The Super Bowl is near, and soon fans of all teams except the Patriots or Giants can put their disappointments behind them and look optimistically ahead to what next season has in store. But before we do that, let’s take a somewhat-exaggerated look back at the good and the bad from the Chargers 2011 season…
Following a dominating Green Bay Packer win over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV (that's Extra-Large Version for you casual fans), the attentions of the football world immediately turned toward talk of an NFL lockout. And with labor negotiations failing faster than a Nate Kaeding playoff field goal attempt, a lockout did happen which resulted in keeping the NFL at the top of newspaper headlines for the entire offseason. As the lockout become the most popular offseason story in NFL history, commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA President DeMaurice Smith agreed to implement some sort of lockout every year going forward. The lockout for 2012 will include Peyton Manning being locked out of Lucas Oil Stadium.
The offseason was also dominated by speculation regarding the annual NFL draft, and the effect that the lockout could have on draft day proceedings. Just in time for the draft, courts ruled that the lockout was illegal, ending the conflict just long enough for top draft picks to visit their respective teams and pick-up a jersey and a playbook, before having the doors slammed angrily in their sweet rookie faces a few hours later as the lockout was reinstated.
With much work to do to improve on a hugely disappointing 8-8 record, Chargers fans and the Chargers’ front office alike couldn’t wait to put the lockout behind them and hit the free agent marketplace. And with the lockout ending in July that’s just what the Chargers did, albeit in the senior citizen line of said marketplace. In fact, when signing veteran safety Bob Sanders and veteran’s veteran Takeo Spikes, GM AJ Smith was heard saying, “I like early bird specials, and so do they. I also prefer players who most likely qualify for Medicare, as that’s one less expense we have to worry about.”
Unfortunately, not every free agent from the 2010 team could be resigned. Most notably, Darren Sproles left the team for greener and apparently beaded pastures after being largely ignored by the Chargers, a sign that AJ was finally serious about fixing the team’s historically inept special teams units. Sproles went on to ruin the New Orleans Saints’ special teams while setting an NFL record for combined yards (rushing/receiving/kick returns).
The Chargers built on their 2010 theme of, “Are we really that good or really that bad?” by going 2-2 in the preseason following an abbreviated training camp. Highlights of the preseason included watching new additions Spikes, Sanders, and Travis LaBoy, along with the resigned Eric Weddle come together under highly regarded defensive coordinator Greg Manusky. It was believed by the Chargers front office that the aging, high-character players signed in the offseason would more than make up for a lack of playmakers rushing the passer.
The most interesting positional match-up to watch in the preseason was for the back-up wide receiver positions. Richard Goodman, Brian Walters, Laurent Robinson, Seyi Ajirotutu, and the infamous Geezer Bandit were all in the running for the 5th or 6th wide receiver slots on the roster. Said coach Norv Turner, “It’s a tight race for those final spots. No one has been able to catch that Geezer Bandit yet, so he has to be able to improve our kick return game.” Unfortunately, after the Geezer Bandit was seen fleeing Weddle’s freshly filled locker full of gold, the Chargers settled on keeping Goodman and Wes Welker. Sorry, not Welker, I mean the other guy whom fans assumed would become Welker.
The regular season began with hopes of a fast start, something previously unattained under the Turner administration, which would eventually lead to a much-predicted Super Bowl trip. September offered a somber start to the season with a league-wide remembrance of the 9/11 attacks. To commemorate the 10th anniversary of that national tragedy, the Chargers brought back coach Turner, the offensive coordinator of the 2001 Chargers team, for what would again surely be his final season in San Diego.
With anticipation of a championship season in San Diego reaching an all-time high, the Chargers faced the Minnesota Vikings in the first week of the season, and promptly lost kicker Nate Kaeding for the season on the first kickoff of the game, as well as starting defensive end Luis Castillo by the end of the game. Maintaining their emphasis on continuity, September also brought the losses of rookie LB Jonas Mouton and S Bob Sanders for the season as well.
Quarterback Philip Rivers also began what became a disturbing trend this season when he committed to donating a significant amount of money to his Rivers Of Hope Foundation for every completion thrown in 2011. Since no one specified that those completions could not include members of the opposing team, Rivers’ focus this season was on throwing the ball to anyone who had a pulse, including wide open defensive backs and the rare cheerleader who actually watched the game. In all, Rivers threw six interceptions in the month of September, earning him the Wikipedia Inaccurate Performance Of The Month award.
After finishing 2-1 in September, the Chargers attempted to continue using a proven game plan of poor play and too many mistakes to trick opponents into beating themselves. Surprisingly, that strategy led to short-term success, as the Bolts reeled off two more wins before the bye week. The team’s 4-1 start, achieved through a combination of hard-work, superior coaching, and scheduling bad teams with embarrassing quarterbacks early in the season, had the team cruising into the bye week on Cloud 9.
With the division all but wrapped up, Chargers players took extended vacations beyond the bye week, resulting in crushing losses to the Jets and Chiefs.
Philip Rivers continued his push for charitable excellence with five more interceptions, excuse me, completions to opposing players in October, while also giving away a game-losing fumble in Kansas City. On the sideline, Rivers could be seen saying, “Worst day ever,” although the Pro Bowl QB later admitted to actually saying, “Worst gas ever,” a reference to the poorly timed flatulence by members of the offensive line that distracted him from properly securing that fateful snap in Arrowhead Stadium.
Rivers eventually went on to win the October award for the Pillsbury Apple Turnoverer Of The Month.
The Chargers also announced their first blackout of the season in October due to the fact that Miami residents have no reason to escape a poor climate and move to San Diego, unlike fans of most every other team in the NFL.
In other AFC West news, the Oakland Raiders, desperate for a talented player who can throw the ball well, traded picks in the 2012-2027 drafts for the rights to pitcher Barry Zito. Said Raiders annual rookie head coach Hue Jackson, “The Oakland GM told me he was undervalued, and no one knows talent like Brad Pitt.”
The Chargers continued their cold streak, losing four more games in November to extend a losing streak only exceeded locally by the San Diego jobs market. After an embarrassing overtime home loss to the Denver Broncos, it was reported that coach Turner’s career in San Diego was as good as over, and the job of GM AJ Smith was on the line as well.
On the other hand, Rivers raised more than $18 million in November for local charities, after throwing 89 completions to his teammates as well as another 48 “completions” to opposing defenders. For his single-season slide from top-rated QB to inaccurate gunslinger, Rivers won the British Petroleum Unprecedented Fall From Greatness To Hateness Of The Month award.
With the Chargers trailing the Messiah in the race for the division crown, Turner & company were able to shake off the performance anxiety created by previously-high expectations and started lighting up the scoreboard again against inferior opponents, and the Baltimore Ravens.
As the rest of the division crumbled around them, the Chargers entered the Christmas holiday with a real chance at pulling out their fifth division title in six years. And with that realization, the Bolts promptly lost in their worst blowout of the season against the Detroit Lions on Christmas Eve.
With their coach’s job on the line, the Chargers won their final game of the season against the Oakland Raiders. That win was of little consequence, as any coach finishing a season with less than a 14-2 record and a playoff birth is guaranteed to be fired.
Just kidding! The team’s rebound from “unmitigated disaster” in November to “reliably disappointing” in December proved to be enough to convince Dean Spanos to retain his favorite GM and coach for their second-consecutive one-more season. In explaining his decision, Spanos declared, “Hey, they beat the Raiders. What’s more important than that?”
Truly, what is more important than that?
Follow me on Twitter: @JSWilliams75
Labels: Chargers 2011
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