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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Rivers, Gates, Jackson, Phillips, Jammer, Osgood, McNeill & Cooper receive team honors
Philip Rivers, in the midst of a potential NFL MVP season, was voted the Chargers’ Most Valuable Player by teammates. Rivers, who has thrown for a career-high 4,155 yards and 27 touchdowns, wins his second-consecutive team MVP award a day after being chosen to his second-career Pro Bowl squad.

Offensive Player of the Year (Rodney Culver Memorial Award) honors will be split between tight end Antonio Gates and wide receiver Vincent Jackson. Both players are enjoying career seasons, with Gates gaining a career-high 1,145 yards and Jackson setting career highs in yards (1,167), catches (68) and touchdowns (nine). This is Gates’ third-career Rodney Culver Award (2004 & ’05) and Jackson’s first.

Defensive Player of the Year (David Griggs Memorial Award) honors will be split between linebacker Shaun Phillips and cornerback Quentin Jammer. Phillips leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles and paces the team with seven sacks, while Jammer has broken up a team-leading 10 passes and is tied for the team lead with three interceptions. This the first David Griggs Award for both players.

Special Teams Player of the Year honors go to wide receiver and special teams ace Kassim Osgood, a 2009 Pro Bowl choice, who ranks second on the team with 12 stops. Routinely harassed by double and triple-teams, Osgood is headed to his third-career Pro Bowl. This is his fourth special teams player of the year award (2005-07).

Lineman of the Year honors go to left tackle Marcus McNeill, who is charged with protecting the blind-side of Rivers. McNeill hasn’t missed a start all season and is a key member of the line which has allowed only 10 sacks during the team’s current 10-game winning streak. Overlooked for the Pro Bowl, McNeill captures his second-career lineman of the year award (2006).

Linebacker Stephen Cooper, the team’s leading tackler with 119 stops on the season, receives the Emil Karas Award as Most Inspirational Player. At one of the most physically demanding positions on the field, Cooper has played more snaps this season (928) than any other defender and ranks second on the team with seven passes broken up. He’s also forced and recovered two fumbles.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Five Chargers named to Pro Bowl

SAN DIEGO – The Chargers have placed five players — all repeats — on the AFC squad for next month’s Pro Bowl.

Picked for his sixth straight all-star game was tight end Antonio Gates, named Tuesday with quarterback Philip Rivers, placekicker Nate Kaeding, left guard Kris Dielman and special teams standout Kassim Osgood.

It’s the third straight year Dielman has been selected and the third time in the last four seasons for Osgood, who was not chosen last year. Kaeding also was picked in 2006.

Five of their teammates — return specialist Darren Sproles, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, punter Mike Scifres, left tackle Marcus McNeill and cornerback Antonio Cromartie — were picked as alternates for the Jan. 31 game in Miami. Sproles is first alternate behind Cleveland's Joshua Cribbs; the other four players are third alternates.

No doubt the rosters for the Pro Bowl will be even more fluid than usual for this season’s game, since it was moved up in the calendar to the Sunday before the Super Bowl instead of the weekend after. Thus, the Chargers are hoping that none of them will be in the Pro Bowl, since that would mean San Diego’s in the Super Bowl. Also, it’s likely that players taking part in the conference championship games will be withdrawing even if their teams are eliminated in the AFC or NFC title games.

It’s the third such selection for Rivers, who’s yet to actually play in the Pro Bowl. He was chosen in 2007 and ’08, but opted out due to injuries. Gates also didn’t play the last two years for the same reason.

LT still healthy, thanks to Sproles

SAN DIEGO – Darren Sproles, a 5-foot-6 Hercules known to his family and friends as Tank, might prove to be more valuable to the Chargers this season than even his NFL-leading 2,279 all-purpose yards would suggest.

LaDainian Tomlinson, with an essentially inconsequential game to still survive, is looking forward to going into this postseason strong.

For that, LT can thank his head coach and their little buddy.

“Obviously I haven’t taken a lot of shots (this season) like I usually take,” Tomlinson said. “So I think it helped me.”

With what certainly will be less than a full game yet to play on Sunday against the Washington Redskins, Tomlinson is virtually certain to finish this season with fewer carries (currently 221), rushing yards (729) and receiving yards (242) than he has ever had or it ever occurred to anyone he would ever have.

But he is healthy, and he is smiling. Tomlinson acknowledged recently he is as content as he’s ever been as a Charger, because he believes this is the best Chargers team he’s been on in nine momentous seasons.

And the Chargers believe Tomlinson’s current spry step — he’s had a number of his most impressive runs of the season over the past three weeks — will be an important cog to any success they achieve in the postseason.

It was always the plan. As he has been asked doggedly all season about Tomlinson’s lack of production, head coach Norv Turner has repeatedly referred to Sproles’ output and how he believes it will help Tomlinson.

The Chargers’ rushing offense, while 29th in the NFL overall, is ranked 21st during the span of their 10-game win streak. The improvement is greater than that might seem — from 57.6 yards per game to 108.5.

While the identity of their offense remains Philip Rivers and his receivers, the Chargers have improved running the football. Over the past 10 games, they have run almost 11 more times per game versus the first five. And they’re averaging 3.5 yards per carry, up from 2.9 yards per carry the first five games.

“When we run the ball and have the threat of the run it allows our big-play people on the outside and Philip (Rivers) to have a chance to make plays,” Turner said.

Tomlinson, for his part in that, has over the past two games averaged 3.7 yards per carry.

That’s a half-yard better than in his first 10 games.

“One of our big things, and we’re a week away from doing it, was to have LT healthy and fresh going into the playoffs and to have LT and our running game making that type of progress,” Turner said. “If you look back, he started slow, there were injuries on the line, LT missed two games. But over the past 10 games and the past five, our running game has been more than effective.”

Tomlinson’s health has become a topic of great import at Chargers Park over the past two Januarys.

It was in the final game of the 2008 regular season that he suffered a severe hip injury, rendering him ineffective in the Chargers’ wild-card victory over Indianapolis and sidelining him for their divisional-round loss at Pittsburgh.

That came a year after he sprained his knee in the Chargers’ divisional-round victory at Indianapolis that allowed him to play just four snaps in their AFC Championship loss at New England.

