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Tuesday, February 10, 2009

San Diego Chargers 2008 Season Review

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San Diego, California - Head Coach Norv Turner led the 2008 San Diego Chargers to one of the greatest turnaround seasons in NFL history, culminating with a trip to the AFC’s Divisional Playoffs. The Bolts finished the year 9-9, including playoffs, but the team will best be remembered for its determination to overcome a 4-8 start to win the AFC West for the third year in a row.

The Chargers, the only team in the NFL to win their division the last three years, also became the first NFL team since divisions were aligned in 1967 to come back and win their division when trailing by three games with three games left to play. A convincing 52-21 win over the Denver Broncos before a national television audience in the regular-season finale enabled the Bolts to overcome this nearly insurmountable hurdle and capture the division title.
The Broncos game was followed by a showdown against Indianapolis in the AFC Wild Card Playoffs that may go down as one of the most exciting wins in Chargers history. Trailing 17-14 with less than two minutes to play, the Chargers tied the game late in regulation and won on the first drive of overtime when Darren Sproles, filling in for an injured LaDainian Tomlinson, scored a touchdown on a 22-yard run. The win sent the Bolts on to Pittsburgh for the AFC’s Divisional round.
Besides the wins over Denver and Indianapolis, there were many memorable moments and performances throughout the season. There were close losses and convincing wins, including early season wins over Brett Favre and the New York Jets as well as the New England Patriots on national TV; the Chargers’ first-ever regular-season game abroad against the New Orleans Saints in October in historic Wembley Stadium; Ron Rivera’s ascension to defensive coordinator and the unit’s improved play; the team’s four-game win streak to close out the season; Vincent Jackson’s 148-yard effort against Oakland that helped him set career highs in catches, yards and touchdowns; Stephen Cooper’s two-interception night against the Raiders that was part of a four-interception month in December; Antwan Applewhite’s forced fumble on the onside kick in Kansas City that set the stage for a come-from-behind win and kept the team’s playoff hopes alive; Tomlinson’s three-touchdown performance against the Broncos; Philip Rivers’ career-season that included a team-record 34 touchdown passes as he became only the second quarterback in team history to pass for more than 4,000 yards; and Tim Dobbins’ sack against Indianapolis that set the stage for the game-tying field goal in the Wild Card playoffs.
2008 Offensive Highlights:
· Head Coach Norv Turner won his second AFC West title in as many seasons while the Chargers became the only team in the NFL to win their division title the past three seasons (2006-08). It also marked the Chargers fourth division crown in the last five seasons.
· Turner coached the Chargers to an overtime win against Indianapolis to improve his postseason record to 3-2, moving him into a tie with Don Coryell and Bobby Ross for the most playoff wins in team history.
· Turner went 5-1 in December and January, improving his record with the Bolts during those months to 12-2.
· The Chargers were 4-0 in December and in his two seasons at the helm, Turner is 9-0 in December. The Bolts have won an NFL record 14-straight games in December. San Diego has not lost a game in December since 2005, including eight straight at home and six straight onthe road.
· Turner oversaw a five-game win streak late in the season, including playoffs. It marked the fifth straight year the Chargers put together a win streak of at least five games.
· Speaking of streaks, when Turner coached the Chargers to the win over the Colts, it ended Indianapolis’ nine-game win streak, which was the NFL’s longest active streak entering the playoffs.
· The Chargers went 5-1 in the AFC West in 2008. The Bolts are 23-7 (.767) in division play since 2004, their 23 inner-division wins tied with Indianapolis and Pittsburgh for the second-most in the NFL during that span (New England, 24). Since the NFL realigned the divisions in 2002, the Chargers are the only AFC West team to win consecutive titles. The Chargers became the first NFL team since divisions were formed in 1967 to come back from three games down with three games to play and win a division.
· The Chargers won the AFC West with a four-game win streak down the stretch during which San Diego outscored its opponents, 149-73.
· San Diego has now qualified for the playoffs four times in the last five years (since 2004), most since the team went in five of six years from 1960-65.
· San Diego’s four-game win streak allowed the team to even its record at 8-8 and become the first-ever team in NFL history to go to the playoffs after starting 4-8. The last 8-8 team to go to the playoffs was the New York Giants in 2006. The Chargers also became the first team since the 1985 Cleveland Browns (8-8) to win their division with a record of 8-8 or worse.
· In their AFC West-clinching win over Denver in the regular-season finale, the Chargers rushed for a team-record 289 yards, bettering the previous mark of 287 that was set against the New York Jets back on Oct. 13, 1963.
· With Turner calling the offensive plays, the Chargers scored 439 points in 2008, second-most in the NFL to New Orleans (463). It’s the fifth straight year (2004-08) the Chargers scored at least 400 points, the longest stretch of 400-point seasons in team history. The Chargers also extended their team-record streak of consecutive games without being shut out to 153. It’s the fourth-longest active streak in the NFL behind Denver (261), Indianapolis (241) and the New York Giants (195).
