Too early to write off Chargers

ON THE NFL

Monday Morning Qb

Ravens Gameday

September 24, 2007|By KEN MURRAY

It would be easy to overreact to the San Diego Chargers' 1-2 start this season, easy to say that LaDainian Tomlinson is not the same back he was a year ago, that Philip Rivers has a long way to go, or that coach Norv Turner doesn't have what it takes.

It also would be wrong. At least after three weeks.

The Chargers just came out of the roughest opening schedule of any team in the NFL. They started against the Chicago Bears, traveled cross country to New England and yesterday played in Green Bay.

They survived the quarterback-less Bears, were outcoached by the Patriots and outplayed by the Packers.

But look at their schedule, and there are indications it might be a temporary malaise. The Chargers face AFC West opponents each of the next three weeks, and only Denver, on the road, figures to give San Diego a game. Based on the Broncos' play so far, that's not even certain.

More significantly, the Chargers have only two teams left on their schedule that reached the playoffs in 2006 - the Indianapolis Colts in Week 10 and the Ravens in Week 12 - and both are at home. That's not a bad schedule for a team with as many playmakers as the Chargers have.

Tomlinson, with a 2.3 rushing average, has paid the price for his remarkable 2006 season. The cost is eight defenders around the line of scrimmage and an opposing defense that dares Rivers to win with the passing game.

Rivers hasn't looked good. Although he completed his first 15 passes in Green Bay, when it mattered most, he locked in on a receiver and missed Tomlinson running free in the flat for what could have been a big play. Television cameras caught Tomlinson complaining to Rivers along the bench afterward.

Turner has always been a better coordinator and quarterback coach than head coach. Off to a slow start, he's got the next 13 games to get it right. The Chargers might not be able to beat the Patriots the next time they see them, but it's too early to suggest they won't get the chance.

There were several basic truths that emerged from Week 3. Here are a few of them.

New England is clearly the class of the NFL - again. Quarterback Tom Brady is having an MVP September, and the Patriots have scored 38 points in each of their three wins. Their average margin of victory so far is 26 points. Brady has thrown for 10 touchdowns and only one interception.

At 2-0, the Lions were frauds. They ran into a quarterback with something to prove in Philadelphia, but offensive coordinator Mike Martz also showed why he failed in St. Louis. Among other things, he has no use for the running game. The Lions had just four rushing attempts as they fell behind 42-21 in the first half against the Eagles. OK, you don't want to stick with the run game with a big deficit, but Martz basically asked Jon Kitna to match Donovan McNabb pass for pass, a ridiculous request.

McNabb threw for 332 of his 381 passing yards in the first half after laying the racial card on his critics last week. Whether black quarterbacks get less love than white quarterbacks is a societal issue and isn't going to determine whether the Eagles get back to the Super Bowl.

I don't know about you, but I loved the Eagles' powder blue and yellow throwback uniforms. So what if they looked a little like a bunch of hybrid bumble bees? Too bad they didn't play the Redskins in their yellow throwbacks.

It happens every season, usually in September or early October, when young players are still learning how to cover kicks. The big kick/punt return was in vogue again. Pittsburgh's Allen Rossum and the Jets' Leon Washington had 98-yard kickoff returns for touchdowns. Houston's Jerome Mathis returned another for 84 yards, and the Texans' Jacoby Jones had a non-scoring 74-yard punt return. The Ravens' Yamon Figurs delivered a key 75-yard punt return. Score that one for Ravens' draft master Ozzie Newsome. Nice third-round pick, Ozzie.

Brett Favre tying Dan Marino's all-time NFL record of 420 touchdown passes at home in Green Bay was nice, but did the Packers have to be so obvious about it? Trailing the Chargers 21-17 midway through the fourth quarter, the Packers had six plays inside the San Diego 15, and not one of them was a run. Favre didn't get it there, but he threw a 57-yard TD pass to Greg Jennings later to catch Marino.

The NFL didn't do the 49ers any favors with the September schedule, either, giving them road trips to St. Louis and Pittsburgh on back-to-back weeks.

As bad as the Saints have been and the Falcons are, the NFC team in serious free-fall is the Rams. Their offensive line is a shambles, and quarterback Marc Bulger threw for only 116 yards with three interceptions in an ugly 24-3 loss to the Bucs.

There was a certain symmetry to Kurt Warner's performance in Baltimore. Warner launched his meteoric rise with the Rams in 1999 with a win over the Ravens. Yesterday, he replaced an inefficient Matt Leinart and nearly pulled out a road upset for the Cardinals. It will be interesting to see if new coach Ken Whisenhunt decides Warner gives him the best chance to win or stays with the big-money franchise quarterback.

Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall needs to grow up. He cost Atlanta a chance to beat Carolina when he couldn't handle Steve Smith's speed or his mouth. DeAngelo was flagged twice for personal fouls and another time for pass interference trying to cover Smith on one series. The Panthers got a tying touchdown there and went on to a 27-20 victory.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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