Friday, September 30, 2005 | Fresh off a thrilling victory in the wake of two agonizing defeats, the Chargers travel across country for a showdown against the defending two-time Super Bowl Champions. The Bolts failed to survive the blitzkrieg from Dallas and Denver in the two losses that opened the season. With all five starters intact from a year ago, the departure of offensive line coach Hudson Houck was pinpointed as the cause for an inability to protect the pocket and open running lanes.
Sunday Night provided a glimpse of what this unit is capable of week in and week out. Keeping the momentum flowing will be difficult versus New England’s defensive genius Bill Belichick. The Patriots head coach is a master at concocting complex schemes that are executed almost flawlessly by a regimented and swarming defense.
L.T. Key to Giant Victory. A 45-23 thrashing of New York put a little bounce in San Diego’s step. The Giants had seven sacks and yielded an average of 2.4 yards per rushing attempt through two games in ’05. They did not collect a sack or even stuff a running play behind the line of scrimmage against San Diego. In fact, the Chargers obliterated New York’s highly touted defense, rolling for more than eight yards per carry and amassing 485 yards of total offense. LaDainian Tomlinson carried 21 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns. He also threw a 26-yard pass to Keenan McCardell that put San Diego ahead 28-20 early in the third quarter.
Trick or Treat. The month of October features five opponents ready to pounce on the Bolts and turn the bounce into a thunderous thud. NFL schedule makers took it easy on San Diego in 2004 after its last place finish in ’03. The prize for winning a division is much more daunting. October goes something like this: Oct. 2 at New England, Oct. 10 Monday Night at Qualcomm vs. Pittsburgh, Oct. 16 at Philadelphia, Oct. 23 at Oakland and Oct. 30 a visit from Kansas City. This month could easily make or break the Chargers’ season.
So We Meet Again. This Sunday will be the third time Drew Brees and Tom Brady have lined up as opposing starting quarterbacks. They first met head-to-head in a 1999 Big Ten battle as Brady led the Michigan Wolverines to a 38-12 romp of Brees and the Purdue Boilermakers at Michigan Stadium. The first NFL battle had a different outcome as Brees helped the Chargers to a 21-14 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champions on Sept. 29, 2002 at Qualcomm Stadium. They had won 12 straight games dating back to 2001 when they rode into San Diego for that Week 4 battle. Tomlinson ran wild for two scores and 217 yards, which marked the first 200-yard rushing performance in his career. L.T.’s 58-yard touchdown run on the second play in the second half provided the final margin of victory. Tomlinson’s first career 200-yard rushing performance helped the Chargers snap New England’s winning streak, 21-14.
Loaded Backfields. The Chargers’ Tomlinson and the Patriots’ Corey Dillon are two of the best in the business. The duo has a combined five Pro Bowl selections – Dillon has been to Honolulu three times – and own three of the 10 top single-game rushing performances in NFL history. Tomlinson appears in a tie for 10th and Dillon stands alone in second and ninth. They are two of only seven players in NFL history to begin their careers with a streak of at least four straight 1,000-yard rushing seasons.
L.T. is a more prolific weapon with 60 rushing touchdowns in merely 66 games. Dillon needed 125 games to score 61 TDs on the ground. Tomlinson is also a greater threat in the passing attack, needing just three receptions to reach 300 in his career, which is a milestone his opponent may never reach. However, Dillon needs 144 yards to become the 18th player in NFL history to surpass 10,000 career-rushing yards. The nine-year veteran was a star on the baseball diamond in high school, which led the Padres to pick Dillon in the 34th round of the 1993 draft.
Hello Old Friends. Three familiar faces will be on the opposite sideline this Sunday. Tim Dwight spent four seasons in San Diego before joining the Patriots this season. Quarterback Doug Flutie joined the Chargers as a free agent in 2001. He started 23 games for the Bolts and threw 25 touchdown passes before leaving town after last season. However, the Patriot player that had players really excited to square off against will be in street clothes on Sunday and for the rest of the season.
Former teammates such as Brees praise Rodney Harrison, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, as the “the ultimate teammate.” San Diego’s fifth-round pick in the 1994 NFL draft intercepted 26 passes, third best in franchise history, and racked up 21.5 sacks during nine seasons as a member of the Chargers. Harrison was released after the 2002 season and quickly signed by New England, where he helped the Pats to back-to-back Super Bowl victories.
Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junkie. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of DIRECTVSPORTS.com for nearly five years.