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Analysis: Chargers Undo Mistake

Antoine Cason is back where he started

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Getty Images
    San Diego Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason (right) stands with safety Eric Weddle in the final minute of the team's 20-17 win over the Kansas City Chiefs on September 25, 2011 at Qualcomm Stadium in San DIego, Calif.

    There is no sugar-coating what happened three weeks ago.

    Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason was overmatched in the red zone against 6-foot-5 wide receiver Plaxico Burress of the New York Jets. He gave up three touchdowns inside the 10-yard line. He also missed an open-field tackle early in the game on a bubble screen.

    No sugar coat to his struggles.

    And no sense to how they were handled.

    On Thursday, Cason will return to a role he never should have been forced to vacate, starting opposite Quentin Jammer when the Chargers host the Oakland Raiders in hopes of breaking a three-way tie atop the AFC West.

    After a day to forget in East Rutherford, N.J., the four-year veteran and former first-round draft pick was demoted in favor of rookie Marcus Gilchrist, a no-doubt bright prospect, for two games.

    Maybe defensive coordinator Greg Manusky was trying to be proactive, but this was premature.

    Of course, Cason, whose interview maturity would make a Harvard professor look like a frat boy performing a keg stand, won't publicly contest the coaching decision. He says the lesser role didn't affect his mindset when he played, however sparingly, the past two games.

    "The season isn't defined by a situation that one person is dealing with," Cason said. "We're a whole team. I was still preparing to win every week. Play hard just as well as Gilchrist went out there. He prepared like he was supposed to prepare. He went out there, wanted to win, and wanted to make plays and so did I."

    The impulsive pull of the plug interrupted what was, prior to the Jets game, Cason's best stretch of the season.

    Against the Denver Broncos and Miami Dolphins, Cason was thrown at a combined 11 times, allowing four catches for 30 yards, only four of which were after the catch. He also deflected a pass and didn't concede a touchdown.

    Still, when he faltered against the Jets, he was sidelined, a half-empty glass for a 25-year-old coming off a breakthrough season.

    Perhaps Cason was on a short leash after he scuffled in Weeks 2 and 3 against the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs. Maybe Manusky, in his first year with the team, was more attached to Gilchrist, a second-round choice whom he helped select last April and had shined in practice and the preseason.

    Regardless, it didn't work.

    Gilchrist, back to second-string reps this week, was thrown into the fire. He was targeted 18 times during the two starts. He gave up eight catches for 138 yards and a touchdown against the Chiefs and seven catches — on seven targets — for 129 yards and two touchdowns against the Green Bay Packers.

    The only time Cason, in his entire career, allowed more than 100 yards in a game (117) came in Week 8 last season when Tennessee Titans wide receiver Nate Washington scored on a 71-yard busted-coverage play.

    Would the Chargers be riding their current three-game losing streak if the team had been more patient with Cason? That can't be said.

    What's done is done.

    Cason is back where he started — starting. Back on the high road, turning the page before Thursday's divisional game.

    "Just go play hard," Cason said. "Go play. This is a new game. Everything else is definitely behind and in the past. It's time to go win a game and play hard, which I will — which we will. It's not about me. Go play hard and win the game."