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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

Chargers' GM doesn't see third time as a charm

A.J. Smith hopes team gets off to a better start this year and doesn't need another late surge to make the playoffs.

August 02, 2009|SAM FARMER

The San Diego Chargers have learned a thing or two over the last couple of years. Most important, flattery gets them nowhere.

So says General Manager A.J. Smith, who believes the club's agonizingly slow starts the last two seasons are partly a result of the players' egos inflated to the point of bursting.

'It's, 'We're the Chargers!' " said Smith, sitting in his office overlooking the sprawling practice fields. "It's, 'Well, we could have won the game against Carolina, last second. Well, [referee Ed] Hochuli took the other game away. We're the Chargers. Everything's going to be fine.'

"Hey, boys, you're 4-8."

But for a historic collapse by the Denver Broncos -- and their own late-season surge -- the Chargers would have missed the playoffs in 2008. Instead, they became the NFL's first team to go from 4-8 to the postseason, and the first 8-8 division winner since the 1985 Cleveland Browns.

A year earlier, despite being 1-3 and 5-5 at various points, the Chargers made the playoffs and advanced to the AFC championship game before losing at New England.

So can they pull off a third fate-tempting trip to the edge of oblivion and back? Smith doesn't want to know.

"We'd like to start off this year with the mind-set of, let's have a decent beginning here," he said. "Let's not put our backs against the wall and create this awful situation where you're fighting for your life to get in. If we're a playoff-caliber team, let's prove it in a normal fashion."

Every team aims for that, of course, and just stating that as your goal doesn't guarantee anything. Smith admonished his players to "grow up, gentlemen" and to "stop reading your press clippings and watching television, all the magazine covers, all the predictions."

Because those flattering but ultimately meaningless things are coming.

"From what I'm hearing nationally and from what people are telling me," he said, "people are still picking us to go to the Super Bowl, and some people are even going to pick us to win the Super Bowl. Television guys that will be making predictions later on have already made up their mind and told me.

"After last year, I thought we'd be so far under the radar that we wouldn't have to worry about any of that. I was wrong."

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Haley runs Chiefs

Is Kansas City Coach Todd Haley all about passing? You wouldn't think that if you looked at the care package he recently got from his mom.

In it were a collection of plays he drew up as a kid, mostly classroom doodles, when his dad, Dick Haley, was assembling those great Pittsburgh Steelers teams of the 1970 as their director of player personnel.

Yes, the younger Haley was offensive coordinator of the pass-happy Arizona Cardinals, a team that reached the Super Bowl last season despite having the league's worst running attack. But leaning on the ground game is in Haley's DNA.

"I saw nothing but two backs for my whole life growing up," he said. "That's how I'd always draw my drawings. If I was drawing a football play, I had a fullback and a halfback and a tight end in there."

He said the challenge for the Chiefs this season -- a team that doesn't have the luxury of receivers the caliber of Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin -- will be "doing a little bit of everything to keep people off balance and equalize some of our limitations."

And Haley says he's looking forward to proving he has more than one color of paint on his offensive palette.

"All these people think I'm some kind of passing guru and that I feel great about the passing game," he said. "I feel great about doing what's necessary to get the most of your players. But they see me as this spread-out, throw it 60 times a game. Really, that was by necessity. Hopefully that will work to our advantage. You'll see a different side."

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Vick to be in another league?

As he walked out of a bankruptcy hearing last week, Michael Vick told reporters he is "getting close" to finding a new team.

Meanwhile, a lengthy list of NFL teams have publicly said they will not sign the onetime star quarterback who has been out of football for two years and just finished 18 months in prison and two more under home confinement because of his involvement in an illegal dogfighting enterprise.

While I believe Jacksonville is the most likely NFL landing spot for the conditionally reinstated Vick, it might be that he first chooses to play in the start-up United Football League, which begins play this fall with teams in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando and San Francisco.

Why might he choose a UFL team? The potential to make more money than the $620,000 NFL minimum, and the chance to audition for NFL teams in a season that lasts only from October through Thanksgiving weekend.

Then again, as is the case with the Brett Favre waffling, most football fans would rather the Vick story simply go away.

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Orange crush?

For their Nov. 8 game against Green Bay, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will be wearing their orange-and-white throwback uniforms from 1976.

That first-year expansion team, of course, melted like a Creamsicle in a heat wave, going 0-14.

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Tweets of the week

(@steverushin) To avoid an awkward moment in a live game, someone should explain to Michael Vick what exactly a pooch punt is.

(@RandyCrossFB) Are the Patriots as "stacked" as they appear? I guess pass rusher is a puzzle right now for them but otherwise they + Steelers stand out big.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/latimesfarmer

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