· The 2008 unit became only the second squad in team history (1981) to feature a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher - Philip Rivers (4,009), Vincent Jackson (1,098 yards) and LaDainian Tomlinson (1,110 yards), respectively.
· Rivers led the team to his third-straight AFC West title in his three years as a starter.
· Rivers tied for the NFL lead and set a new team record with 34 touchdown passes in 2008. The previous team mark of 33 was set by Dan Fouts in 1981. Rivers threw at least two TD passes in 12 of the team’s 16 games and three or more in seven of 16 games.
· Rivers also led the league and set a new team mark with a passer rating of 105.5. Already the franchise’s all-time leader in passer rating (92.9), Rivers is only the second Chargers QB to finish a season with a passer rating over 100.0 (min. 100 attempts). Drew Brees was the other, posting a 104.8 rating in 2004. Rivers had a passer rating of 96.0 or better in 13 of the team’s 18 games this season. He did so in each of the team’s four wins down the stretch and again in the AFC Divisional Playoff game at Pittsburgh.
· Rivers’ 65.3% completion mark was the third-highest in a season in team history. In posting that number, he moved past Brees (62.2%) as the team’s all-time most accurate passer with a career completion percentage of 62.3%.
· Rivers’ six 300-yard games this season, including playoffs, were the most by a Chargers QB since Fouts had seven in 1985. He also became the first Chargers’ QB since John Friesz in 1991 to record consecutive 300-yard outings, doing so at New Orleans and vs. Kansas City.
· Rivers also became only the second quarterback in team history to throw for more than 4,000 yards. He finished with 4,009, joining Fouts, who passed for more than 4,000 yards three years in a row (1979-81), including a club-record 4,802 yards in 1981, the same year Rivers was born. Rivers’ 4,009 yards were the fourth-most in a season in team history.
· Rivers had a sensational month of December while leading the Chargers to the playoffs. He completed 80 of 121 passes (66.1%) for 1,054 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. His passer rating for the month, a lofty 120.3, was second in the NFL in December behind only Peyton Manning, who racked up a rating of 130.8. Manning was 90 of 110 (81.8%) for an identical 1,054 yards, though he had eight TDs and no INTs. Rivers is 14-0 during his career as a starter in December.
· Rivers spread the wealth this season as nine different Chargers had at least 10 catches and scored touchdowns. Antonio Gates led the team with 60 catches and eight touchdowns, while Vincent Jackson led the squad with 1,098 yards.
· Jackson made a late push for All-Pro consideration, setting career highs in catches (59), yards (1,098) and touchdowns (seven). He finished the year ranked 11th in the league in receiving yards. Jackson’s game winning 10-yard touchdown catch with 36 seconds remaining at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 14 helped the Bolts cap off an 18-point comeback and keep the team’s playoff hopes alive.
· In the 2008 calendar year, which included the 2007 playoffs, Jackson caught 77 passes for 1,398 yards and nine touchdowns.
· Fellow WR Malcom Floyd also had the best season of his career, setting career-bests with 27 catches, 465 yards and four touchdowns.
· Tomlinson’s 1,110 yards allowed him to become just the third player in NFL history to rush for more than 1,000 yards in each of his first eight NFL seasons. He joined company with Barry Sanders, who did so from his rookie season in 1989-98 (10 seasons) and Curtis Martin, who also did so over his first 10 seasons (1995-04).
· Tomlinson also extended his NFL record of consecutive seasons with at least 10 rushing touchdowns to begin a career to eight.
· Darren Sproles played a key role in the Chargers’ Wild Card win over Indianapolis, recording 328 all-purpose yards, second-most in a postseason game in team history (including AFL), and third-most in NFL playoff history. Subbing for the injured Tomlinson, Sproles recorded his second-straight 100-yard game and beat the Colts with a 22-yard touchdown run in overtime. It was just Sproles’ third-career 100-yard game and his first-ever in the postseason.
· The following week in Pittsburgh, Sproles racked up 274 all-purpose yards, giving him a two-game postseason NFL record total of 602, easily surpassing the previous mark of 500 yards, which had been set by Minnesota’s Anthony Carter in 1987.
· Sproles totaled 2,297 all-purpose yards and scored seven touchdowns in 2008, including 330 yards and one TD as a rusher, 342 yards and five TDs as a receiver, 249 yards as a punt returner and 1,376 yards and one touchdown on kickoff returns.
