WR Vincent Jackson (Doug Benc/Getty)
Slow starts may bring a fast end to San Diego’s playoff hopes. The Chargers struck first against the Dolphins, the first time the Bolts beat an opponent to the scoreboard this season, only to watch Miami answer with 17 straight points. The slow starts to games have begotten a slow start to the season, as the Bolts fall back below .500.
Every member of the Chargers locker room recognizes that slow starts are crippling this team’s chances for success. The players appear agitated when asked about the matter, either because they’ve heard the question too many times before or because they’ve yet to find a valid answer.
“I wish I had an answer for you,” Vincent Jackson said. “I wish it would stop happening. It seems like we have done this to ourselves quite a few games this year. Last week it was 15-0. This week we started off pretty slow, 17-3. It’s tough to do that in this League.”
The numbers are as ugly as San Diego’s first-half play. During the first 30 minutes, the Dolphins gained more than twice as many yards as the Chargers, 220-91. Also during the first half, the Chargers converted less than 30 percent of their third downs (2 of 7), which resulted in the Bolts tallying just four first downs before intermission.
The offense wasn’t the only culprit. In the first half, the defense conceded 17 points and 85 yards rushing.
“We have to start starting fast,” Clinton Hart said. “We haven’t found a way to do that yet. Hopefully, next week we can get that done. We have to put this behind us. We learned from this one and we’ll go forward.”
Any improvements the Chargers make will have to come from within, as there are no more reinforcements waiting in the wings. That has been the case for the last three weeks, with Marcus McNeill returning in Week 3, Nick Hardwick in Week 4 and Stephen Cooper in Week 5.
Cooper looked right at home in the starting lineup, finishing second on the team with eight tackles. He bumped veteran Derek Smith all of the way out of the rotation and the improvement was substantial. Cooper delivered several big hits and fired up his teammates with his emotional play.
“I was fine,” Cooper said. “Mentally, I was kind of slow with my reads. At the end of the day I’m going to get stronger and stronger as the year goes. I’m not worried about myself. I’m worried about this team.”
The Bolts must find a way to start fast or start changing their expectations for January.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.