Football Writers Are Idiots… And I’m An Idiot For Reading Them So Devoutly

So all week the talk on radio and TV concerning the Pats-Chargers game has been centered around the Belichick-Shottenheimer match-up. It’s a tired premise, but whatever, it was to be expected given their respective reputations. Here’s what kills me though. A number of people (including the Boston Herald’s Mike Felger and the Boston Globe’s Ron Borges on ESPN radio the other day) are suddenly laying off Shottenheimer and absolving him from some of his previous choke jobs. Most notably, saying that he was somehow a victim of circumstance when it comes to John Elway and “The Drive”. Wait… WHAT?!?! Are you SERIOUS?! The guy is head coach of a team that allows an opponent to drive 98 yards – THE LENGTH OF THE FIELD – for the winning score in the closing moments of a championship game and you’re telling me the coach was merely the victim of fate? We’re not talking one fluke play where a defensive back slipped and some wide receiver streaked through a seam for an 80 yard touchdown. That was a SUSTAINED DRIVE right over a Cleveland defense that couldn’t get out of their own way. Meanwhile, their head coach stood on the sidelines watching it unfold and couldn’t seem to adapt his game plan to try and stop it. How does he not take the hit for that?

In his column today, ESPN Page 2’s Bomani Jones did one of those sarcastic rundowns of all the teams left and explained why they wouldn’t win the Super Bowl. For San Diego he wrote:

San Diego Chargers
Why can’t they win? Because he’s Marty Schottenheimer.

He’s lost 12 playoff games! Twelve! It’s his fault that John Elway was able to go 98 yards in dreadful weather. It’s his fault Earnest Byner had his cookies taken from him. Mike Pagel’s interception in the ’88 wild-card game when the Browns lost to the Oilers at the Astrodome? All Marty. And you know that, with all the firepower he’s got, he’ll just sit on the ball. Of course.

Believe me, the entire tone of the column is sarcastic. So he too is subscribing to the theory that Marty wasn’t really at fault for “The Drive”. Can we PLEASE get real for a second. I know it’s taken on this mythical air over the last 20 years, but lets not act like what happened was somehow the divine will of God. He made bad calls on defense, didn’t do anything to stop the bleeding when the Broncos were surging downfield, and was about as useless as a head coach can be in the closing minutes of a game save from actually getting on the field so he could run over by a scrambling John Elway himself.

As for the Byner fumble and Pagel interception, true you can’t necessarily blame a coach for each individual play, but if the entire outcome of a game hangs in the balance of ONE PLAY, I’m pretty sure the head coach didn’t quite do the job he should of. And as for the “sit on the ball” comment, well, yes, actually, considering that’s exactly what he did two years ago when he similar (if not more) firepower, I’d be hard pressed to see why you’d expect otherwise.

I’m not gonna say that Shottenheimer will cost the Chargers this game. He may very well get over the hump and march to the Lombardi Trophy this year. But let’s not re-write history just because we feel sorry for the guy, or worse, need to voice an opinion contrary to the rest of the talking heads just so we can be heard at all. Stick to reality, boys.

* * * * *

Keeping on the same subject, I gotta say I generally like CBSSportsline.com’s Clark Judge, but his thoughts on this weekend’s Pats-Chargers game are mind-numbingly stupid. Let’s break it down.

Now I know what you’re thinking: This is the upset waiting to happen because it’s Bill Belichick vs. Marty Schottenheimer. No, no, it’s because it’s Tom Brady vs. Philip Rivers. Well, the Patriots hold the edges — and they’re enormous — when it comes to the playoffs.

So he opens the column by stating the Pats have an “enormous” edge, a fact which he proceeds to forget for the remainder of the column. Just thought I’d point that out.

But look at the rosters. The Chargers have more talent. In fact, I’d argue they have lots more talent than New England. They have a league-high nine Pro Bowl players, and that doesn’t include Quentin Jammer, Marcus McNeill, Kris Dielman and Shaun Phillips — all of whom had Pro Bowl-caliber seasons.

The Patriots had one Pro Bowl choice.