“You really cherish it, you really do,” Tomlinson said yesterday. “You cherish it when you’re healthy and able to crank it up and do what you want to do versus playing hurt and just trying to gut it out for the team. I’m so thankful to be at this position and have two feet to run on.”

Spelling Tomlinson most often on third down — and later in routs, such as his three-touchdown game last Friday — Sproles has 91 carries (30 more than last season) for 325 yards and 45 receptions (16 more than last year) for 497 yards this season, while also remaining the team’s punt and kickoff returner. But he knows his value is also immeasurable.

“As long as we’ve got him in the playoffs, that’s a good thing,” Sproles said of Tomlinson. “I’ve saved his body some hits. It’s good.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Rivers For League MVP!

San Diego Tribune:
The Chargers are a pretty loose team, prone to in-game sideline discussions about various topics.

Last night, as a game turned into a rout and a quarterback showed a national television audience there are more than three quarterbacks in the NFL, the conversation among some trying to keep warm on the Chargers’ bench at LP Field turned to the NFL MVP race.

The talk centered on Philip Rivers’ inclusion in that race.

“He should be in consideration,” cornerback Quentin Jammer said. “Peyton (Manning) is doing a great job. The Colts are 14-0. At the same time, Philip has … put up some great numbers.”

The man who has never lost in 18 December starts and has seen his team to a division championship in each of his four seasons as its starter last night completed 21 of his 27 passes for 264 yards and two touchdowns. And because he was so brilliant, he watched all but the first snap of the fourth quarter from the sideline — as did most of the other Chargers starters — as a 42-17 victory bled a quick death.

No one would argue more vehemently than Rivers that the Chargers have won 10 straight games on the strength of an entire team. But Rivers has had as much or more to do with a 2-3 start turning into the No. 2 seed than anyone.

Over the course of the winning streak, Rivers’ 112.6 passer rating is by far the best in the NFL. His 20 touchdowns in the 10 games are second to Manning’s 21, but Rivers has been intercepted just six times to Manning’s 11. Rivers has completed 69.4 percent of his passes, Drew Brees 69.5 and Manning 66.1.

LaDainian Tomlinson went up to Rivers last night and said, “Dude, you’re playing out of your mind.”

Last night, for the Chargers’ second touchdown, Rivers stepped up against pressure, tiptoed through a minefield of would-be tacklers and, with a hand around his ankle and just before he crossed the line of scrimmage, found Antonio Gates wide open.

Later, on a third-and-7, Rivers threw a bullet through a keyhole to Malcom Floyd for 22 yards. His leading pass to Gates in man coverage was like watching Dan Fouts. A sideline pass to Vincent Jackson should have just made the Titans give up.

There are quarterbacks in the league who couldn’t make one of those plays in a season. Rivers made them in one night, and he’s been doing it throughout his team’s renaissance.

“He’s winning games for us,” linebacker Stephen Cooper said.

Rivers is also the Chargers’ most vociferous and animated cheerleader, a friend to every guy on the roster and the perpetrator of three last-minute, game-winning drives this season.

“He’s the biggest reason we’ve gone from 2-3,” Cooper said. “He got us going.”

Yet, until recently, there were times it seemed all ESPN and NFL Network knew for sure was that Manning walked on water, Brett Favre had healing powers and Brees could raise the dead.

Whether Rivers’ candidacy had a birth with his prime-time Christmas performance, it should at least increase the chatter about the possibility of him being the MVP.

Rivers has the endorsement of the 2006 league MVP.

“I don’t see why he’s not in the running for MVP,” Tomlinson said. “It’s ridiculous he’s played like this and no one has talked about it.”

Bolts Staying Focused

San Diego Tribune:
The Chargers have secured the AFC’s No. 2 seed, and they know what that means.

Nothing, really.

“I think going the bye route gives you an advantage,” head coach Norv Turner said. “It doesn’t guarantee you anything. You still have to play good.”

While teams fight for the coveted top two seeds and the bye week and at least one home game that are included, three of the past four Super Bowls have been won by a third, a fifth and a sixth seed.

A No. 2 seed has won four of the past 10 Super Bowls. A No. 2 seed has lost its first playoff game eight times over those 10 years.

As General Manager A.J. Smith has often said — just get in the tournament.

And after a 2-3 start, a beginning and middle of the season rife with injury, the Chargers are in the playoffs for the fourth straight year.

“I’m very proud of our players and coaches,” Smith said. “Our goal was to get to the playoffs. We have accomplished that, and in doing so we now have an opportunity to win a championship.

“To get in the tournament, you have to endure a long, hard, physical and demanding regular season. This team earned its way in, and I’m happy and excited for them.”

Smith knows the Chargers will benefit from the rest the No. 2 seed affords. But from his perspective the seed’s main benefit is that it eliminates a game.

Although getting the No. 2 seed has its own pitfalls, which the Chargers will now attempt to navigate with one regular season game remaining.

In 2006, the Chargers won their final 10 regular-season games to finish 14-2 and capture the AFC’s top seed. They played a final home game they needed to clinch that No. 1 seed, sat home for a week while the playoffs opened elsewhere and then hosted the New England Patriots — and lost 24-21.

No team is going to refuse a bye after playing 16 of the previous 17 weeks. The Chargers’ bye came in Week 5, so by next Sunday they will have played 12 straight weeks.

And starters playing one, two or three quarters against the Washington Redskins in the Jan. 3 regular-season finale likely will make little difference in how sharp they are come Jan. 16 or 17 in their divisional playoff game.

Maintaining a focus during the time off and practicing with purpose is going to be paramount.

“We have to use the bye smartly,” Turner said.

Players look back on three Januarys ago and believe the lead-up to that Patriots loss had something to do with the meltdown that occurred.

“We’d like to stay in a rhythm,” LaDainian Tomlinson said. “In ’06, we were like, ‘Well, let’s get everyone healthy.’ It didn’t work out to our advantage. That first game, we were a little rusty.”

Preventing that will be Turner’s main task, and he seemed primed for it immediately after Friday night’s victory over the Tennessee Titans.

“Every single guy is going to prepare to play next Sunday,” Turner said. “We’re going to practice the way we practice.”

Smith certainly had his opinion on Drew Brees playing in a meaningless 2005 season finale, when former coach Marty Schottenheimer started Brees, who ended up getting severely injured in what would be his last game as a Charger. But Smith has unequivocal trust in Turner. Plus, the two communicate daily.

