Leading into this Sunday's Divisional playoff round against Denver, most pundits would agree that the Chargers have had a pretty good season and are finishing strong. Widely tipped to struggle behind the Broncos and Chiefs in the AFC West, the Chargers have a 3-1 record against those teams, deservedly entered the playoffs as a Wild Card and have already taken care of the AFC North champions, the Bengals. But more of that later.
This isn't about why the team is better - the improved O line, the great FA signings, or Philip Rivers' ability to extricate himself from under a bus. This is about some not so obvious moments and different perspectives on why this season as a Chargers fan has been, well... pretty enjoyable.
10. Chip Kelly.
Chip Kelly, Chip Kelly, Chip Kelly. I don't get to see any college football, but by preseason's end I felt like I knew Chip Kelly personally. His name was everywhere, his Offence was going to revolutionize the NFL, and he would win The Greatest Human In The World title by a landslide. He may be a great bloke, I don't know, but by September, I was kind of all Chip Kelly-ed out.
In Week 1, his team put up 400 points to beat the Washington Redskins. No wait, no they didn't. They beat the Skins 33-27. But that turned out to be pretty good form, right?
Well sort of. The Eagles made the playoffs but are now 1 and done. Mike McCoy's and Ken Whisenhunt's San Diego offence has progressed further, and we also put a home loss on the Eagles in Week 2 as underdogs. That felt pretty good.
9. (and the half).
Speaking of Washington, AJ Smith is somewhere in a tower in DC pulling the wings off flies. I don't exactly know what AJ's role is in the Redskins' organization, and I don't really care. But he is now tied to the team who I feel slowly but surely became the NFL's biggest clusterfuck in 2013, and that can only be a good thing. For San Diego fans.
Blessed with a reasonably talented roster, Washington imploded on their poor excuse for a field in spectacular fashion, compiling a sad 3-13 record while simultaneously expecting to compete for the division title. They don't just need to change their name - they need to change...everything. They even managed to lose to the lamentable Giants.
Ok, I know the Chargers contriving somehow to lose to Washington despite all of the above isn't exactly a highlight, but maybe it was a loss we needed to have to be well... the Chargers. Plus, it's always worth talking about the evilness of AJ Smith, right?
And you can't mutter about AJ Smith under your breath without your mind unfortunately being cast back to the days of Norv Turner, now (for the moment) the Offensive Co-ordinator of the Cleveland Browns. We didn't actually get to play Norval's team this year. Which may have been a pity. Starting out reasonably competitive, the Browns found a way to turn over quarterbacks at will and finished with a lamentable 4-12 record. Norv should have kept pretty quiet about this, and San Diego, but still found the time to claim that the Chargers were not yet a playoff team.
Thanks Norv. All ammunition for our locker room is welcome.
8. Even Cowboys Get The Blues.
Powder Blues, that would have been nice. But in Week 4 the Chargers wore their usual home uniforms and put a beating on Tony Romo and the Cowboys. I think Tony Romo is one of the most overrated humans in the universe, and he's probably an ok guy. But the media do not shut up about him, his team, oops America's Team, and their dysfunctional megalomaniacal owner who, I'm sorry, looks like a hobbit. And not the cute kind.
So it was kind of nice to welcome the Cowboys to San Diego and give them a beating and a trip home back to Dallas. Yeah, I enjoyed that game.
7. Eli Manning And The Side Of A Barn.
In 2013, Manning Junior could not hit one. Unless it was a side of a barn cleverly disguised as an opposing defender. Throwing a mindboggling 27 interceptions, Manning spent the season looking like a deer in headlights. A deer with no opposable thumbs and therefore unable to toss a football. Throw in (inaccurately) seven fumbles, and Junior had the kind of season I just love to see from a member of Family Evil.
His inept team was part of what become the in joke of 2013, the NFC East, and I couldn't have been happier about that. In Week 14, the Chargers added to the Giants' miserable season with a 37-14 shellacking.
6. Lucky Horseshoes.
Now sporting more hair on his chin than on the top of his head, Andrew Luck is probably a better quarterback than I think he is. I just find him a little overrated and well.. kind of annoying. Maybe it's the Colts uniform and Manning comparisons, but there is something about him I don't like.