First off, since when does Pro Bowl voting (particularly since fans got their grubby little hands involved in the process) actually equal “talent”? Yes, the Chargers have good players, but history has proven that the Pro Bowl is more a popularity contest than anything else, so if you’re going to be making an argument about one team’s collective talent over another, going with the Pro Bowl selections is hardly the way to do it.

Now it you ARE gonna insist on using that flimsy premise, you can’t just blurt out numbers to make your case. For instance, one of the Chargers Pro Bowlers is quarterback Philip Rivers, who most people agreed didn’t deserve to go ahead of Tom Brady. And even if he did have a slightly better season and warrant the trip to Honolulu (which I actually believe he may have… Tom was not himself this year), there’s no way anybody gives Rivers the edge over Brady in terms of “talent”. No way, no how. It doesn’t happen. In fact, Judge himself considers Brady part of that “enormous advantage” he mentioned earlier.

Another Charger Pro Bowler is “special teams” player Kassim Osgood. Now I won’t claim to know anything about the guy, and he might very well be the best at what he does, but let’s not forget that the Pats’ Larry Izzo has been elected to more Pro Bowls at that position than anyone in history, so whatever talent edge exists is slight at best.

While I like Lorenzo Neal, let’s bare in mind that the only reason he’s counting towards those 9 Pro Bowlers San Diego has is because of the arcane idea that at least one true fullback has to be elected even though most teams don’t employ one in their regular offense. He goes almost entirely by default, and even granting that he’s the best fullback in the league, his presence doesn’t exactly skew San Diego’s end of the talent ladder.

We’ve also got Charger C Nick Hardwick, who while good and deserving, is not much better than Dan Koppen of New England, who himself was named as a potential pro bowler by a number of so called experts. Same can be said when comparing DT’s Jamal Williams (Pro Bowler, San Diego) and Vince Wilfork (non-Pro Bowler, New England).

What really annoys me is that Judge then rips off the name of four other Chargers who “could” have gone to the Pro Bowl, but doesn’t give the Pats the same benefit. He lists SD CB Quentin Jammer, but doesn’t bring up that Asante Samuel led the NFL in interceptions for the Pats. I’d give the edge to Samuel, but at the very least they cancel each other out. Rookie OT Marcus McNeil had a great season, actually receiving a vote for Offensive Rookie of the Year from SI’s Peter King. But then again, Pats G Logan Mankins received the same vote from King last year, and it’s not like his performance dropped off this season. King also named Pats DE Ty Warren for his NFL All Pro team, which means he was viewed as one of the top TWO DE’s in the whole NFL, not just the AFC. Again, that opinion was shared by a lot of people. I’d have to say that such a distinction should at least merit mentioning Warren’s name if you’re going to namedrop San Diego’s Shaun Phillips as being “pro-bowl caliber”.

Yes, I will grant that San Diego has an edge on talent. LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates and Shawn Merriman are studs, and as much as I like the Maroney/Dillon combo, and the Watson/Graham combo, and I think Richard Seymour is probably a better all-around player than Merriman (albeit not the force that Merriman was this year), I’ll concede they don’t quite match up the Chargers dynamic trio. But the gulf is not enormous, which I assume is what Judge meant we he made the rather silly comment “In fact, I’d argue they have lots more talent than New England.” Really? “Lots”? Well, thanks for that quantifying statement. Are you sure it was a “bunch” more talent? Or a “heap”? Way to go out on a limb, Oprah.

And here I was thinking “enormous” was better than “lots”.

The Chargers also have the best pass rush in the business, with an NFL-best 61 sacks. Look for them to blitz Brady from all corners, and I’ll spare you the trouble of looking up that blur that wears No. 56. It’s Shawne Merriman, and the guy’s a load.

Yes, and the Pats generally handle the blitz pretty well. In particular they read blitz packages as well if not better than anyone and are the best team in the NFL these days at performing screen plays, a quick way to beat a blitz. I’m not saying that Merriman doesn’t frighten me and that he won’t run through Matt Light like a turnstile, but just mentioning Merriman doesn’t cover the whole story.

But talent is not what drives New England. Chemistry and coaching are. The Patriots find the right guys for their system, then take them to the playoffs. Look at this season’s wide receivers: There’s not a star among them.