“Coach Turner will give that great thought,” Smith said. “When he’s ready to make an announcement regarding our approach (against the Redskins), he will let us know.”

Turner said that after Friday’s practice the coaching staff will decide who plays against the Redskins.

By the time the Chargers play a meaningful game, it will have been three weeks since some of them were in a game. For some, it will have been four weeks or more.

But there are those among them who need it, and while Turner said his plan is fluid, it is almost certain some players won’t face the Redskins.

As much as anyone, outside linebacker Shawne Merriman can use time off. Merriman was in a protective boot after Friday’s game. Rehabbing instead of practicing most of the past seven weeks due to plantar fasciitis in his foot, Merriman has been playing Sundays with the aid of painkilling shots.

While he won’t be fully recovered until the plantar fascia completely tears or he gets the prolonged rest of an offseason, Merriman believes the bye will help him be stronger than he has since suffering his injury Nov. 8 at New York.

“Just knowing my body, I think it will,” he said. “For me it’s about doing what I’ve got to do to get on the field and be effective. I’m looking to be even more effective (in the postseason).”

Fellow outside linebacker Shaun Phillips got his long-injured ankle right last week, but he had his hip wrapped in ice as he left the field Friday after injuring it against the Titans.

Defensive end Jacques Cesaire missed Friday’s game with an elbow injury. Linebacker Kevin Burnett has missed two games with a neck injury. Almost every player plays through hidden injuries — aches, strains and just plain fatigue.

So the Chargers were pleased to be looking forward to some rest.

“It gets everyone healthy,” said cornerback Quentin Jammer, who like many others has been playing through various maladies much of the season. “It gets everybody back to 100 percent.”

Said left guard Kris Dielman of the bye: “It means the world. We have worked our (butts) off to get it … You get to rest. Linemen need it as much as anybody. We’ve been pounded pretty good every week for 16 weeks.”

2010 Schedule Set
: New England and Cincinnati victories today made them winners of their respective divisions and made them opponents of the Chargers in 2010.

NFL teams have 14 games set for them and then play teams in assigned divisions that finished in their same spot. As AFC West champions, the Chargers were awaiting the winners of the AFC East (New England) and AFC North (Cincinnati).

The Chargers home schedule for '10: Arizona, Denver, Jacksonville, Kansas City, New England, Oakland, San Francisco and Tennessee.

The away schedule: Cincinnati, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Oakland, St. Louis and Seattle.

Dates and times are announced in April.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Hardwick Lookin' Good!

Source: San Diego Tribune

Center Nick Hardwick played last night for the first time since tearing ligaments in his ankle in the season opener and having surgery a little more than a week later.

“It felt great,” Hardwick said after playing three quarters of the Chargers’ 42-17 win over Tennessee. “It felt great just to make it through.”

Hardwick, who the Chargers wisely kept on the roster despite what they knew would be a long rehabilitation, has kept himself involved in the game plan. But his actually being in the lineup allowed him to return to his role as pregame clown and in-game motivator.

Hardwick said he was not concerned at all going into the game and felt good before and after.

“It was kinda weird, because when I came back from my foot (last year), I had it in my head a little bit,” he said. “But this year, I didn’t have it in my head at all. I had the practice Wednesday where I felt 100 percent. It felt, like, normal. So I felt great coming in knowing I had no concern. I wasn’t walking around the hotel checking it out or anything like that. I just knew I was good.”

LT passes again

Maybe the only question head coach Norv Turner has been asked more over the past year was why his team repeatedly started slow and finished fast.

Why he hasn’t used the halfback pass more has been a close second.

For the first time in 52 games, LaDainian Tomlinson attempted a pass, taking a pitch on a play from the three-yard line and lofting a too-long ball to Antonio Gates in the back of the end zone.

“It took so long (to develop),” said Tomlinson, whose seven career touchdown passes are second-most in NFL history by a running back. “I didn’t want to take the chance of it being intercepted, I threw it long.”

Tomlinson, who dropped to 8-for-12 on his career and had his passer rating fall to 146.9, last attempted a pass in the 2007 season opener — a 17-yard touchdown pass to Gates.

After a Titans penalty moved the Chargers to the 1, Tomlinson scored the first of his two touchdowns.

Runyan gets reps

Jon Runyan got some much-needed work at right tackle, his first extended action since signing with the Chargers last month.

“Seeing as it’s been 11 months since I played,” Runyan said with a laugh.

Brandyn Dombrowski has started five games in place of Jeromey Clary, who was placed on injured reserve with an ankle injury. Runyan worked a series in the first and third quarters before permanently coming in when Turner made a mass substitution in the fourth quarter, moving Dombrowski to left tackle, putting in Dennis Norman at center and Tyronne Green at left guard.

Chargers patsy

Vince Young has received kudos for his play in the second half of this season. But he struggled again against the Chargers.

Young was 8-for-21 for 89 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions last night and now has a 43.9 passer rating in four career games against the Chargers.

Still piling on

Vincent Jackson and Gates each set career highs in receiving yards.

Jackson led the Chargers with five receptions for 70 yards to up his season total to 68 catches for 1,167 yards, bettering his 2008 season total of 1,098.

Gates caught three passes for 74 yards to get to 1,145 (on 78 receptions) and better his 2005 mark of 1,101 yards.

Big Mac’s rough night

Left tackle Marcus McNeill got beat for a sack, had a holding penalty that cost the Chargers a 52-yard touchdown pass and was flagged for a false start and illegal formation.

“Sometimes you can be your own worst enemy,” said McNeill, who has been playing at a high level.

Nuts ’n’ Bolts

•Shaun Phillips took over the NFL lead and extended his team record by jarring the ball from Young in the second quarter. Phillips’ seventh forced fumble this season and recovery by Stephen Cooper gave the Chargers the ball at their 48 in the second quarter, and they went up 21-3 seven plays later.

•Phillips was in and out of the game for three quarters with a hip injury. Fullback Jacob Hester and defensive back Steve Gregory suffered stingers.

•The Chargers have outscored opponents 66-16 in the first quarter during their 10-game winning streak and 161-63 in the first half.

•In his final game of this decade, Tomlinson set an NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a decade. His 1-yard run in the first quarter was his 137th. Tomlinson scored on another 1-yard run in the third quarter.

