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January 10, 2007

'Martyball' may be Chargers' toughest foe

FOXBORO - The San Diego Chargers chased down 14 wins this season, but still couldn't quite outrun perception.



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.



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