ANOTHER PLAYOFF LOSS FOR SAN DIEGO; HOT PEPPER

January 18, 2010

Bill Plaschke recapped the Jets-Chargers game in the LA Times (if I did it,it might sound like gloating): “For the final four months of every year, they are the finest attraction in America’s Finest City, sunny and blue and positively electric.

Then, for four hours every January, they become the San Diego Boo.

It happened here again Sunday, 70,000 screaming fans falling headfirst into football’s biggest tourist trap, the San Diego Chargers suckering everyone into finally believing that they could hang with postseason pressure.

Well, once again, the Bolts bolted. They ran from an 11-game win streak. They ran from the league’s most talented offense. They ran from everything that
made them one of the Super Bowl favorites until they bloodily banged into the hard wall of their history.

Welcome to Seasick World.

The team with the rookie quarterback and rookie coach and weary players scored 17 points.

The team with the home advantage and rest advantage and manpower scored 14 points.

The New York Jets upset the Chargers in the divisional playoffs at Qualcomm Stadium on a wonderfully cool afternoon that ended in the chilling black of
night.

Just like last January. And the January before that. And the January before that. And two Januarys before that.

“I’ve been here seven seasons and the same thing happens every year,” said Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper, shaking his head in a locker room filled
with the team’s annual blank stares.

After some consideration, he did allow as to how this loss was different.

“This,” he said, “was the worst.”

He will probably get no argument from the local servicemen and women, dressed in fatigues and scowls, who futilely led Chargers cheers on the giant video scoreboard.

He will certainly get no argument from Jets who celebrated by parading giddily around the field as if it were Times Square, or Chargers fans who shouted angrily at departing players, or LaDainian Tomlinson as he fought to keep his composure.

“To lose this game, I’m at a loss for words,” said the San Diego running back.

Check out the Gaglamp District.

A Chargers team that had scored at least 20 points in 22 consecutive games — the league’s longest streak — barely scored twice with a conservative game
plan that can best be described as boneheaded.

“Your defense can hold them all you want, but if you keep giving them the ball back, they’re going to eventually score, and you will lose,” said linebacker
Shawne Merriman.

A Chargers kicker named Nate Kaeding, after successfully connecting on 69 consecutive field-goal attempts from 40 yards or closer, missed both of his
attempts in that range.

“It’s going to be a tough few months,” Kaeding said.

A Chargers discipline that had resulted in the fewest penalties in team history during the regular season — 78 — dissolved into 10 penalties that led to two Jets scores.

“It’s one thing to lose, but to lose like this?” Merriman said. “This hurts.”

This is the kind of loss that eventually cost coach Marty Schottenheimer his job after the 2006 season, when the Chargers blew a 14-2 regular-season record by losing to the visiting New England Patriots in a similar divisional playoff game.

Norv Turner, you’re up.

The colorless Chargers coach, whose approach seems in direct contradiction to his team’s sparkling talent, was the boss when the Chargers were
embarrassed last January in Pittsburgh.

He suffers a more direct hit here — maybe even eventually a job-ending one? — because the loss cut right to the heart of what Turner does best.

He calls the plays. And the play-calling stunk.

From Antonio Gates across the middle to Malcolm Floyd down the side to Vincent Jackson everywhere, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers clearly had his choice of fresh connections against an undersized Jets secondary.

Then why did Turner insist on fastening his team to the weary legs of Tomlinson?

The Chargers gained 51 yards passing on their only first-half scoring drive and had used the air to outgain the Jets, 157-12, at one point in the second quarter.

But seemingly every drive included an off-tackle run by the Chargers’ faded star, who plodded repeatedly into the heart of the Jets’ defense before
disappearing under a pile of green.

On nine of the 11 Chargers drives, Tomlinson carried the ball at least once. Yet he averaged only two steps per carry, finishing with 24 yards rushing,
damaging the Chargers far worse than the Jets.

The silliness of Turner’s vision was finally, roundly booed on the first play of the Chargers’ first drive after the Jets had taken a 10-7 lead in the fourth quarter.

Yeah, they gave the ball to Tomlinson. And, yeah, he gained one yard.

Said Tomlinson: “Yeah, I heard them.”

When asked if he thought he stuck with the running game too long, Turner kept grinding.

“No, I don’t,” he said. “With this group, if you turn it into just a pass every down, it gets tough.”

So the Chargers played scared. And the results were frightening.

That USC kid, Mark Sanchez, was set free long enough to throw a scrambling, go-ahead two-yard touchdown pass on what everybody thought would be a
run.