•Defensive tackle Antonio Garay was active for the first time since being signed Dec. 9 and played on special teams. He became the 61st player to appear in a game for the Chargers this season. That’s the most since they used 62 in 2004.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry F*ckin' Christmas! No. 2 Seed, First Round Bye!

NASHVILLE – The first time he threw deep, putting the headwind and the Tennessee Titans to the quick test, the ball seemed to flutter slightly and landed well short of its target. That was, a wide-open Vincent Jackson on a streak pattern with nothing but grass between him and the goal line.

However, if the breeze, the Christmas chill and other elements proved an initial impediment, they were not deterrents to Philip Rivers. By any means.

Rivers could not have been sharper with most of the rest of his passes, going long and short to pick the Titans apart in the Chargers' highly impressive 42-17 victory to make it a bah-humbug evening at LP Field, a performance that likely elevated San Diego further in the eyes of a national-television audience and might have pushed Rivers into the competition with peerless Peyton Manning and Drew Brees in Most Valuable Player discussions.

That the Titans were desperate for a win to stay alive for the postseason and the Chargers were already assured of a division title, motivated solely by the desire to gain the No. 2 seed in the AFC and a bye in the first round, made San Diego’s complete domination of Tennessee even more striking. The Chargers barely looked like a team needing a break of any kind, though they now have nine days before their regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins at Qualcomm Stadium.

For those keeping count, the Chargers who once were 2-3 have won 10 straight, the Titans 7-8 after an 0-6 start. More numbers: Darren Sproles scored three touchdowns, including the two in the third quarter that turned a game into a foregone conclusion. LaDainian Tomlinson scored twice, breaking an NFL record in the process, and the Chargers defense produced two interceptions and a fumble recovery.

Rivers and his vast array of targets – he completed passes to nine different receivers, five to Jackson – simply had the Titans clueless how to stop San Diego. Rivers connected on 21 of 27 passes for 264 yards – attaining his second straight 4,000-yard season – including a 36-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates and a 52-yarder to Malcom Floyd that was negated by a holding penalty.

When the Chargers basically emptied their bench in the early fourth quarter – Rivers was replaced by Billy Volek, who spent his first seven seasons with the Titans – it was hard to believe the Titans actually held a lead. With the breeze at his back, Tennessee kicker Rod Bironas made good on a 46-yard goal to open the scoring nearly midway through the first quarter.

Four penalties by the Titans, including a pass interference on third-and-one at the Titans’ 11-yard line, helped the Chargers take the lead before quarter’s end. The two-yard touchdown by LaDainian Tomlinson was his 137th rushing score of the 21st Century, breaking him out of a tie with Emmitt Smith for most running scores in a decade.

Seemingly every time the ball got into the hands of Chris Johnson, the NFL’s new phenom did something breathtaking, and one of his carries on fourth-and-two set up the Titans with a first-and-goal at the Chargers’ 30-yard line. On the next snap, however, linebacker Brandon Siler intercepted Vince Young, whereupon Rivers passed the Chargers to another TD.

Immediately after a sack of Rivers by Jacob Ford, the Titans were closing in again on Rivers, but he showed some deft footwork to keep from getting tripped up for another loss. Moreover, with him on the run, the defense came off Gates, left uncovered for a 36-yard touchdown pass. The Titans challenged the score, thinking Rivers was across the line of scrimmage when releasing the pass, but the protest was not upheld.

Another turnover led to yet another Rivers touchdown pass. For the seventh time this season – a league high – linebacker Shaun Phillips forced a fumble and Stephen Cooper recovered at midfield. Rivers immediately went for the jugular, hitting Malcom Floyd for a 52-yard score that was negated by penalty. Tennessee continued to shoot itself in the foot, too, getting called for roughing-the-passer and tacking on another 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Two passes to Vincent Jackson got the offense close enough for Sproles to catch a three-yard TD and make it 21-3.

That might’ve been the game right there, really, but then Young began looking like the Vince Young who passed Texas to that incredible victory over USC in the Rose Bowl. Doing more damage with his legs, Young briskly moved the Titans downfield and personally punctuated the drive, scoring on a 3-yard keeper around the right side.

Tennessee wouldn't get closer.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Chargers sign veteran center; Mruczkowski on Reserve-Injured


The San Diego Chargers placed center Scott Mruczkowski on IR and signed veteran center Eric Ghiaciuc.

The San Diego Chargers placed center Scott Mruczkowski (merch-COW-ski) on Reserve-Injured today due to an ankle injury he suffered during the final, game-winning drive in last weekend's win over the Cincinnati Bengals. Mruczkowski started the last 13 games at center for the Chargers after Nick Hardwick was injured in the season opener in Oakland.

To replace Mruczkowski on the active roster, the team signed veteran center Eric Ghiaciuc (GUY-check). Ghiaciuc entered the NFL as a fourth-round selection of the Bengals in 2005. He brings valuable NFL playing experience to San Diego. He started 42 of 48 games at center in his first four seasons (2005-08). He signed with the Kansas City Chiefs as an unrestricted free agent in 2009 and was released after training camp. Ghiaciuc is 6-4, 303 from Central Michigan and will wear number 77.

