Chargers Season Ends With Tough Loss To The Jets
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): It's not really over, is it? The San Diego Chargers, predicted Super Bowl contenders, hottest team in the NFL, bounding off a 11 game winning streak, got derailed yesterday before a hometown crowd at Qualcomm stadium. Now the New York Jets move on to the conference championship and San Diego stays home and wonders why. Joining us now to discuss yesterday’s game is my guest, Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, host of Sports Watch on XX1090 weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. Good morning, Hacksaw.
LEE “HACKSAW” HAMILTON (Sports Radio Talk Show Host): Good morning. How are you? I think we’re both probably better than the Chargers today.
CAVANAUGH: I think so but I thought we would have a happier conversation today.
HAMILTON: Well, I’m stunned. I was worried about this game all last week as I talked to all of our listeners on double-X. I was just really concerned that the way the Jets played would cause San Diego matchup problems. If you go back and look at some of the early season games when the Chargers played teams that ran the football very well and played very good defenses, you know, Cincinnati caused them problems, Baltimore did, Miami did. Pittsburgh pounded them, Denver did. I was really concerned, you know, would they be able to hold up. And even though they had the early lead and they were really dominant, they never were able to really blow the game open early. And the longer the game went, the closer the game got, the tighter it got, I thought the Chargers could well be in trouble. And they wound up losing, they wound up losing…
HAMILTON: …because they could not control the Jets’ defense and they wound up losing because they could not control the Jets’ running game and that was the difference.
CAVANAUGH: Is that how the Jets managed to win this game?
HAMILTON: Yeah, a lot of patience. The Jets play ugly football. They play tremendous team defense. They put a lot of pressure on your quarterback. They’re very physical. When they have the ball, they try to control the clock. They try to wear you down and they run it. And they stayed with their running game even though their running game was not working well early in the game. At one point in the second quarter, the Chargers had 157 yards in offense, the Jets had only 17.
HAMILTON: The Jets had no first downs for 21 minutes but it was only a 7-nothing game because the Jets just played gritty enough defensively to keep San Diego out of the ballgame. And then when they came into – back after halftime, the Jets made some changes to their defense, they caused a lot of confusion with Philip Rivers and the Chargers just really started to unravel and then the Jets’ running game, which they had been just banging away at, kind of took over control of the game and wore out the defense. So, I mean, it’s – at the end of the day, everything that I feared could happen actually did happen.
CAVANAUGH: Did happen, yeah. Does this game put Norv Turner’s job in jeopardy?
HAMILTON: No, I don’t think so. Although if you listen to the callers on our morning shows at double-X, if you read the letters to the editor, you know, it’s a step back. He’d – I think in the big picture of things, and we talked about this a couple of weeks ago with you on These Days, in the big picture of things he did a great coaching job to coach through all this adversity and all these injuries they had. But yesterday, on that one given day, they got out-coached, they got out-hit, they got out-thought and they’re out of the playoffs because the Jets did a better job.
CAVANAUGH: Right, now one of the big stories post-game is LaDainian Tomlinson. And lots of people speculate he’s played his final game in San Diego. What do you think?
HAMILTON: I would assume that’s probably so. He’s got a significant contract. They’re not going to pay him five to six million next season. He’s not the same running back he used to be. Injuries finally caught up to him. Although it’s not just Tomlinson, the offensive line had a lot of injuries and was not very good. But at this point in time, unless he’s willing to come in for a much lower salary—and maybe they’ll address that with him—if he’s willing to come in at a lower salary, maybe he has an opportunity to come back and be part of a rotation. But they’re going to have to go into the marketplace and probably go get another running back. It ended really badly. I felt bad for him in the fourth quarter. He had 12 carries for 24 yards.
HAMILTON: He never had a 100-yard game this season. And the fans booed him coming off the field. And I just think he’s meant so much to this city and so much to this…
HAMILTON: …team and town and all the charity stuff he does, I don’t think he deserved to be treated that way by the fans.
CAVANAUGH: What about Shawne Merriman? Is he leaving, too.
HAMILTON: Well, his contract is up. The question is, we’ve seen the flip side when there was no Shawne Merriman, we saw how poor this defense really was. And he’s not the player he was before because of the significance of his knee surgeries and multiple injuries that he had this year, but he still demands a lot of respect on the field in terms of how you attack the Chargers and how you have to account for him being on the field. Again, he’s – he could be a restricted free agent. He could leave, too. They’re going to have to seriously evaluate that though because when he was not part of this team, when he was hurt and recovering from surgery, this was not a very good defense, and they have to weigh that into the equation.
