He’s been here before, and that isn’t good
With a couple of minutes left in Schottenheimer’s Last Stand, high in the chilly winds and darkening skies, the scoreboard at Qualcomm Stadium showed an old video of Marty Schottenheimer screaming some inspiration.
Down below, with wide eyes and blank face, the real Marty was speechless.
Up above, he was wildly gesturing in a single direction.
Down below, the real Marty wandered around as if lost.
Up above, he bowed his head and stuck out his chest.
Down below, the real Marty cringed.
With the San Diego Chargers trying to hold off the New England Patriots in the final moments of the AFC divisional playoff game Sunday, the fans wildly cheered the televised Marty.
When the Chargers eventually blew a lead and lost, 24-21, on a last-minute field goal, those same fans quietly and pitifully stared at the real one.
He had botched a fourth-down call, bungled two timeout calls and stood idly on the cold grass while watching his team disintegrate into serial stupidity that led to the surrendering of 11 points in the final five minutes.
“I don’t know if I can put it into words,” said Charger LaDainian Tomlinson quietly.
I can. Three words.
January. Marty. Again.
When it doesn’t matter, Schottenheimer acts more like a powerful NFL leader than anyone in the league.
When it does matter, he acts like he doesn’t have a clue.
In his 21 years as an NFL coach, it may have never mattered more than on Sunday, when he walked into his home stadium at the head of a team with the best record in pro football, a team with 10 consecutive wins and nine Pro Bowl players and -- shhhhh -- Super Bowl reservations.
Nearly four hours later, he walked out with his baseball cap twisted, his wire-rimmed glasses askew and his sorry reputation intact.
Twenty-one years, 18 playoff games, and just five playoff victories.
Twenty-one years, 200 overall victories and zero Super Bowl appearances.
Schottenheimer left in front of one player, tackle Shane Olivea, who was so distraught he tore off his jersey and shoulder pads and attempted to throw the entire contraption 10 feet high into the stands.
Schottenheimer also left in front of a file of Chargers cheerleaders who were loudly weeping and complaining, “This ruins our trip to Miami!”
It’s their Marty, and they’ll cry if they want to.
As for the rest of the Chargers organization, well, the players support him, but his boss, A.J. Smith, dislikes him so that it wouldn’t be a surprise if Schottenheimer is soon fired.
“Right now,” said Schottenheimer, “the only thing I’m interested in is making sure that this group of young men in that locker room and that coach staff understand that we -- while it didn’t go anywhere in the playoffs -- had a damn good football season.”
Once again, he’s Marty Shot-Himself-in-the-Foot-Heimer.
Because, in today’s NFL climate, if you have your conference’s best record and are eliminated in your first game of the playoffs, you might as well be reprobates, or the Raiders.
“We knew going into it what we were playing for,” said Patriots linebacker Tedy Bruschi.
But did the Chargers? Under Schottenheimer’s leadership, it was difficult to tell, beginning with a fourth-and-11 play from the Patriots’ 30-yard line at the end of the first quarter.
This being a scoreless game, wouldn’t it be time for Pro Bowl kicker Nate Kaeding to try a 47-yard field goal?
Instead, Schottenheimer called for a Philip Rivers pass that became a sack that gave the ball to the Patriots, who then drove and kicked their field goal.
Schottenheimer, renowned for being too conservative in big games, was clearly and quickly trying to change his reputation. It cost his team the lead and momentum and who knows what else?
“The intention was to be very aggressive,” he admitted.
His players took him literally, and it cost them more.
In the third quarter, Eric Parker muffed a punt, then attempted to run with the loose ball, fumbling it again and giving it to the Patriots.
In the ensuing drive, the Chargers defense pushed the Patriots out of field-goal range with a third-down sack, but after the play, cornerback Drayton Florence was flagged for the needs-his-head-examined act of head-butting.
The penalty moved the Patriots right back into field-goal range, from where Stephen Gostkowski connected to close the gap to 14-13.
“How do you go 14-2 and fire the coach?” asked defensive end Luis Castillo. “The responsibility for this is all on the players.”
Those players kept acting more irresponsible when safety Marion McCree seemed to have the game in his hands after grabbing Tom Brady’s pass on fourth down with 6:25 remaining.
But instead of batting the ball down because it was fourth down, or instead of simply falling down, McCree tried to run.
“I thought I could score,” he said.
From the middle of the field deep in Chargers territory?
Troy Brown stripped the ball, the Patriots regained possession, and five plays later scored a touchdown and the tying, two-point conversion.
Despite replays clearly indicating it was a good call, Schottenheimer cost himself a timeout with a challenge, then called another timeout on the ensuing drive although the players had just been standing around for several minutes while an injured Patriot was examined.
“I don’t think they were material to the outcome,” said Schottenheimer of the timeouts.
Oh yeah? Well, if the Chargers had two timeouts, the NFL’s most powerful fourth-quarter home offense would have had time to give Kaeding better than a 54-yard field goal attempt at the end of the game.
“Hopefully he’ll be back,” said Charger Shawne Merriman of his head coach, shrugging. “If not, well, it’s a business.”
A business that Marty Schottenheimer again built into a giddy fall power before running into the cold January ground.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at email@example.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.