Chargers Team Report 12-22-09

Source: USA Today

The Chargers haven’t had too many more exciting wins lately than Sunday’s. Not only did Nate Kaeding kick a 52-yard field goal with three seconds left for the margin of victory, but the Chargers clinched their fourth consecutive AFC West title.
The Chargers can enjoy all that — for about 10 minutes.
Thanks to the NFL schedule gurus, they must hop on a plane Thursday and play in Tennessee the following day, Christmas.
“It’s pretty tough, but the great thing about is they are coming off a short week, too,” outside linebacker Shaun Phillips said. “So it makes the playing field even.”
Phillips is among the Chargers nursing various bumps and bruises — although his ankle is in the best shape it has been in weeks.
But he doesn’t discount the toll of playing two such important games so close together.
“It’s always hard from a physical standpoint, playing two games in one week,” said Phillips, the team leader with seven sacks. “I’m pretty sure the fans would love if every team played two times a week. But the reality is it is a tough sport and it is pretty brutal on the body.”
And with the tough Titans waiting, the Chargers know they are in for a demanding test.
The last time the Chargers went to Tennessee, the game resulted in four players being fined $32,500.
“They are a hot football team, they are looking good, and they really can run the ball,” Phillips said. “We are expecting a great matchup with those guys, but we have to go worry about ourselves and worry about our business.”
Coach Norv Turner mentioned how the Chargers will go easy in Monday’s walkthrough and then work hard — but not too hard — over the next days. Getting his players rested is important to Turner, but doesn’t mean as much to Phillips.
“No way — being efficient is what is most important,” Phillips said. “There is no one that is healthy right now in the league, and it is just the nature of the beast. It’s just important to pay attention to the details and keep on practicing at a high intensity, and that transfers over to wins, whether it’s the beginning of the season or the end of the season.”
And it’s what’s after the regular season that continues to drive the Chargers. They are doing everything they can to snag the No. 2 playoff seed in the AFC, and that means a committed effort in Nashville.
“Our focus in on the Tennessee Titans and going out and trying to get a first-round bye in the playoffs,” Phillips said. “We understand the importance of it; we are still playing for it a lot, and again it is still a football game, and we play this game to do one thing, and that is to win.”
—Coach Norv Turner said Nate Kaeding’s range is as far as 60 yards in the situation the team was in Sunday. Kaeding was true from 52 yards for the win. “When I hit it, I knew it was good,” Kaeding said.
It’s been noticeable that Kaeding has more length on his kickoffs this year. How did he get stronger?
“I can bench maybe 155 instead of 135,” he said.
—The Qualcomm Stadium crowd was off the noise meter Sunday, as loud as anyone could remember. It forced the Bengals into numerous false starts and delay-of-game penalties.
“I’ve never heard it that loud before like it was (Sunday),” Quentin Jammer said. “In eight years as a Charger, it was crazy to hear that. We are going to need that energy in the playoffs, and I hope the fans bring it.”
—Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips is well aware of the task of slowing down the Titans’ Chris Johnson.
“If he gets a little crease, he can go for the distance,” he said.
—Turner said this year’s AFC West title — an unprecedented fourth straight for the organization — is special because of all the injuries that forced the team’s depth to produce.
“This year is different,” he said. “We had so many guys who had to step up.”
—C Scott Mruczkowski won’t play this week after hurting his ankle in Sunday’s win. “Mooch” was to undergo additional tests on his ankle, but he could be out for an extended period.
—C Nick Hardwick, who had ankle surgery after getting hurt in the opener, will try to practice this week. He has yet to return to game action.
—CB Quentin Jammer (knee) could be kept out of some practice snaps this week. He should be OK for Friday’s game.
—DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) is likely to go this week while wearing a brace.
—WR Vincent Jackson has gone over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive season. The last Chargers wide receiver to do so was Anthony Miller in 1995 and 1996.
PASSING OFFENSE: B — Philip Rivers wasn’t as sharp as he has been through most of this nine-game winning streak — he threw two picks Sunday, although one came on a tipped pass. But he was Mr. Cool in the final minute when he put the Chargers in position to win the game. Vincent Jackson had his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season as he continues to emerge as one of the game’s best receivers. Antonio Gates had another stellar game, making moves after the catch that he hadn’t made in years. Rivers got rocked a few times, but he was sacked only twice by an aggressive Bengals front.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C — The Chargers still can’t run the ball, plain and simple. LaDainian Tomlinson did average 3.7 yards a carry and did have a long of 13, but it’s obvious the Chargers no longer look to their running game as a strength. LG Kris Dielman was pretty good on more than a few plays, and veteran C Dennis Norman came in at the last minute and didn’t make a mistake.
PASS DEFENSE: C — Carson Palmer had 314 passing yards and two touchdowns with just one pick. But the Chargers stiffened whenever the Bengals reached the red zone. San Diego didn’t get much of a pass rush, with two sacks coming from Kevin Ellison and Alfonso Boone.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — The Chargers’ defensive weak spot is stopping the running game, and why the Bengals didn’t run more is a mystery. The Bengals rushed for 114 yards but no scores. The Chargers held up pretty well considering the patch-work defensive front.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A — Nate Kaeding’s go-ahead kick from 52 yards out with three seconds remaining was clutch. Same goes for P Mike Scifres pinning the Bengals inside their 5 late in the game. The coverage unit had only one return it would like back. Darren Sproles showed a spark with a 45-yard kickoff return.
COACHING: A — Few gave Norv Turner a shot at another AFC West title when the Chargers were sitting at 2-3 and 3 1/2 games behind the Broncos. But the Chargers claimed another division championship, and Turner deserves much of the credit. He spread the ball around to nearly every inch of the field Sunday; that led to Sproles being open for a critical underneath route to get the game-winning drive going. Defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is starting to coach more and more the way Wade Phillips did — bend and don’t break. While the Bengals got their share of yards, they penetrated the red zone four times but had only one touchdown to show for it.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Bolts Face A Challenge On Christmas

By Casey Pearce at

The Chargers are 6-1 on the road this season, but face one of their biggest challenges this week as they travel to Tennessee for a Christmas night contest.

The Chargers have an opportunity to go 7-1 on the road for the first time in franchise history. However, to do so they’ll have to overcome some unique challenges in preparation for a Friday night contest two time zones away against one of the hottest teams in the NFL.

The Chargers rarely do any on-field work the day after a game during the regular season, but they held what was essentially an up-tempo walkthrough Monday afternoon. Tuesday is generally the players’ day off, but the short week doesn’t afford that luxury. The team will wrap up their preparation Wednesday afternoon and immediately travel to Nashville to face the Titans, a team that has won seven of their last eight games.

“It’s makeshift,” quarterback Philip Rivers said of this week’s preparation. “You don’t really have a routine plan for this. You’ve got to find a way to feel as prepared as you feel in a normal week. I think being here on Monday, getting a head start is the first step to getting that done. Obviously it will be a challenge but the preparation will have to continue this week up until Christmas morning. Today is like a normal Wednesday. We’re not quite to where we would be on a Wednesday but guys are focused and we got a lot done today.”

While players didn’t begin thinking about Tennessee until Monday, Head Coach Norv Turner said his coaching staff did some work on the Titans late last week so they’d be ready to get the team started Monday. For Turner, the biggest challenge of playing on a short week isn’t practice schedules and game plans but rather getting his team physically ready to play two days earlier than they’re accustomed to.

