The Worst Teams of All Time, Part 11: The 2000 San Diego Chargers

This is a post in an ongoing series, where we examine and poke fun at some of the most ghastly teams ever to take the field.

Most Charger fans think of the early 2000s as the heyday of Drew Brees and LaDanian Tomlinson, but how did they get such a high pick in 2001? Well, the answer is simple. The 2000 Chargers happened. Even though they traded it away to the Falcons for a bunch of draft picks and Tim Dwight, the fact that they were the No.1 overall pick isn’t forgettable. Not in the slightest.

It started, more or less, in 1998. The Chargers traded up to the No.2 overall pick in the draft, and they used it to draft quarterback Ryan Leaf. In his rookie season, Leaf was horrible. After winning his first two starts, he was lambasted by the Chiefs’ defense. He was 1 for 15 for 4 yards and 6 turnovers. It only got worse from there, as Leaf finished ’98 with a 2 TD – 15 INT ratio, one of the worst ever. 1999 was nothing special, but 2000 was the year the bottom fell out.

Ryan Leaf

Ryan Leaf wondering why his teammates hated him.

Not only was Leaf an absolute tool to teammates, coaches and media, he was a crappy football player. He finished 2000 with a 1-8 starting record, completing 50% of his passes for 1,883 yards, 11 touchdowns and 18 interceptions for a rating of 56.2. Leaf didn’t have a team around him, but we can’t blame that on him since he was one of the worst players ever by himself.

A spry Jim Harbaugh, gimping around at the age of 37, didn’t fair much better. The future 49ers coach completed 60.9% of his passes for 1,416 yards, 8 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He went 0-5 as a starter. The long lost Moses Moreno also started 2 games, losing both, throwing 0 touchdowns to 2 interceptions.

The Chargers often lost close games or choked fast leads away, blowing a 24-7 lead to Denver in Week 12 to lose 38-37. They lost by 3 points to Oakland, 1 point to New Orleans, 3 points to Buffalo, and 2 points to both Oakland and Seattle.

But that doesn’t mean they didn’t have their fair share of blowouts. San Diego was beaten 42-10 by Kansas City, 57-31 to St. Louis, and 45-17 by San Francisco.

The running game, which had to be relied on offense due to Leaf’s inability to play quarterback, was beyond minimalist. They probably couldn’t walk outside to their front yard without being tackled for a loss. Although the Chargers didn’t have the worst play-for-play rushing attack according to Football Outsiders, they recorded a record low 1,062 yards rushing. No team since then has rushed for less, not even with the league developing the passing game more.

Terrell Fletcher

Terrell Fletcher on lookout for his next 3 yard loss.

Although Terrell Fletcher finished as the leading rusher, he was horrible. He carried the ball 116 times for 384 yards and 3 touchdowns, a 3.3 yards-per-carry average. Next up were Jermaine Fazande, who rushed for 368 yards and 2 touchdowns. The yardage quickly deteriorates, as only one other player has over 100 yards, Robert Chancey. A total of 7 rushing touchdowns were recorded, and the team only mustered 3.0 yards-per-carry as a team.

Jeff Graham finished as the leading receiver, with 55 receptions for 907 yards and 4 touchdowns. None of the receivers had really gaudy numbers, due to the porous quarterback play.

In all, the offense only scored 269 points, an average of 16.8 per game, turning the ball over 50 times, with kicker John Carney finishing as the leading scorer on the team. Certainly not a historic unit.

The defense, meanwhile, snapped. A tough unit, once featuring players like William Fuller, Junior Seau and Rodney Harrison had burst open, allowing 27.5 points per game, certainly beyond what the offense could handle. Although they recorded 39 sacks and 16 interceptions, the defense couldn’t stop the pass. They allowed 33 passing touchdowns, and while they could stop the run, offenses quickly stopped trying to do that and just scorched them through the air.

In all, the Chargers’ offense was ranked 26th while the defense was ranked 29th. The team started 0-11 before squeaking out their only win over Kansas City, 17-16, on a last-second field goal. The game was an ugly, turnover-ridden game played in bad weather, but apparently that was what San Diego needed to win in 2000.

In 2001, major changes were made. Ryan Leaf was canned, and LT was drafted with the No.2 overall pick. Doug Flutie was acquired, as was Tim Dwight from Atlanta. The Chargers quickly established themselves as a force in the AFC West, racing to a 5-2 start before dropping their final 9 games to finish 5-11.

In all, the 2000 Chargers shouldn’t have been as bad as they were, as their 3.8-12.2 projected win-loss record says, but due to the horrible clutch play of Ryan Leaf and poor coaching decisions along with what might have been the worst clock-control offense in history, there’s explanation to why they lost so many close games. A bitter memory for Chargers fans, they now look to the future, and their 5-3 start to 2014 is a good indicator that they won’t be returning to the depths they fell to in the start of the new millennium.


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