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Monday, November 23, 2009

Chargers "OWN" Broncos

San Diego Tribune— The smiles on their faces, their yells of defiance and the bounce in their step as they left the field revealed the importance of this beatdown.

The Chargers led from their first drive yesterday and routed the Denver Broncos 32-3 to take over what they believe is their rightful spot atop the AFC West.

"You'd love to say this is just another game, but it wasn't," linebacker Shawne Merriman said. "We were playing for first place in the division."

The Chargers, winners of five straight since Denver beat them Oct. 19 in San Diego, were at least a mile high as they considered their current roll and the significance of pummeling the plummeting Broncos.

"We had to re-establish ourselves this game as the first-place team in the AFC West," tight end Antonio Gates said. "That's why it was huge.

"The mental part was to prove to them we're still the AFC West champs. I think that was bigger than anything."

The Broncos (6-4) began the game running seven times. On their eighth play, quarterback Chris Simms dropped to pass, Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips hit his hand from behind and knocked the ball to the ground, where safety Steve Gregory picked it up.

Starting at their 31-yard line, the Chargers (7-3) drove to a touchdown and a lead that was never in jeopardy even as they struggled to put the game away until the third quarter.

The Chargers are now 11-5 over the past four Novembers, with one more game to play before reaching the month in which they haven't lost since 2005.

"We fought back earlier this year, and we're playing our best ball," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "Hopefully, we can keep going that way through December as we have in the past."

Already, they believe they've re-acquired division ownership.

Said running back LaDainian Tomlinson: "I think we established that we're the best team in the AFC West this year."

Jay Cutler is gone. So maybe Josh McDaniels is the Bronco that San Diego will love to hate now.

The Chargers' locker room was abuzz yesterday, as players were both offended and amused by the Denver Broncos head coach telling the Chargers linebackers before yesterday's game, "We own you."

That, at least, was the version offered by the linebackers, to a man.

McDaniels, who slowed down to talk on his way to his car more than an hour after the game, said the Chargers started the trash talking. He would not elaborate on what he may have said, but neither did he deny he talked back.

"They talked to me first," McDaniels said. "I'm not making a story about this. If I did, I'd be able to tell you some things that aren't (fit) for papers."

The linebackers did not deny one or more among them may have started the dishing, but they thought McDaniels' behavior was beneath a man in his position.

"You gotta like his fire," Stephen Cooper said. "As a head coach I don't think you want to start jawing with players if you're not putting the pads on."

With a laugh, considering the Chargers' 32-3 victory, Cooper added, "Looks like he owned us, but it got repossessed."

A smiling Shawne Merriman said of McDaniels popping off: "It was cute."

Other Chargers said McDaniels directed his barb at Shaun Phillips. A source said it was Phillips who actually began the give and take.

"I'm not surprised," Phillips said of McDaniels talking. "He's a little cocky. ... It's all good, all fun and games. We didn't look too much into it. As a coach, I hope he has that mindset. But to say he owns us? I mean, you beat us one time. What has he really done in this league? He had a team 6-0, and now he's looking up at us from second place."
Clary gone?

The Chargers may have lost right tackle Jeromey Clary for the season after he was carted off the field in the fourth quarter with an injury to his left ankle.

Head coach Norv Turner said he believes the "injury is going to be more serious than I'd like it to be."

Brandyn Dombrowski replaced Clary and will be the likely fill-in, going forward, though the Chargers did sign signed tackle Corey Clark from the practice squad last week.

Dombrowski started two games in September at right guard and has been working at left tackle.

Clary left last week's game and did not practice last week with a sprained right ankle.
Blackout looms

Approximately 7,000 tickets remain for Sunday's game against the Kansas City Chiefs, and it appears the Chargers' club record-tying streak of 44 games without a local television blackout is in danger of ending.

Said Jim Steeg, the Chargers' chief operating officer: "It will be very difficult to sell 7,000 tickets in three days with a holiday weekend starting on Wednesday."

The game must be declared a sellout by 1:05 p.m. Thursday to avert the blackout, although an extension is possible due to because of the Thanksgiving. holiday.
Playing it smart

LaDainian Tomlinson carried 20 times for 73 yards and a touchdown but was off the field in stretches, in part by design and in part due to because of the hip injury that continues to bother him.

"It's still bruised," said Tomlinson, who injured the hip Nov. 8 against New York. "Whenever I get hit or land it, I monitor it. But I don't think about it. ... I also want to stay fresh throughout the game like I used to do with Michael Turner, and (Darren Sproles) is doing a heck of a job. That's why I come out, so I can be fresh in the fourth quarter if we need to put the game away."
Big air

Nate Kaeding is not one of the league's big legs on kickoffs. In fact, there are 16 kickers in the NFL with more touchbacks than Kaeding since he came into the league in 2004.

But maybe if Kaeding kicked in the altitude in Denver every week ...

Kaeding had five touchbacks yesterday, bringing his career total in six games in Denver to 19, exactly half his career total.

To make it even easier on Kaeding, 15-yard penalties against the Broncos had him twice kicking off from the 45.

"I've made a living off getting touchbacks here," Kaeding said. "To give it to me on the 45 it was a gift for sure."
Nuts 'n' Bolts

* Defensive end Luis Castillo left the game in the second quarter with a calf injury and did not return.
* Cornerback Quentin Jammer left the game for a play after colliding with Phillips while defending a pass. Last week he was felled for a series by friendly fire, when he and Eric Weddle collided. Said Jammer: "The only time I get hurt, it's always one of my teammates hitting me."
* For the first time in 50 years of playing the Broncos, the Chargers have won in Denver for the third time in four years ... only an Ed Hochuli call from having won four straight.
* After 36 punts, Mike Scifres finally had one make it into reach the end zone for a touchback. That leaves Detroit's Nick Harris as the only punter in the league to have punted more than 30 times without a touchback.
* In starting 6-0, the Broncos outscored opponents 76-10 in the second half, including 17-3 at San Diego. But during their four-game losing streak they've been outscored 77-17 after halftime, including 17-3 yesterday.
* The Chargers scored a touchdown on their first possession for just the second time in 10 games and third time in the past 31 games.