By Kerry J. Byrne
Cold, Hard Football Facts building inspector
We laid out the baby-blueprint last week that San Diego must follow if it were to shock New England in the AFC championship game.
The Chargers instead suffered a catastrophic failure, swinging and swaying like the Tacoma Narrows Bridge before tumbling into the abyss of the off-season with a 21-12 loss to the Patriots. Naturally, any time there's an engineering disaster, we need to find a place to lay the blame.
Was San Diego's defeat a problem with the baby-blueprint created by the I.M. Pei of pigskin, the Cold, Hard Football Facts? Or did the contractor from San Diego fail to properly execute the baby-blueprint?
We call in the postgame building inspector to see which one faltered.
The baby-blueprint said: the Chargers can win because they boast the best pass defense in football.
The inspector's report: Nice work, Chargers! San Diego's top-ranked pass defense (70.0 Defensive Passer Rating) forced Tom Brady into one of the worst games of his postseason career and perhaps the single worst game of his record-setting 2007 season.
Brady was held to 209 passing yards and a 66.4 passer rating, both his second lowest marks this season (he passed for 140 yards and 51.5 rating in a Dec. 16 win in Foxboro over the Jets). His three picks were a season high and the most since his last game against San Diego in the 2006-07 playoffs.
His 66.4 passer rating was not only the second worst of his 2007 season, it was the second lowest of his postseason career (57.6 last year vs. San Diego).
The inspector's verdict: Structurally sound. The Chargers properly executed this aspect of the baby-blueprint.
The baby-blueprint said: the Chargers can win because they're the most explosive Big Play team in football.
The inspector's report: Nicely done, San Diego! As we noted this season, teams that won the Big Blay battle won 84.1 percent of NFL games in 2007. The Chargers beat the Patriots in the Big Play battle, 4 to 2, on Sunday. In addition to the three picks, Darren Sproles ripped off a 26-yard run. New England's Big Plays were limited to two INTs on defense.
The inspector's verdict: Structurally sound. The Chargers made the Big Plays that normally result in a big victory.
The baby-blueprint said: the Chargers can win because they're the most efficient two-way team in the NFL this year.
The inspector's report: San Diego, we have a problem! The Chargers were the single most efficient team in football this year, No. 1 in our Bendability Index (18.04 Yards Per Point Allowed) and No. 2 in our Scoreability Index (12.24 Yards Per Point Scored).
They were anything but efficient on Sunday.
In fact, the San Diego offense suffered a Tacoma Narrows-caliber disaster. The Chargers needed a daunting 25.92 Yards Per Point Scored (311 yards of offense led to just 12 points) against the Patriots on Sunday – more than double the number of yards they needed per point scored (12.24) during the regular season.
Basically, if you're looking to define the statistical impact of San Diego's red-zone failures against the Patriots – three field goals and 9 points on three red-zone trips – our Scoreability Index is where you'll find it.
As we've noted since the inception of the Bendability and Scoreability Indices, red zone productivity is a key component of these deceptively simple measures of efficiency. (Third-down conversions play a roll in Scoreability, too, and the Chargers also struggled in this area Sunday, converting just 3 of 12 attempts.)
San Diego drives died on New England's 8, 5 and 6 – which means the Chargers were just 19 yards away from adding 21 points to their total (and possibly winning the game). The impact of those 19 yards on San Diego's efficiency would have been dramatic. It would have given the Chargers 24 points on 330 yards – a very efficient performance of 13.75 Yards Per Point Scored that would have approximated their very efficient 12.24 Yards Per Point Scored in the regular season.
More importantly, those 19 yards might have been the difference between victory and defeat.
The inspector's verdict: Critical failure! The baby-blueprint was perfect: the Chargers needed to play great pass defense, win the Big Play battle and play the highly efficient football that defined their late-season surge. They failed on the final count.
Therefore, the blame for the AFC title game implosion lay not with the architect who drew up the baby-blueprint, but with the contractor from San Diego who failed to execute it properly.