Uhhh, yeah. Same thing can be said (and has been) about the Chargers wide receivers. Nobody’s exactly quaking in their boots about Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker.

But that’s not how these guys operate. Brady spreads the ball around, and everyone participates — including the tight ends.

Besides, look at the receivers they lost to other clubs. David Patten? David Givens? Deion Branch? Once they left New England we discovered just how invaluable they aren’t. New England is successful because it has a quarterback who knows how to win and because it has a system that works.

Okay, you spent the first half of your column arguing that the Chargers have “lots” (*sigh*) more talent then the Pats, then turned around and shoot a hole through the whole thing by claiming talent isn’t really a key to the Pats. I mean, you can’t just say that it only applies to the receivers. So all that yapping about the talent gulf is now moot. Way to kill your own story, Clark.

San Diego, on the other hand, has something the Patriots don’t: A memory of a lopsided victory only a year ago. The Chargers scored 24 unanswered points in the second half to bury New England 41-17 in Foxborough.

Huh? Wait, so the Patriots don’t have the memory of that game?

I love how sports writer’s will use whatever side of an argument best suits their current angle. Most times when you mention a previous game in which one team blew the other out, you give the mental advantage to the team that got smoked because they’ll be out to prove it was a fluke. At the very least you could make the argument that if San Diego rests on that memory, they’re setting themselves up for a letdown because they think beating the Pats is easy. New England got to where they by being a team that A) learned from it’s mistakes and rarely repeated them (see vs Rams 2001, Steelers 2004), and B) knows that history doesn’t mean shit. If anything, last year’s blowout loss bodes well for New England. It’s motivation and a learning experience. All San Diego can take from it is confidence that they can win, and if they didn’t already have that then they’re screwed.

But that, you can argue, was because the Patriots were without safety Rodney Harrison and linebacker Tedy Bruschi.

Well, look at them now. Harrison is out again, possibly for the playoffs, and Bruschi isn’t the factor he has been in past seasons. That’s in San Diego’s favor.

Harrison washes itself out. Why bring it up? And even if Bruschi isn’t the factor he once one (a point we can agree on), he’s still better today than Monty Beisel was last year, so it’s a step up. So no, it’s not in San Diego’s favor, you knob.

So is this: The Chargers haven’t lost at home this season. Plus, they have the best player in the business in LaDanian Tomlinson, and the last time he faced New England the Patriots couldn’t stop him. He ran for 134 yards and scored twice to end New England’s 21-game home winning streak.

These are about the only points he makes in the entire column that I can’t really find fault with.

Everything here is in San Diego’s favor … until you get back to Belichick and Brady. They make New England dangerous. No, they make the city of San Diego nervous.

Everything? The only things in San Diego’s favor are:

1 – a slight edge in talent
2 – home field advantage
3 – the bye week (probably the most important factor and something our esteemed columnist failed to mention)

Meanwhile the Pats have a decided edge in coaching/game planning (which Judge concedes in his next point), not to mention playoff experience, another fairly important factor which didn’t get brought up.

But weren’t we talking tough about New England this time last year after the Patriots suffocated Jacksonville? Remember what happened next? Yeah, they lost in Denver.

Right, because for the first time in his playoff life Brady had a bad game. Does that mean it can’t happen again? No, of course not. But I certainly wouldn’t bet on it. And how New England lost to Denver last year gives any advantage to the Chargers this year is beyond me.

Something to consider: San Diego kicker Nate Kaeding hasn’t missed a field goal at home since a 40-yard attempt in overtime against the Jets in the 2004 playoffs.

Wait… is this a good thing or bad thing? Are you trying to imply we should be concerned because Kaeding is on a roll and been insanely accurate? Or are you bringing up a reminder that the last time he was called on the kick in a pressure playoff situation, he gagged and cost his team a win? If you’re gonna drop something like that out there, at least make a point about it.

* * * * *

This Sunday’s game is going to be incredible. Two equally matched teams are going at it, each with decidedly different strengths and weaknesses. I have no idea who’s going to win, and even though the homer in me wants to say Pats, the truth is the idea of stopping Tomlinson and Merriman is giving ME nightmares, and I’m just a fan. Whatever the outcome, I don’t expect the winner will arrive at victory’s door easily.

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