CAVANAUGH: I’m speaking with longtime San Diego sports radio host Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton. We’re talking about the Chargers 17 to 14 loss to the New York Jets yesterday. And so what do you think, Hacksaw, what are some of the other big decisions that need to be made by the Chargers this off season?
HAMILTON: Well, they’re going to have to make a determination on this kicker, Nate Kaeding.
HAMILTON: He has done very well during the course of regular seasons. His post-season record is just horrible in terms of field goals. And, of course, those are the most pressurized kicks. He – To me, he looked very uncomfortable yesterday. He looked jittery. His mechanics did not look right. You know, he missed three field goals. If he makes a couple of those field goals, that’s a whole different football game. I had said all week on our talk shows, plain and simple, that if the Chargers could get out to a ten-nothing lead or a 14-nothing lead, they’d take the Jets out of their running game. They’d take the Jets away from what the Jets did well. Now, he kept missing field goals and this is just not an odd occurrence. I mean, this is a young kid who’s obviously got a real case of the yips in pressure situations. So the question is, even though he’s very good during the season, can you afford to keep him?
HAMILTON: And I think the other thing is, they’re – they still have needs this morning as they had needs a year ago this morning that they did not address in the draft. I still think had they taken a right tackle in the draft or if they’d taken a defensive tackle in the draft, you know, maybe they would’ve protected Philip Rivers better yesterday. Maybe they would not have allowed the Jets to run it down their throat in the second half when the Jets ran it down their throat. So they’ve still got some roster issues that they need to address in addition to the decisions on Tomlinson and Merriman and maybe even that field goal kicker.
CAVANAUGH: Let’s talk a little bit about the actual – the fans in the stadium yesterday. You talked a little bit about some boos for LT but basically what I was struck with was people on their feet in stunned silence. Would you describe it that way?
HAMILTON: Yeah, the air came out of the balloon right at the end of the game. When Shonn Greene broke off a 53-yard touchdown run, I thought to myself, oh, my, that’s given the Jets the kind of breathing room they need because it means the Chargers need two scores to win this game. And how are they going to get two scores? They couldn’t get the ball down the field. Well, they did wind up getting one score but the air came out of the balloon and suddenly, I mean it was so solemn and so silent at the end of the game. It was just – it was shocking. And I’ll tell you, there’s nothing – The NFL is so different than anything else. When you lose a crusher of a game in the post season, it is a terrible jolt. There’s nothing as abrupt in your pro football career as the end of the playoff run. There – The feeling that night, the feeling this morning is of emptiness and despair and yet you have to – Maureen, you have to understand the culture of the NFL. It’s all about regimentation. What we do on Monday after game day and what we do on Tuesday and what we do…
HAMILTON: …on Wednesday because you’re always in a regimentation to prepare for the next game. And there is a suddenness to the end of the season that those of us who’ve been involved in football, it is awful because there is no more regimentation.
HAMILTON: There is – there is no more game to go prepare for next week. And that feeling in that locker room this afternoon when those players report back for their exit meetings with the coaching staff and they have to clean out their lockers, oh, it is just – it is just an awful feeling especially when you have such expectations.
HAMILTON: I think that’s the other thing. If the Jets had lost, yeah, they’d feel bad today if they were cleaning out their locker rooms on Long Island but, you know, they were just glad to be there. Nobody expected them to be there. And, instead, we expected San Diego to be going to Indianapolis and maybe going to the Super Bowl two weeks after that. And, instead, they’re putting all their stuff in a trash bag and they’re going to leave that facility at five o’clock tonight and it’s just – it’s just an awful feeling.
CAVANAUGH: Right. What is the national media saying about the Chargers?
HAMILTON: You know, the favorite, the old disco song “San Diego Super Chargers?”
HAMILTON: In the Jets’ locker room, they were humming San Diego super chokers.
HAMILTON: The national media has banged on the Chargers again. I don’t know if it’s the curse of the Spanoses but, you know, this has happened too often. I mean, this happened against the Jets in 2004, first game elimination. Against New England, you know, right after that, first round elimination. They had the playoff runs, you know, where they got to the AFC Championship game once but they got beat again. And the national media is just bagging on the Chargers…
HAMILTON: …this morning for choking this thing away with all this talent. And I don’t know that it’s necessarily on Norv Turner, their head coach, although it is at his front door. I – I’m not so sure that the Chargers lost the game. I think the Jets took the game from them and won the game from them.