“The players have played in a lot football games and they’re banged up,” Turner said. “They’re beat up. We’ve kind of managed this a year ago when we played at home (on Thursday). We’re going to do everything we can to be as fresh as we can. Take care of them during the week and do everything we can to get them ready to play.”

Turner has had plenty of practice getting a team ready on a short week. His time as the Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator included the team’s annual Thanksgiving Day games, and he was the head coach in Washington when the Redskins played in Dallas on Thanksgiving. Last year, the Chargers hosted a Thursday night game against the Raiders.

“It can be challenging,” Turner said. “But you find a way to manage it.”

Turner and his staff have certainly managed the team’s preparation for their first seven road games of the season. The Chargers have won five in a row on the road, including victories at potential playoff teams such as Denver, Dallas and the New York Giants.

Since the NFL went to a 16-game season in 1978, the Chargers have gone 6-2 on the road twice but never better than that. They were 3-5 away from San Diego last year and 4-4. Turner made a conscience effort to find ways to improve his team’s play on the road this season, and it has paid off.

“I think we made a big emphasis about everything we do in terms of the way we prepare,” Turner said. “I don’t know that we changed that much, but we emphasized how important it was to do the things you have to do to get ready. Our guys have done that.”

Turner’s players have bought his message of staying focused on the task at hand, and it has paid off.

“We approach it with a business mindset,” offensive tackle Marcus McNeill said. “We’re going to work. We’re not going to have fun or go sight-seeing, but to be professional and handle business. I see young guys like Louis Vasquez studying and doing things in his room on his own. When you have guys putting that kind of commitment in, it helps you have success on the road.”

Injury update

Center Scott Mruczkowski underwent tests on his ankle Monday and while this extent of the injury suffered to his ankle late in Sunday’s game is still uncertain, Turner ruled Mooch out for Friday’s game in Nashville.

Defensive end Jacques Cesaire left Sunday’s game with an elbow injury but Turner believes Cesaire has a chance to play. Linebackers Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman were sore Monday but are also expected to play.

Center of attention

With Mruczkowski out, Nick Hardwick could make his return to the lineup. Hardwick practiced Monday and will see how his surgically-repaired ankle responds Tuesday. Veteran Dennis Norman, who took the last two snaps Sunday, will start if Hardwick is unable to go.

Chargers Are 2009 AFC West Champions!

SAN DIEGO — By the time the San Diego Chargers could exhale, they had clinched their fourth straight AFC West title as well as pulling out a dramatic win over the grieving Cincinnati Bengals.

Yes, it was a crazy several minutes at Qualcomm late Sunday afternoon.

Nate Kaeding kicked a 52-yard field goal with 3 seconds left and the Chargers rallied for a 27-24 win over the Bengals, who got a tying 34-yard field goal by Shayne Graham 51 seconds earlier.

A few minutes after the Chargers (11-3) secured their ninth straight victory, and with several thousand fans still in the stadium, the Chargers clinched the division when Denver lost to Oakland.

“It’s all kind of a blur,” said Kaeding, who hadn’t yet gotten a division championship cap until team president Dean Spanos walked by in the locker room and gave the kicker his.

Some Chargers watched on TV as the Broncos, who led the Chargers by 3 1/2 games on Oct. 19, lost 20-19 to the Raiders.

“It’s an incredible feeling,” star outside linebacker Shawne Merriman said.

The Chargers improved to 17-0 in December since 2006.

Kaeding’s winning kick came after Philip Rivers moved the Chargers 46 yards in 51 seconds with no timeouts and backup center Dennis Norman snapping after Scott Mruczkowski sprained an ankle.

“We just did what we had to do to get it done,” said Rivers, who threw three touchdown passes, two to Vincent Jackson.

“Philip’s the man. I wouldn’t want anybody else under center there for us,” said Kaeding, who added that it was one of his biggest kicks.

“There was a lot of adrenaline in that kind of situation, coming down to the wire and going for the win,” Kaeding said. “Once it came off my foot, I knew it was good, and mayhem ensued from there.”

San Diego clinched a playoff spot before halftime because of other results.

Cincinnati (9-5), which failed for the second straight week to clinch the AFC North, was playing three days after the death of receiver Chris Henry. He died Thursday, a day after falling out of the back of a pickup truck during what police described as a domestic dispute with his fiancee in Charlotte, N.C. Henry was on injured reserve and out for the season.

“The main thing we want people to realize is that Chris is a guy who turned his life around and this football team had done the same thing,” tackle Andre Whitworth said. “He signifies what we are.”

After Chad Ochocinco caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from Carson Palmer to give the Bengals a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter, the receiver got down on both knees and touched his heart with his right hand.

“It was a little empty feeling,” Ochocinco said. “It was bigger than football without him. Today I played with an extra set of hands, an extra set of legs and an extra heart.”

The Bengals wore decals with Henry’s No. 15 on their helmets. Several Bengals fans brought signs remembering Henry, including a simple “RIP 15.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer said he’s never experienced four days like the Bengals have, calling Henry’s death and then having to play a game “almost surreal.” He said it won’t sink in until the team attends Henry’s funeral on Tuesday.

The Bengals appeared to be driving for a go-ahead touchdown, but then were lucky to get in their tying field goal.

On first-and-16 from the San Diego 25, Andre Caldwell caught a pass from Palmer, was hit by Eric Weddle and then linebacker Tim Dobbins used his helmet to knock the ball out of his hands and it sailed back to the 45, where Palmer jumped on it. Palmer got the Bengals into field goal range with two completions.

Trailing 14-13 midway through the third quarter, Palmer missed Ochocinco and the ball went right to cornerback Quentin Jammer. Two plays later, Jackson got behind cornerback Leon Hall to haul in a 34-yard TD pass that put San Diego up 21-13.

Kaeding added a 33-yard field goal for an 11-point lead.

Keith Rivers intercepted Philip Rivers early in the fourth quarter to set up Palmer’s 2-yard TD pass to Laveranues Coles and Palmer’s conversion run to make it 24-21.

The Chargers led 14-13 at halftime. Rivers threw TD passes of 3 yards to Antonio Gates and 21 yards to Jackson.

