A sour expression appeared on Sam Seale’s face.
He’s sick of hearing it. And Sunday he heard it again.
The Chargers had just punctuated their season with a question mark in the form of a 17-12 loss to the Raiders at the Los Angeles Coliseum. The defense, as usual, was good but not good enough. Same as last year.
So somebody asked Seale about next year.
“I’m tired of people saying wait ‘til next year, wait ‘til next year,” he said. “This is my seventh year. I’m tired of next year. I don’t know how many more years I have in the NFL.”
Certainly, seasons such as this are worth more than one year in the aging process. A defense that was supposed to protect the offense the way big brother protects little brother was only able to stick up for itself this season. That left the offense on its own. And the offense got picked on.
It’s hard to pile too much blame for a third consecutive 6-10 finish on the defense, but it’s equally hard to ignore that this group often played well for three quarters and played hooky for the fourth.
Sunday was a typical day at the office. Jay Schroeder’s Raiders foundered in a barrage of Charger blitzes for three quarters. At the end of the third, the Raiders’ only touchdown had come with assistance from a questionable 45-yard pass interference penalty on Seale.
Then the fourth quarter arrived, and the Charger defense departed. The Raiders went 80 yards for a touchdown. So the Chargers handed the ball over to rookie quarterback John Friesz. He didn’t look like Joe Montana. And the Chargers went down stinging.
“Disappointing,” cornerback Gill Byrd said of the defense’s play. “Disappointing, disappointing, disappointing, disappointing. That’s the one word: disappointing.”
“Yeah, you get tired of talking about next year,” safety Martin Bayless said with a shrug. “But what else do you have to look forward to?”
New Year’s Day with the family? The AFC playoffs in the warmth of your living room?
And, maybe, thinking about how to change things for the better. It starts, says Byrd, with complete performances.
“We played good for three quarters, three-and-a-half quarters,” Byrd said. “And when you add it all up, maybe a half a quarter we just didn’t play well and that would cause teams to get in a position where they were winning games.”
Also, this year’s defense wasn’t exactly charmed. Linebacker Junior Seau, the Chargers’ first round draft choice, missed nearly all of training camp while his contract was negotiated. Byrd and safety Vencie Glenn missed portions of camp because of negotiations.
Then, after the third game, nose tackle Joe Phillips was lost for the season after he was assaulted by three men in Mission Beach. That created a big gap in the center of the line that was filled adequately but not spectacularly by Les Miller and George Hinkle.
Linebacker Billy Ray Smith missed five weeks with an abdominal strain, Glenn was a permanent fixture on the injury report for a variety of leg ailments and Byrd was also banged up for a number of games.
Mix that in with the inexperience of both cornerback Donald Frank and safety Anthony Shelton and it spells inconsistency.
“This is closer than we’ve ever been since I’ve been here,” said defensive coordinator Ron Lynn after his fifth season with the club came to a close, “but still not close enough to get the thing done.”