CAVANAUGH: Well, you know, okay, we’re crying in our beer this morning but, you know, you gotta look at the season as a whole and it really has been remarkable for the Chargers, hasn’t it?
HAMILTON: Yeah, it has. You know, I gave a letter grade of a B+. I did a report card on one of the sports columns that I write for SDNN.com. I write multiple columns every week. And I gave them a B+. I thought it was a very good season. To come from where they were early, to have as many bad injuries as they had, and then to win 11 in a row, and people don’t understand, this is a very balanced league. It’s a very competitive league. It’s a really hard league to win in on a week-to-week basis, and to win 11 games in a row, I think, is a phenomenal accomplishment. But that being said, the prize is all about if you’re still playing at the end of January and the first week of February.
HAMILTON: And, unfortunately, there’s a booby prize here in San Diego because they got knocked out on the first round again.
HAMILTON: And I think that’s the most shocking thing. You know, when I was the voice of the Chargers for all the years I was in San Diego, it was so exciting to be – to see a team come together, see a town put its arm around the franchise. The first time we got to the playoffs with Bobby Ross as coach, it was magic, you know, and then in getting to the playoffs became a norm. Well, then you want to win some playoff games and then, gee, this franchise got to the Super Bowl. Boy, what an amazing accomplishment. It might’ve been an aberration. It was a one-year thing where a very unique football team came together. What’s different about this scenario is this team’s been built to win. This team has a lot of good young players, this team, I still think, has a future in front of it. This is not a one-time aberration because they’ve been to the playoffs all these years in a row. But, boy, you have to find a way to step across that line and, you know, win more games in post-season so you have a chance to go to the Super Bowl instead of bringing those big garbage bags to the locker room at…
HAMILTON: …five o’clock tonight to empty out your locker.
CAVANAUGH: Well, and I’m wondering, does not getting to the Super Bowl damage chances of that new stadium they’ve been talking about downtown?
HAMILTON: No, I don’t think so because this is – this is a very well run franchise. It’s a very profitable franchise. I think it’s a very well run football franchise from a football operations standpoint in terms of player acquisitions. I think what damages the ability to get a stadium built downtown is our economy…
HAMILTON: …and the fact there are – there is nobody to co-fund it and finance it with and they’ve spun the tires on their tracks since, what, 1997, 1998. That’s a long time to be trying without, you know – They’re no closer to a stadium now than they were in 1998. It’s really, really hard. But, no, losing this game should not impact it. It’s, I think, the inability to turn the first shovel of dirt is just a by product of our economy and maybe, to a degree, a little bit of San Diego politics, too.
CAVANAUGH: So about, I don’t know, late spring of this year, are we going to hear the drumbeat for Super Bowl for Chargers again?
HAMILTON: Yeah, probably. I – You know, it’s interesting. I’m not sure who’s more resilient, whether coaches, employers are more resilient or whether fans are more resilient. It’s going to take a while to put this thing back together emotionally. You know, I was laughing about this this morning because I was doing show prep for my afternoon talk show today at three and I, you know, I thought to myself, God, I don’t even want to watch next week’s AFC-NFC championship…
HAMILTON: …games. I’m – A, I’m so fatigued and tired by this and so disappointed in this. But I’m sure I probably will. And I’m sure as the fans, you know, march through January and get us into February then, you know, then you got NFL free agency that starts. The off season in the NFL is a lot of fun, too. We got free agency and then we got the NFL draft. And before you know that, there’ll be mini-camps. And then the opening of training camp and we’ll be back into it. But it’s going to take some time, I think, for this to go away because there’s got to be just a horrible emptiness over at the fortress, their training facility, right now and, I think, there’s a lot of despair from the fans. But there’s a lot of decisions that will have to be made with some very popular football players. And the business of football is also very much part of the game of football as to who you can keep and who you have to let go by virtue of, you know, contracts and age, etcetera. You know, there were no excuses to this one.
HAMILTON: In years gone by, they had injuries and you could say, well, that’s why it did not work out. It didn’t work out this time because they didn’t play well because the Jets would not let them play well.
CAVANAUGH: Lee, thanks so much.
HAMILTON: Maureen, thank you.
CAVANAUGH: We’ll get our strength back.
HAMILTON: We’ll talk to you down road.
CAVANAUGH: Thanks so much. I’ve been speaking with Lee “Hacksaw” Hamilton, host of Sports Watch on XX1090 weekdays from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. If you would like to comment about this segment of These Days, go to KPBS.org/thesedays. And coming up, we get a local take on relief efforts in Haiti. That’s as These Days continues here on KPBS.