Ochocinco had his 49-yard TD catch, and the Bengals twice had to settle for field goals by Graham after drives bottled up inside the Chargers’ 10-yard line.

Game notes
Jackson had five catches for 108 yards, giving him his second straight 1,000-yard season. … Jammer injured a knee and Chargers DE Jacques Cesaire injured an elbow. … During the week, Ochocinco said he wanted to fight Merriman. After Jammer was hurt in the fourth quarter, Ochocinco held the cornerback’s hand, then spoke amicably with Merriman.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Chargers Team Report 12-17-09

Source: USA Today

The streaking Chargers have followed this pattern before: Start slow and finish fast.

But the Chargers want to go somewhere they haven’t gone since 1995 — a Super Bowl.

But good luck having the Chargers broach that kind of banter before Sunday’s game with the visiting Cincinnati Bengals.

Among the reasons the Chargers were able to shed a 2-3 start and win eight straight games is a resolve not to look too far ahead. That has gotten them in trouble in previous years, and the players swear they have learned from their mistakes.

So while it may not be sensational, and it may not make for any bulletin-board material for the Bengals, the Chargers are — ho-hum — staying the course.

“I believe we’re playing one of the better teams in the league on Sunday,” coach Norv Turner said.

“I’m glad it’s at our place. I’m glad our crowd is going to be a part of it. We’re going to have to prepare to play our best, and it has nothing to do with anything other than we’re getting ready to play a good football team.”

If the Chargers win, they punch their playoff ticket. They could make it if a zillion other things do or don’t happen, but the easiest way to compute it is this: Win and you’re in.

And while the Chargers are stiff-arming talk of just how far they could go in the playoffs, they do admit they know what’s at stake. Not only could the Chargers claim their fourth consecutive AFC West title, a triumph puts them in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s No. 2 seed.

“That’s something to be aware of as a team,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “That’s the first goal that you have. Obviously you want to win your division, which we still have some work to do to get that done.

“You want to just get in. This game this weekend will allow that to happen if we go out and play well and win the game.

“Other than go further than that, I wouldn’t see a need to because there are a lot of things that have to happen, both with us and other teams. We control what we control. (If) we win this game we can be assured to play past January 3.”

But the Bengals are no pushover and will be smarting from their 30-10 loss to the Vikings.

“I know they’re extremely talented,” Turner said.

“The things they’ve done defensively, they’re ranked up in the top in most categories. They run the ball extremely well. They’re in the middle of having an awfully good season. It’s going to be every bit as big a challenge as the better teams we’ve played.”

The Chargers just dusted off a pretty good bunch in the Cowboys. That they did so in Dallas only made the win that much sweeter.

But the Chargers are being careful not to let the taste of that victory stay with them long. If they’re still living in the past, the present will be one tough beast on Sunday

“We have Cincinnati next, another big one, let’s move forward,” said Rivers, as the Chargers go for their 17th straight win in December. “It is exciting to go on the road and win and beat the Cowboys. But we’re not caught up in the emotional ride, the rollercoaster of it. We’ve really been able to keep on that steady, grounded path.

“I think that’ll be key. It’s certainly worth being aware of to not let that happen. I think it’ll be a key as we move through these next couple of weeks.”

Left tackle Marcus McNeill is confident the high-riding Chargers won’t enter Sunday with a large noggin.

“All of our confidence is always in-house,” he said. “We keep it within ourselves and have always been confident even when we were at 2-3. It’s easy not to let ourselves become big-headed.”

SERIES HISTORY: 29th regular-season meeting. The Chargers lead series, 18-10, with the win in their last meeting being one of the most exciting in team history. The visiting Chargers twice overcame 21-point deficits to pull out a 49-41 triumph. The Chargers have won four of the last five, seven of the last nine and 10 of the last 14 meetings. The most famous game between these teams came in the 1981 AFC Championship Game, when the Chargers fell to the Bengals in one of the coldest games in league history.


—QB Philip Rivers notices a difference around the league in how teams move the ball since he came into the NFL — especially with teams leaning on the pass instead of the run. “The game itself has somewhat changed,” he said. “I don’t know if changed is the word, other than it goes in and out of phases. You look around the league and everybody’s in ‘empty’ (backfield). And then you turn back and everybody is going three tight ends and running some different things. So I think it kind of just goes in and out of phases.

“But certainly this year, and maybe in the past few years, it’s been more of a pass-happy league to a certain extent with an empty backfield and getting five wide receivers out. Then it gets into crunch time and you have two backs in the backfield and two tight ends and you have to go sustain a drive to seal the game. It comes down to being able to be physical and able to run the ball late in games.”

—FS Eric Weddle is expected back this week; he has missed two games with a knee injury. Weddle said he could have played last Sunday in Dallas, but the team was being cautious with his injury. He did reveal that being out was a learning experience. “I saw a lot of things that will help me and the defense,” he said. “Being the older guy back there I could see some things that will help us in the stretch run.”

—With Bengals WR Chad Ochocinco in town, talk has turned to touchdown celebrations. What would LT Marcus McNeill do if he ever reached the end zone? “If I ever scored a touchdown, I’d have six different celebration dances,” McNeill said. “They might have to go to commercial break and come back like that Dr. Pepper commercial.”

—WR Vincent Jackson said the Chargers still have many more chapters in their playbook. Jackson took a handoff from LaDainian Tomlinson on Sunday and then flipped it back to QB Philip Rivers for a pass play. “Our coaches are pretty creative so I’m sure you’ll see a few more things,” Jackson said.

—Does ILB Brandon Siler get upset when the publicity goes to the offense and not the defense? “Not really because it isn’t our job to get the media to talk about us,” he said. “Our job is to win games and as long as we are doing that along with stopping other teams, I think we’ll be all right. We have our own goals that we achieve for ourselves, and as long as we are achieving those goals, we’re happy regardless of what people are saying.”

—Team president Dean Spanos, who is trying to build a new stadium, came away impressed with the splashy Cowboys Stadium. “Probably half of this would be great in San Diego,” he said. “It is pretty impressive and you have to give Jerry Jones a lot of credit for what he has done here.” The Chargers are still eyeing a site next door to Petco Park, but that downtown site would required taxpayers’ funds, and that’s a deal-breaker for many San Diego citizens.

