Chargers, Jets have a sense of urgency

September 22, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- Their heads still spinning from consecutive fourth-quarter flurries by Carolina and Denver, the San Diego Chargers tonight play host to a quarterback whose comebacks are the stuff of legend.

That laser-armed Lazarus is New York Jets quarterback Brett Favre, who has a 5-0 record in his career against the Chargers, with all of those belt notches coming when he was playing for Green Bay.

If there's a comeback-minded team in this game, though, it's the Chargers. The team that overcame a 1-3 start last season to reach the AFC championship game is off to another slow start; never mind the fact those two losses were by a combined three points.

"We're not ready to push the panic button," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "It was like, 'Oh my God, we're 1-3!' We were ready to pull our hair out. But this year it's kind of, 'OK, guys, we've been here before. How do we keep it from just snowballing?' "

In San Diego, "snowball" is spelled with three Ls in a row. The odds of an 0-2 team eventually reaching the playoffs are far greater than an 0-3 team doing the same. The loser of tonight's "Monday Night Football" game probably will feel the effects of this defeat in the number-crunching days of December, when the field of postseason contenders comes into focus.

"I feel like we're in a must-win situation as well," said Favre, whose team lost its home opener to New England last Sunday after a Week 1 victory at wobbly Miami. "At the end of the season, when you look back, you can always say that one game, or that one play, may have cost us a chance at the playoffs or whatever."

The Chargers are still much more of a playoff-caliber team than the Jets, but it has become increasingly obvious over the last two weeks that the AFC is going to be very unpredictable this year. The Patriots have a new quarterback, Indianapolis is 1-2, and Jacksonville -- which last season won a playoff game at Pittsburgh -- is also 1-2.

It's very early, but the Tennessee Titans, Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills, all 3-0, have to like what they see in their teams. The Chargers, meanwhile, see tonight as their chance to officially join the race.

Lighting the scoreboard hasn't been a problem for the Chargers, whose 62 points were fourth in the league behind Denver, Philadelphia and Dallas after two games. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers mused last week that he wished he had two footballs to throw every play, considering how many offensive weapons he has.

That said, the Chargers' best offensive player is hurt. Tomlinson hardly practiced in the week leading up to this game because of a sore toe. He has yet to reach the end zone this season, meaning he's gone four games without scoring, counting the last two playoff games, when he was hobbled by injuries.

There would be much more hand-wringing over the availability of Tomlinson if backup Darren Sproles hadn't been so explosive in the Denver game. He amassed an astounding 317 net yards against the Broncos, including running back a kickoff 103 yards and turning a swing pass into a 66-yard touchdown. At only 5 feet 6 and 181 pounds, Sproles doesn't have the size to be an every-down back, but is slippery and incredibly elusive.

What has hurt the Chargers so far -- besides a terrible non-fumble call at Denver -- is the play of their defense, which broke down in both games. With only two sacks in two games, one of which was credited to the team as a result of Denver's Jay Cutler fumbling, the Chargers have applied precious little pressure to the quarterback.

Clearly, they are missing All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman, who called it quits for the season after playing one game on his gimpy knee. They are also missing linebacker Stephen Cooper, last season's leading tackler, who is serving the third game of his four-game suspension for using a banned substance.

While the Chargers haven't shut anyone down, Jets fans are wondering when their team's offense will open things up.

The cry in New York: Schottenheimer's too conservative. Sound familiar? Only this time it's Jets offensive coordinator Brian Schottenheimer who's drawing fire, not his father, Marty, who heard the same beef as coach of the Chargers.

The most stark example of the Jets' play-it-safe calls came against the Patriots, when New York had a first-and-goal at the three, with one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history at the helm.

Instead of throwing, they ran it into the line three times and kicked a field goal.

Favre repeatedly defended Schottenheimer last week, pointing out that running the ball would have been considered a genius decision had the Jets scored. Favre said he doesn't question the call a bit and showed a hint of irritation last week that it remains an issue.

"It was frustrating we didn't get the ball in," he said. "Hopefully, these questions will subside at some point."

Both the Chargers and Jets have a chance to answer some questions tonight. And both are in search of the ideal comeback.


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