When the Chargers have a first or second down, Stan Humphries will hand the ball to Marion Butts or pass the ball to Anthony Miller. Sometimes that will get it done and move the chains.
Sometimes it won't.
Get it to third down and the equation changes.
Third down belongs to Ronnie Harmon.
They go with what might be called their regular offensive packages when they want to gain yards. They introduce Harmon, an offensive package unto himself, when they have to gain yards.
Ronnie Harmon thrives in times of desperation.
George Bush probably could have named Harmon his campaign manager on Nov. 1 and won the election. If Harmon was a baseball player, he would have been Dennis Eckersley. He would be the basketball player you'd want to take the last shot down by a point.
Harmon touched the ball only eight times in Sunday's 29-14 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but he produced 68 yards, two touchdowns and three first downs.
You want an example of how significant his presence was?
Ronnie Harmon handled the ball, either as a runner or receiver, on five of the Chargers' 11 possessions. They scored on all five of those possessions. They did not score on any of the six possessions when he did not handle the ball.
When Harmon first touched the football, it was in the Tampa Bay end zone for a touchdown. It came on third and goal from the Tampa Bay three. He faked Buccaneer safety Marty Carter into La Mesa with an inside move and then caught Humphries' pass in the rear left corner of the end zone.
"You see that?" Harmon asked.
Everyone in the stadium, excepting possibly Carter, saw what he was doing and where he was headed. He's a lot easier to follow from the stands, or the press box, than he is from the field. People trying to cover him or tackle him swear he must be a mirage.
He is just as elusive to interviewers.
That was all he had to say about that touchdown reception.
"You see that?"
No further explanation was offered. The man was just doing his job. That's all.
But, Ronnie, how about that six-yard scoring run at the end of the first half? What about that?
"The line opened up the hole," he said. "My job was easy. I ran through it."
You know, sometimes the simplest of explanations are quite sufficient. On that particular play, Harmon hit it on the button. Broderick Thompson caved in the end of the Tampa Bay line and Harry Swayne came across clear the outside of what really was a gaping hole.
That one, by Harmon's standards, really was easy. The thing is, this man does not need a hole, or at least a gaping hole, to gain yardage. He makes things happen with moves that would score him high in both degree of difficulty and execution if ball-carriers were scored like gymnasts.
Now he's there, now he isn't.
Ronnie Harmon is the most electric player the Chargers have. Butts is punishing. Miller and Nate Lewis are exciting. Junior Seau is excitable. Harmon is electric, as in high voltage.
Incredibly, he came to the Chargers from Buffalo off the Plan B scrap heap. Getting this guy on Plan B is like buying a Renoir at a yard sale. Buffalo left him exposed after he had spent four frustrating seasons trying to fulfill the expectations of a first round draft pick. Buffalo let him go after he did something human and dropped a key pass in a playoff loss to Cleveland.
Maybe Bobby Beathard really is a genius.
He got a player reputed to be a sullen and moody underachiever, and he turned out to be nothing like anything he was supposed to be. Harmon works as hard, or harder, than any other player. He is not the greatest of interviews, but he is courteous and, at times, whimsical.
"You see that?" he said.
He had a twinkle in his eye.
Across the room, quarterback Humphries was addressing the luxury of having a threat such as Harmon to bring off the bench.
"It's nice," he said, "because it puts another threat on the defense. We not only have three wide receivers, but we have a guy coming out of the backfield who can catch the ball and go all the way or carry the ball and do the same thing. The defense has to put some schemes out there to stop him."
But those schemers have to be careful.
"It's hard to double up on Ronnie," Humphries said, "because it leaves other people open."
Tampa Bay's schemers did successfully take Harmon away through most of the second half. The Chargers' first four possessions of the second half ended in three punts and a fumble and Harmon never touched the ball. He finally got the ball third and six from the Tampa Bay 15 just before the two-minute warning and twisted and turned off tackle for seven yards and a first down. Humphries scored two plays later.
That was the story of this game and this season and this man.
When the Chargers are in need, when their backs are to the wall, Ronnie Harmon is their man.