And then there were two.
As good, bad and crazy this 2014 season has been for the Chargers, it all comes down to the final two games of the year versus the 49ers and Chiefs, respectively. And although they still need help from other teams even if they win out, it is not as improbable as last season when they earned a playoff berth with a 9-7 record thanks to the Dolphins and Ravens losing their final two games.
Following two consecutive losses where the offense scored just two touchdowns, the Chargers are now sitting on the outside looking in at the playoffs as the No. 8 seed. With an 8-6 record the Chargers are battling three teams for a wild-card berth – No. 6 seed Pittsburgh; No.7 seed Baltimore and No. 6 seed Kansas City.
With a post season berth still alive, here’s a look at the best case scenarios for the Chargers to be playing in January.
Owning the tie-breaker over the Ravens, the Chargers easiest route for a return trip to the playoffs is for the Ravens to lose either at Houston this weekend or against Cleveland the last regular season game of the year on Dec. 28. Since the Browns decided to hand the reigns over to rookie quarterback Johnny Manziel, the odds of the Ravens losing that game appear to be slim and none. However, if MVP-candidate JJ Watt and Co. can slow the Ravens’ run game and rough-up quarterback Joe Flacco a bit, a Texans upset could happen this Sunday.
Two other possible scenarios are the Steelers losing their final two games versus the Chiefs and Bengals at home (finishing 9-7) or the Bengals losing their final two games versus the Broncos and Steelers (finishing 9-6-1).
Although there are other possibilities out there, the bottom line is the Chargers no longer control their own destiny and now must sweep their final two games – without starters Keenan Allen and Donald Butler – and hope one of the above scenarios plays out.
Thoughts on the Hall of Fame
When the National Football League announced the 26 Modern-Era Semifinalists for the Pro Football Hall of Fame last month, two Chargers were on the list – the late Junior Seau and former Head Coach Don Coryell.
Seau, who was voted to a team-record 12 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1991-2002, appears to be a shoo-in having made the prestigious list in his first year of eligibility. As for Coryell – a semi-finalist for the last five years – it still boggles the mind why he’s still on the outside looking in.
Like the Giants’ Lawrence Taylor in the 1980’s and the Ravens’ Ray Lewis in the 2000’s, Seau is synonymous with not only the San Diego Chargers but as the greatest linebacker in the NFL in the 1990’s. Selected with the fifth overall pick out of USC in the 1990 draft, Seau led the Chargers’ defense for 13 years – playing in 200 games, notching 1,396 tackles, 45.5 sacks and 14 interceptions. Named to the All-Decade Team of the 1990’s by the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Seau was a first-team All-Pro pick six times (1992-94, 1996, 1998, and 2000) and a two-time second-team selection (1995, 1999). He was named the Charger’s Most Valuable Player a team-record six times (1993, 1997-2001) and Defensive Player of the Year twice (1998-99). Seau is only the third player in team history to have his number retired (2012) and was inducted into the Chargers’ Hall of Fame in 2011.
As with Seau, when one thinks of the prowess of the Chargers’ offense in the ‘70’s and ‘80’s, Coryell’s name is at the top of the list. Although former Chargers head coach and Pro Football Hall of Famer Sid Gillman is regarded as the innovator of the forward pass, it was Coryell who expanded Gillman’s ideas and transformed offensive football into what it is today. Serving as the Chargers head coach from 1978-86, Coryell led the team to three division titles, played in four divisional playoff games and two AFC Championship Games while recording a 72-60 all-time record for the Chargers. Named as one of the 50 Greatest Chargers of All-Time in 2010 and inducted into the Chargers Hall of Fame in 1994, Coryell’s offense – known as “Air Coryell” – was the key component in getting quarterback Dan Fouts, tight end Kellen Winslow and wide receiver Charlie Joiner inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The bottom line is Coryell was one of the most innovative and influential football coaches of all time and is the only coach to win 100 games in both college and the NFL.
Along with the semi-finalist list, the Hall of Fame finally established a “contributor” category to include off-field candidates like general managers, owners, commissioners and scouts. Per Sports Illustrated’s Peter King, over the next five years the Hall will nominate eight candidates for entry (two each in 2015, 2017 and 2019, with one in 2016 and 2018) and will have their cases heard on the traditional voting day – the Saturday before the Super Bowl.
For the 2015 nominees, the Contributor Committee selected former general managers Bill Polian and Ron Wolf. While both men have impressive resumes, there was one name that was inexplicably left of this inaugural list – former Chargers GM Bobby Beathard.
In a career that spanned four decades in the NFL, Beathard was a player personnel executive on four teams that participated in seven Super Bowls, winning four.
As a scout for the Kansas City Chiefs, Beathard earned an AFL Championship ring in 1966. In 1972 he was named director of player personnel for the Miami Dolphins, and the Dolphins won back-to-back Super Bowls in ’72 and ’73 (the ’72 squad becoming the only undefeated team in NFL history finishing17-0). Hired as the general manager for the Washington Redskins in 1978, he led the team to three Super Bowls (1982, ’83 and ’87) winning two championships in ’82 and ’87.
Although he left the Redskins prior to their Super Bowl victory in 1991, that squad was primarily assembled of players Beathard brought to the team. After being named general manager for the Chargers in 1990, it took him three years to rebuild the organization into playoff contenders where the Bolts won the AFC West in 1992 and the AFC Conference Championship in 1994, earning the clubs first and only trip to the Super Bowl to date.
Although he will be forever linked to the drafting of quarterback Ryan Leaf and poor draft picks at the end of his career with the Chargers, Beathard’s overall contribution to the NFL as a GM has no equal. Polian might be a six-time Executive of the Year winner but his teams’ have one Super Bowl victory in five appearances; Wolf has one victory in two appearances.
Besides Beathard, another former Charger who hasn’t been mentioned for the Pro Football Hall of Fame is defensive end Leslie O’Neal. The Chargers’ first selection and the eighth overall pick of the 1986 NFL Draft, O’Neal was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year after garnering 12.5 sacks in just 12 games, which was an NFL rookie record at the time. Before his rookie year was cut short due to what was believed to be a career-ending knee injury, O’Neal set a team-record five sack game against the Dallas Cowboys. Returning to the team in 1988 after missing nearly two full seasons, O’Neal started all 16 games in 1989 and was named Comeback Player of the Year and earned the first of his six Pro Bowl selections after another 12.5-sack season. As a Charger O’Neal was named Lineman of the Year three times – in 1992, ’94 and shared the award with Lee Williams in 1989. He also shared the Chargers Most Valuable Player award with Junior Seau (1993) and Dwayne Harper (1995). In 1992 O’Neal’s career-high 17 sacks led both the Chargers and the AFC and helped lead the Chargers to their first AFC West title since 1981. Considered one of the dominant pass rushers of his time, O’Neal’s first two trips to the Pro Bowl (1989, ’90) was as an outside linebacker – his other four trips to the Pro Bowl (1992-’95) were as a defensive end. O’Neal is the Chargers’ all-time leader in sacks with 105.5 (ninth-highest in NFL history following his final season) and his 132.5 total sacks is tied with Pro Football Hall of Famer linebacker Lawrence Taylor for 11th on the NFL all-time career sack list. With respects to the late Junior Seau, many former players believe O’Neal was the best defensive players to ever wear the Chargers uniform. Earlier this season O’Neal was selected as the 37th inductee into the San Diego Chargers Hall of Fame.