That league-best Jets running attack was allowed to keep pounding enough to finally break through with Shonn Greene’s 53-yard clinching touchdown dash, a sprint that was set up by — you guessed it — a Sanchez pass.

The Jets played as if they had nothing to lose, and they didn’t. The Chargers played as if they had everything to lose, and they lost it all.

And don’t think the locals don’t know it.

“Coach [Rex] Ryan had his team ready and they won,” said Cooper, who pointedly did not mention his own boss, officially beginning another winter of finger-pointing and coach-grilling.

As always, the San Diego Chargers are a nice team to visit.

As always, you wouldn’t want to live here.”

Ron Borges, of the Boston Globe, looked at the status of Pepper Johnson and wondered why he hasn’t been snapped up by some other team to be their
defensive coordinator.
I wanted him to come to NY. “These are stressful times for Pepper Johnson and Bill Belichick, but not for Dean Pees.
Pees announced yesterday he would not be back for a fifth season as the Patriots defensive coordinator but insisted he was “not fired” and said last night that, “I cannot see myself not coaching in the fall. I’m not burned out on it.
“My wife and I are going on vacation back to the Midwest to visit my kids and grandkids. We want to take some time and see what opportunities are out
there. What do we want to do? I can’t tell you. If something comes up that’s great, great.”
Pees sounded like a man at peace with his decision and one, as he said, “maybe ready for a change of scenery.” What he didn’t sound like was someone ready for a change of occupations.
Despite some thoughts that health issues – he had a summer bout with prostate cancer and a bronchial problem in the press box in Houston on Jan. 3 that led to heart attack-like symptoms – might have motivated his decision to leave, Pees insisted they weren’t an issue, either.
“To be honest, they did every test you could do in the hospital in Houston and said my heart was very healthy,” said 60-year-old Pees. “My dad died at
57 from a heart attack, so it scared me, but it wasn’t a factor at all in this decision.”
With Pees’ departure, Johnson becomes one of several obvious candidates to replace him. So, too, is linebackers coach Matt Patricia, a particular favorite of Belichick after he gave him his start as a coaching assistant six years ago.
Former Belichick associate and ex-Patriots defensive coordinator Al Groh, who was fired as coach at Virginia at the end of the college season and recently interviewed for the coordinator’s job with the Miami Dolphins also is a logical candidate.
Yet it is the 45-year-old Johnson who finds himself in the most ticklish position. He played 13 years in the NFL, 10 of which were coached by Belichick. For the past 10 years he has coached under Belichick.
Johnson served one year as a coaching assistant before a three-year stint as inside linebackers coach and the past six as defensive line coach. During that
23-year apprenticeship as a player and coach in the NFL, Johnson has spent all but three of them working for Belichick. The result has been five Super Bowl rings (two as a player with the Giants, three as a Pats assistant), six Super Bowl appearances and his own growing feeling that he is ready to run an NFL defense.
The problem comes if Belichick passes him over for the 35-year-old Patricia, who played college football at RPI, not Ohio State, and has coached in the
NFL for only six years. If he does, how will Johnson react? Does he swallow his pride and stay or does he begin sending out resumes by the truckload?
This is a critical time for Belichick as well. His old empire is unraveling and he’s lost his third veteran assistant in two years. During those heady Super
Bowl-winning days he was given credit for everything but landing the team plane. In particular, he was seen as the architect of a defense that backboned those teams.
However, he has not won a championship since Romeo Crennel left, and so the same things people used to say to disparage Bill Parcells (that he’d never won a Super Bowl without Belichick as defensive coordinator) now apply to him as well.
A day after his defense was trampled by the Baltimore Ravens in a humiliating playoff defeat, Belichick alluded to the fact that perhaps he had too few
coaches questioning his thinking and game plans. Johnson would certainly do that, and so would Groh. But would Patricia, who owes his entire life in pro
football to Belichick alone?
If Belichick were to opt for Patricia, it would be in keeping with his decision to elevate young Josh McDaniels as offensive coordinator and then Bill O’Brien
after McDaniels left. O’Brien had done the same job at Georgia Tech and Duke but never in the NFL, where he’d coached just two seasons before Belichick
gave him some play-calling responsibilities.
Johnson patiently sat and watched Belichick promote from within rather than reach outside the organization for fresh offensive ideas. If he chooses to go in
another direction with this defensive opening, or passes him over for Patricia, the former Ohio State All-America linebacker will face a difficult choice.
As the song lyrics go, “Should I stay or should I go?”

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