2008-Defensive Highlights
· Ron Rivera took over as defensive coordinator after the season’s eighth game. The Chargers’ pass defense steadied itself during the team’s four-game win streak to close out the season. In those four games, the Chargers intercepted eight passes, while only allowing an average of 213.0 passing yards per game and four total touchdown passes. During the first 12 games of the season when the Bolts were just 4-8, the team only had a total of seven interceptions, while allowing 269.8 passing yards per game and 21 touchdown passes.
· The Chargers defense only had 24 takeaways this season, but 14 of them took place in the final five games of the regular season, a stretch that included the Bolts four-game win streak to win the AFC West and qualify for the playoffs.
· Shaun Phillips had a solid season, leading the team with 7.5 sacks, while also pacing the squad with 15 tackles for loss. His last sack of the season at Tampa Bay raised his career total to 38.5 and moved him into the team’s career Top-10 for sacks.
· Despite missing the first four games of the year, linebacker Stephen Cooper led the team with 136 tackles.
· Cooper made a strong case for AFC Defensive Player of the Month honors for December with four interceptions and 41 tackles. His four interceptions were a career high. They were the most this season by a linebacker in the NFL and they were also the most by a Chargers’ linebacker since Donnie Edwards tallied five in 2004.
· Anchored yet again by Jamal Williams, San Diego’s run defense ranked among the NFL’s best. The Bolts ranked 11th in the NFL in rushing defense (102.6 yards per game) and only missed out on cracking the Top-10 by 1.3 yards per game. The Chargers run defense was at its best this year in two games against the Bolts’ arch-rivals, the Oakland Raiders. In those two games combined, the Chargers allowed the Raiders only two total rushing first downs, one in each game. In the first meeting in Oakland in September, the Raiders only scratched out 72 yards on 23 carries (3.1 avg.) and in the December rematch in San Diego, the Bolts’ D held Oakland to 54 rushing yards on 16 carries (3.4 avg.).
· In just his second season, safety Eric Weddle played a big role in the Chargers’ secondary. Weddle started all 16 games and ranked second in tackles, just one behind Cooper for the team lead. Weddle also had a big postseason with 19 tackles, including two for loss, a sack and three passes defensed. Weddle set a team record with an 86-yard fumble return for a touchdown in the Chargers’ Nov. 30 game against Atlanta.
2008 Special Teams Highlights
· Mike Scifres was one of the best punters in the NFL. He set a team record and ranked third in the league in net punting average (40.9). In seven games this season, he allowed zero or negative punt return yards. Scifres had only five touchbacks in 51 punts (9.8%) and 19 of his 51 landed inside the 20. Among kickers with 40-or more punts, only two others allowed fewer than Scifres’ 146 return yards. Only five teams had more than 15 punt return yards against the Chargers this season.
· Because San Diego’s offense was so good again in 2008, Scifres was only called upon to punt 51 times. It’s the fewest number of punts in a season in team history since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978.
· Opponents only managed to return a total of 23 of Scifres’ punts, the fewest punt returns against the Chargers since 1968 and the fewest returns ever allowed in a 16-game season.
· Scifres had a record-breaking night in the Chargers’ AFC Wild Card Playoff win over Indianapolis, landing all six of his punts inside the 20, the highest number and percentage of punts landed inside the 20 in a playoff game in NFL history. The previous best was five of five by Green Bay’s Craig Hentrich in the 1998 NFC Championship Game. Scifres also averaged an NFL Playoff-record 51.7 net yards per punt (min. 5 punts) against the Colts, who managed just six punt return yards vs. the Chargers. As a result, the Colts were forced to start drives at the 10, 19, 3, 7, 9 and 1 yard lines following his punts.
· Nate Kaeding made a career-high 27 field goals in 2008, including a team-record 57-yarder on Dec. 21 at Tampa Bay. In going 27 of 32 in 2008, Kaeding improved his career ledger to 118 of 137 (.861) and qualified for the list ranking the top all-time kickers in terms of field goal accuracy (minimum 100 FGM). Kaeding is the NFL’s second-most accurate kicker of all time behind only Mike Vanderjagt (1998-06), who finished his career with a mark of .865, having successfully converted 230 of 266 field goal attempts.
· David Binn, the Chargers’ 36-year-old long snapper, played in his 250th career game (regular and post-season) when he took the field in the AFC Divisional Playoffs at Pittsburgh. He is the team record holder for most career games played. Since Binn joined the Chargers in 1994 as a free agent from Cal-Berkeley, more than 100 long snappers have come and gone across the league, yet Binn has missed only one game in his 15 seasons.
· Darren Sproles had an outstanding year as both a kickoff and punt returner, ranking eighth in the NFL in both categories. He averaged 26.0 yards on kickoffs, including a 103-yard return for a touchdown Week 2 in Denver, and 11.3 yards on punt returns. Sproles was one of only two players (Tampa Bay rookie Clifton Smith) in the league to rank in the Top-10 in both categories.