Chargers just a shadow of a playoff team that lost to Jets in 2010

Sunday, January 17, 2010 is nothing but a blur to those who faintly remember it. And around Chargers Park in Mission Valley, that day—both in terms of results and time—seems so far away.
Sunday, January 17, 2010 was the last time that San Diego was in a playoff game. And that particular playoff game so happened to be against the team that the 2012 edition of the team will play this Sunday at Metlife Stadium.
 On Sunday, January 17, 2010, after a 13-3 season, the Chargers faced a New York Jets team with a first-year head coach, a rookie quarterback and a rookie running back. Could this be the year, many in San Diego thought, that the Chargers finally made it to the Super Bowl with this team?

The answer was a resounding no.

After three Nate Kaeding missed field goals, two Philip Rivers interceptions and an ineffective LaDainian Tomlinson rushing for just 24 yards on 12 carries, it was the Jets that ousted the Chargers from the playoffs again.

Final score: New York 17, San Diego 14.

And looking back on that game, it might be the Jets—the same Jets that the Chargers play in New Jersey this weekend—that have sent San Diego on its current course. The Chargers have not made the playoffs in three consecutive seasons since that loss. They have just one winning season since that winter day. And now San Diego is on the verge of a massive rebuilding project.

The 2006 season—when the team went a franchise-best 14-2 but lost to New England in the AFC Divisional Round—may have been the Chargers’ best chance at the Super Bowl, but the 2009 season was the last chance that Philip Rivers, LT, Shawne Merriman and the rest of that vaunted 2006 team had at doing something special.

“The only regret I have is that team,” head coach Norv Turner said earlier this week, “that team that went 13-3, never got to play together again.”

That playoff loss to the Jets was Tomlinson’s last game in a Chargers uniform, signing with New York later that offseason. Darren Sproles and Shawne Merriman were both gone two years later. Vincent Jackson finally left for a higher paycheck last offseason. Stephen Cooper, Kris Dielman, and Marcus McNeill have all retired. Even David Binn—the longtime longsnapper—retired in 2011.

Also include the departure of key role players like Kassim Osgood, Steven Gregory, Jacob Hester, Mike Tolbert, Kevin Burnett and Legedu Naanee.

Of course, it’s not just the personnel that have changed. The outcomes have too.

In Norv Turner’s first three seasons as head coach, San Diego went 35-19 (including his 3-3 record in the playoffs). In his last three (which include the current 2012 season), the Chargers have gone 22-24.

In Rivers’ first three years with Turner has his head coach, the gunslinger threw 83 touchdowns and had 35 interceptions. In the last three seasons Rivers has thrown 72 touchdowns and 48 interceptions, with two more weeks left in the 2012 regular season.

Rivers has also attempted more than 500 pass attempts every year since LT left following the 2009 season (he currently sits at 488 pass attempts this year). With LT in the backfield, Rivers never attempted more than 486 passes in a single year.

We can all see why. This year, San Diego has scored just four rushing touchdowns. Before that, the lowest total in the Norv Turner Era was 13 back in 2008. That’s a far cry from the 28 Tomlinson scored in 2006.

Though no one at Chargers Park will admit it, that 2009 season was pivotal. It changed the direction the team has gone. That loss back to the Jets in January 2010 was a signal. Every offseason after was tumultuous. And it looked like New York was going to be the next best team in the AFC.

That has not panned out yet. The Jets are in their own crisis, with reports coming out of New York saying that the team is shopping both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow. Their head coach, Rex Ryan, is on the hot seat.

In a sport like the NFL, you cannot predict what the future holds after a single game.

That was the message coming out of the Chargers camp this week, when asked about their last playoff game.

“To say that it was a turning point, it’s tough,” Rivers said, “because a lot of guys in that locker room who weren’t here during that turning point.”

But for those guys who are still in San Diego, like Rivers and Antonio Gates, Eric Weddle and Shaun Phillips, 2009 must leave them with some regret. It was probably the last chance they had as a team to leave their mark, because the product that fans have seen on the field the last three years doesn’t live up to the expectations forged by that 2009 team.

As Rivers eloquently said this week: “That team ain’t here.”

Too bad it took us three years to figure that out.

Written by Gerald Nicdao

December 21, 2012

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