When Marty Schottenheimer is your head coach, this is the price to pay.
The perception is that Schottenheimer - the NFL record-holder for most coaching wins without a Super Bowl appearance - is a coaching chameleon, turning from solid leader to shrinking violet at first sight of any playoff game. Is it fair?
In some respects, the answer is no. He did reach the AFC Championship Game in '93, and the total margin of defeat in the 63-year-old's 12 playoff losses is just 7.5 points per game.
Entering Sunday's AFC Divisional playoff matchup against the Patriots, is the reputation a lingering issue? Undeniably.
When San Diego dropped a 20-17 overtime decision to the Jets in a 2004 wild card game, Schottenheimer had lost five straight postseason games, having gone without a playoff victory since '93. But it's not only the defeats; often times it's how the coach arrived at such results.
"I've had any number of opportunities that I thought was my shot," Schottenheimer said recently. "We've done well to get (to the playoffs), but we haven't been real successful when we've got there. We need to fix that."
His most recent foray into the postseason helped exemplify Schottenheimer's perceived reputation.
Entering the '04 playoffs, the Chargers were considered the antithesis of their conservative coach. They finished the regular season having scored the third most points in the NFL, totaling less than 20 just twice all year. Against the Jets, that uptempo approach didn't change, as quarterback Drew Brees dropped back to pass on nine of San Diego's first 13 offensive plays in OT.
By game's end, Brees had thrown 42 times during the back-and-forth affair, 14 more times than he averaged during the 16-game, regular-season schedule.
Even with the game on the line, Schottenheimer didn't take the safe route, calling two straight pass plays on fourth downs at the 2- and 1-yard line, respectively.
With 26 seconds left and the Chargers down by seven, the first pass fell incomplete but was negated thanks to a roughing the passer call on the Jets. The next was completed to tight end Antonio Gates with 11 ticks left, sending the game into overtime.
It would appear playing it safe wasn't Schottenheimer's modus operandi on this day. Upon further review, though, "Martyball" reared its ugly head when it counted most.
In overtime, San Diego had marched down to the Jets' 22 for a first-and-10 with all but 12 of the 48-yard drive being accumulated via the right arm or legs of Brees. But, instead of staying on the offensive, Schottenheimer chose to put his team's fate on the foot of rookie kicker Nate Kaeding, calling for three safe LaDanian Tomlinson running plays, which netted a total of one yard.
Kaeding missed the 40-yarder, the Jets answered with a drive of their own and subsequent 28-yard field goal, and another chapter in the sorry postseason legend of Schottenheimer was written.
Making matters worse, a 15-yard, unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was thrown against his team earlier in the game, coming when Schottenheimer came on the field to dispute a call. That penalty allowed the Jets to continue a drive that would ultimately send the game tied headed into halftime.
"I've been through this before," Schottenheimer said after the game, "that's been well documented."
Schottenheimer's doubters only got louder after the third game of this season against Baltimore.
San Diego allowed first-year starting quarterback Phillip Rivers to pass just three times for the first 14:26 of the fourth quarter. The conservative play-calling of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and Schottenheimer turned what had been a 13-7 Chargers lead into a 16-13 Ravens win. The excuse was that San Diego was clearly easing Rivers into his role as a starter, as was later evidenced by the 37, 39 and 43 pass attempts he put up over the next three games, respectively.
If not for the Chargers being the AFC's top seed, those coaching decisions against the Ravens had some questioning whether Schottenheimer would even get another chance to prove himself in the playoffs. For now, however, he's being given the benefit of the doubt.
Since the Baltimore game, Schottenheimer hasn't shown a hint of hesitation when it comes to laying it on the line. He's called for a "fumble-rooski" play (the ball lays on the ground as the quarterback fakes he has it in his hands while a lineman picks it up and runs with it) against Denver as well as a key fake-punt versus Kansas City that led to a quick 7-0 San Diego lead.
"I guess he's tired of everybody saying that all these years," Chargers running back Michael Turner told Yahoo.com after executing the fake punt for a 25-yard run. "He took some courage juice and he's letting us go a little. You have to do that if you're going to win big, and that's how much confidence he has in us."
Don't expect a Boise State-esque, fun-and-gun style out of the Chargers come Sunday. San Diego is, after all, third to last in the AFC when it comes to choosing to go for it on fourth down (just 11 times this season). But, as the AFC Coach of the Year is quick to point out, a good defense, some great players and a lot of experience goes a long way to altering perception.
"I assure you, the better defense we have, the more you'll see of, quote, 'Martyball,'" Schottenheimer said earlier in the season. "It's resurrected itself a little bit."
It must be time for the playoffs.
Playing career: Buffalo Bills (1965-68), Boston Patriots (1969-70).
Coaching career: Portland Storm, WFL (assistant, 1974), New York Giants (assistant, 1975-77), Detroit Lions (assistant, 1978-79), Cleveland Browns (assistant, 1980-84; head coach, 1984-88), Kansas City Chiefs (head coach, 1989-89), Washington Redskins (head coach, 2001), San Diego Chargers (head coach, 2002-present).
Awards: UPI AFC Coach of the Year (1986, '95), Maxwell Football Club NFL Coach of the Year (2004), Pro Football Weekly NFL Coach of the Year (2004), AP NFL Coach of the Year (2004).
Career coaching record: 205-138-1; Seventh on all-time list for most wins, just four in back of Chuck Noll and 25 behind Vince Lombardi.
Miscellaneous: Played linebacker for the University of Pittsburgh before becoming a fourth-round draft pick of Buffalo in the 1965 NFL Draft; 40th wedding anniversary is on Feb. 4, the same day as this season's Super Bowl.
Schottenheimer's playoff losses
1985 AFC Divisional: Dolphins 24, Browns 21
1986 AFC Championship: Broncos 23, Browns 20
1987 AFC Championship: Broncos 38, Browns 33
1988 AFC Wild Card: Oilers 24, Browns 23
1990 AFC Wild Card: Dolphins 17, Chiefs 16
1991 AFC Divisional: Bills 37, Chiefs 14
1992 AFC Wild Card: Chargers 17, Chiefs 0
1993 AFC Championship: Bills 30, Chiefs 13
1994 AFC Wild Card: Dolphins 27, Chiefs 17
1995 AFC Divisional: Colts 10, Chiefs 7
1997 AFC Divisional: Denver 14, Chiefs 10
2004 Wild Card: Jets 20, Chargers 17 (OT)