I think he's been ahem fortunate to get out of a few games with a W. Or is that plucky skill and a desire to win. Whatever, because all of that didn't matter in Week 6 when the Indianapolis Colts came to town and left empty handed. Yes, another potential future long term conference rival we have beaten this season.
5. Meh Andy and...Bad Andy.
Andy Dalton wasn't exactly great in his team's win over the Chargers in Week 13 , that was kind of the Bengals' Defence and Antonio Gates, but boy was he bad in last Sunday's AFC Wild Card game. The Turnover Machine was running full throttle and the Chargers were grateful recipients.
Going in as firm underdogs, the Chargers played lights out defence to throw Cincinnati unceremoniously out of the playoffs, their 3rd straight 1 and done for Andy Dalton and 5th overall, or is it 6th, for beleaguered Head Coach, Marvin Lewis.
Causing Bengals fans to contemplate the worthiness or lack thereof of their own lives is never a bad thing, and the Chargers did exactly that with this statement win last Sunday.
This is the kind of win I really like. It's well, a win for the Chargers and progresses our mini miracle season even further, but also impacts long term the fortunes of another club and AFC rival. The Cincinnnati Bengals are now in full scale meltdown mode with many fans calling for the organization to be blown up and both Dalton and Lewis put on a bus.
I kind of used to like Dalton, in a feel a bit sorry for the carrotheaded kid way, but yeah, I enjoyed this win.
4. Goo Goo Ka Choo.
Andy Reid - Man or Walrus?
Nobody knows for sure, but Andy is definitely now the Head Coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. You can tell that from the way the clock was totally mismanaged in the second half of their near historic meltdown loss to the Colts last Saturday.
I don't know why Reid is being touted as Coach Of The Year. Inheriting a talented roster with a bad numerical record last season, Reid has steered the Chiefs to a much better misleading numerical record mostly against back up quarterbacks. And an early playoff exit. Well done Andy. Hurrah.
Emphasisng that the Chiefs were susceptible to pressure from teams that were actually good, the Chargers travelled to Arrowhead in Week 12 and pulled off a fantastic come from behind victory that my bank balance will be forever grateful for. I enjoyed that.
And oh yeah, Andy, I thought it wasn't smart to rest so many players in Week 17. Your Defence ran out of steam in the second half against Indy, kind of like they had lost some stamina over the last two weeks...
3. Manning Part Deux.
On Thursday night of 12/12, the Denver Broncos were looking for their 12th win of the season.
Nope sorry, dumb fact didn't happen. The San Diego Chargers went to Mile High stadium with a must win attitude and proceeded to do just that.
Thus beginning their current five win streak that has propelled them into the playoffs and beyond, the Chargers out offenced The Greatest Offence That Man Has Ever Known to more than deservedly win by a score. More than that, they claimed an important psychological victory on the road against a Superbowl favourite. Needing to do it again this weekend, the Chargers know they have been there before and succeeded.
Yeah, I really liked this win. It had future value that might yet be realised.
2. The Oakland Raiders Are Still The Oakland Raiders.
These guys will spend money they don't have on someone like Michael Vick in the off season. He and Terrelle Pryor will not play nice. He will be on IR by half time of Week 1. They will also draft a project QB (fastest one they can get) but it will be completely the wrong one and he will be thrown to the wolves. They will then trade all their remaining draft picks for a handful of beans.
This isn't really about a game win. The Chargers even managed to lose to them in true Chargeresque fashion. It's more about that it's always winning to see Team Evil in perpetual dysfunction. I enjoy that.
They are now happily beating each other in the off season with wooden spoons, like they do most years.
Only an insane person would have predicted they finish above the Chargers this season...
1. The Next Step.
This might be whatever happens this Sunday. Barring playing incredibly badly and suffering a humiliation, the Chargers will have had the kind of season we hoped for. Retooling a franchise QB and RB for a new era, unveiling new talent in key positions, hitting the mark with draftees and FA signings, playing for the most part with intensity and a will to win.
There is room for improvement and key pieces missing. There almost always is. But for our current roster we have done pretty well. We will be underdogs again come this weekend, the pressure is on Denver to win and not waste their window. And I think that suits me and the team just fine.