a substantial amount of turnover in the roster from this year to next, but with the same faces in charge at the top, can the final destination ever improve?
Here’s your chance to let your voice be heard. There are plenty to choose from, but which area of the Chargers do you believe is most to blame for their failure this season; players, A.J. Smith, Norv Turner, ownership, special teams? What sort of changes do you expect to see from the team in terms of roster moves in 2011? Does ownership have the best interests of the team’s success at heart if both A.J. Smith and Norv Turner return next season? Please leave your thoughts on these infuriating topics below!
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