Butler absence means big spikes in Takeo plays

Of course, plans go awry. Some plans go so far awry, though, you couldn't find them with bloodhounds, Sherlock Holmes or a CIA satellite.

And, yes, we're back to the Chargers.


But, of all the players who've been part of this season in San Diego gone so, so wrong, can anybody really be more exasperated than Takeo Spikes? Can there be anyone in the entire National Football League, in fact, to whom the last month of the season has been so consistently and cruelly disappointing?

Fifteen seasons. Zero postseasons. Not so much as a wild-card playoff berth. Two hundred fifteen career games, not counting his Pro Bowls, spanning stints with five different teams.


"I can't even imagine," said fellow linebacker Demorrio Williams, "but I'd imagine it's pretty hard."

Players make plans, too, plans that are especially big when they enter the NFL as rookies. Those plans usually, naively, include a Super Bowl or two or three. Spikes will turn 36 years old in two weeks, and two weeks after that, he surely will again be shut out of the postseason.

"I don't even like to talk about it," said Spikes. "It doesn't matter. I mean, it matters to me, but I choose not to address it. Nobody could ever understand it. At the end of the day, bottom line, I've created a mind-set that nobody can understand.

"That's just how I keep going. Good, bad, that's what it is. I just choose not to take part in that conversation."


It is both informative of his extraordinary physicality and representative of the 2012 season, though, that Takeo Spikes may be on the field for every defensive play against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday at Heinz Field.

This, too, was not part of the original plan.

"The early plan was, "We're not gonna stress you playing hurt,' " said Spikes. "The plan was, "We're gonna save you for the back nine and the run for the playoffs and all that."

Until two games ago, Spikes had not played more than 51 snaps in a 2012 start, which is itself a considerable total. Spikes played 93 of 95 snaps against the Baltimore Ravens, however, and all 78 defensive plays against the Cincinnati Bengals.

"It's amazing, just seeing him every day and what he does," said defensive coordinator John Pagano. He added: "We really try make sure he's not overburdened too much on the plays, but he's somebody who can handle it."

Spikes' role expanded with the loss of starting inside linebacker Donald Butler to a groin injury in the Baltimore loss. That pretty much left Spikes and Williams, a nine-year veteran, to stay in the game and handle the passing downs as well as the run in the middle of the 3-4 defense.

The relationship between Spikes and Butler has been an interesting one, forged last year when Spikes came to the Chargers as a 14-year veteran free agent. Butler was sort of starting a second rookie season, coming off an Achilles injury that wiped out almost the entirety of his first year in the NFL.

As it happened, Butler immediately and respectfully gave up his jersey number to Spikes. Butler said he then jumped "into his back pocket," meaning he drew as much as he could from Spikes' wealth of experience.


For the first 10-plus weeks of the season, they were side-by-side in the Chargers defense, working in tandem. Butler may yet return to action this season, but not Sunday.

"The obvious is that I'm playing more," said Spikes. "It's hard, because anytime you have chemistry with somebody and know this is something you can depend on, then it changes ... The good thing is that we always had a three-man rotation with me, him and Demorrio."

Spikes can't get a break. He isn't asking for one. Doesn't want one.

"I still want to play every play," he said. "Every opportunity to play a play is an opportunity to make something happen for your team. From a physical standpoint, I still feel the same as if I didn't play as much. The mental part is different. It's emotionally draining."

Spikes gives you that look, the one that says he's not going to give in, not going to give up, not going to give away whatever he thinks about all these difficult Decembers.

"It is what it is," he said with an icy stare. "And it ain't nuthin'."