—Coach Norv Turner said it’s no accident the team has gone 6-1 on the road this season; the Chargers finish their road slate on Christmas Day in Tennessee. “It was a big point of emphasis,” he said. “I think we made a big emphasis about everything we do in terms of the way we prepare. I don’t know that we changed that much, but we emphasized how important it was to do the things you have to do to get ready. Our guys have done that.”

—QB Philip Rivers could reach 4,000 yards passing with 417 yards on Sunday. Rivers and Dan Fouts are the only players in team history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in a season. Fouts did it three straight years (1979-81) with his streak stopped by the 1982 strike-shortened year. Rivers did throw his 100th touchdown pass in the win over Dallas.

BY THE NUMBERS: 28 — Number of times the Chargers have scored in their last 29 visits to the red zone. Over that span, they have 18 touchdowns and 10 field goals.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “What we are willing to talk about is what we can control and we can control by winning this game that we will be in the postseason. That is real. That’s there.” — QB Philip Rivers on the team’s mindset entering Sunday’s game.


S Eric Weddle’s return will cause a slight shakeup in the secondary. Weddle will settle back in at his starting spot at free safety, with rookie Kevin Ellison staying at the strong spot. Steve Gregory, who along with Paul Oliver was rotating in when Weddle missed two games with a knee injury, will stay at the nickel role.

The Chargers hope DL Alfonso Boone (knee) can return after missing last week’s game. Boone had become a regular part of the rotation up front.


—WR Vincent Jackson needs 11 receiving yards to go over the 1,000-yard mark for the second consecutive year.

—RB LaDainian Tomlinson has been setting numerous milestones of late, and Tony Dorsett is up next on the all-time rushing list — No. 7 at 12,739. Tomlinson trails him by 368 yards.

—OLB Shaun Phillips leads the Chargers with seven sacks, all of them coming during the team’s eight-game winning streak. Phillips also is tied for the NFL-lead with six forced fumbles.

—QB Philip Rivers had his interception-free streak snapped last week in Dallas, after going 118 passes without a pick. Earlier this year, he went 143 passes without an interception. Twice this year, Rivers has gone four straight games without an interception.

—TE Antonio Gates has gone over 1,000 receiving yards for the second time in his career and for the first time since 2005.

GAME PLAN: Look for the Chargers to come out throwing the ball, declining to stick too long with the running attack against the NFL’s third-best run defense. The Chargers’ running game is gaining confidence, if not many yards. It gobbled up most of the seven minutes on a long drive Sunday, which helped the Chargers clinch the win over the Cowboys.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers passing attack vs. Bengals secondary. San Diego has lanky receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, while the Bengals don’t have a starting cornerback reaching 6-foot. Jackson and Floyd both stand 6-5. And the Chargers have been gobbling up big chunks of late thanks to Philip Rivers’ long chucks down field. Jackson and Floyd both have great body control in how they go up and snatch the passes at their highest point. The Bengals will try to counter with two 5-11 cornerbacks in Leon Hall and Johnathan Joseph. This could be an area the Chargers exploit.

Chargers run defense vs. the Bengals’ running game. DL Alfonso Boone (knee) didn’t work again Wednesday; the Chargers are hopeful he can play Sunday. But if Boone is absent, it only brings more reasons why the Bengals could be content pounding the Chargers with their running game, which features Cedric Benson and backup Larry Johnson. The Bengals have the sixth-best running game in the league, and the Chargers are ranked No. 21 in trying to stop it.

Chargers return game vs. Bengals special teams. San Diego has Darren Sproles, while Cincinnati is mediocre against kicks and bad against punts. Sproles has been close to breaking a return for a touchdown and the Chargers are thinking this is the week he does it; he does have one on a punt return. With some linebackers getting back healthy, it should help the blocking on returns. The Bengals rank No. 15 on kick coverage and 26th on punts.

INJURY IMPACT: OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn’t practice Wednesday but will play Sunday. His snaps, though, could be limited. … OLB Shaun Phillips (ankle) didn’t practice Wednesday but will play Sunday. … C Nick Hardwick (ankle) won’t play Sunday. … DL Travis Johnson (groin) didn’t work Wednesday but will be part of Sunday’s rotation. … DL Alfonso Boone (knee) didn’t work and he could be a game-time decision. … CB Quentin Jammer (toe) was rested Wednesday but he will play Sunday.

Ochocinco Asking To Go 'Lights Out'

SAN DIEGO — Chad Ochocinco wants to fight Shawne Merriman.

Merriman says that if anything happens Sunday between the two stars, it will be just like his nickname: Lights Out.

Ochocinco, the unpredictable Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver, went off on the San Diego Chargers’ outside linebacker during a conference call

with San Diego reporters on Wednesday. The Chargers (10-3) host the Bengals (9-4) on Sunday in San Diego in a meeting of division leaders, with the winner securing a playoff spot.

The two stars ran some smack against each other during a Twitter exchange earlier this year. They apparently have a history going back to 2006 when Ochocinco, then known as Chad Johnson, mockingly did Merriman’s spasmodic “Lights Out” sack dance after scoring against San Diego in a game at Cincinnati. Merriman wasn’t even in the stadium; he was serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for steroids.

Ochocinco went off when asked if their Twitter exchange was in fun.

“I will beat Shawne’s head in, right now,” he said. “It’s not even fun. This is not in fun. This is personal. Bring it on. It is what it is. I think he might be one of the only people I don’t really get along with. I want to fight. I’m not sure how to get the fight on without him suing me.”

How did this happen?

“I don’t know. You just have somebody that, like, you have the itch, you just want to fight? That’s what it’s come to. I just want to fight,” he said.

And when did this start?

“I think back when we played last time,” he continued. “I can’t remember. I don’t know. You know what, I think I copied his dance after I scored, and I think it pissed him off.”

Ochocinco is 6-foot-1, 192 pounds. Merriman is 6-4, 265.

Asked if Merriman would be a tough guy to fight, Ochocinco said: “Tough? Why? That’s not how I look at things. I’ll whoop his ass, right now, like Will Ferrell. Yeah, like in Step Brothers.’”

Merriman sent Ochocino a twitpic of the two players’ faces superimposed over those of actors Ferrell and John C. Reilly in an advertisement for the movie “Step Brothers” with the message “see u sunday.”

“I’m not going to really explain the seriousness of it or where it’s at or how serious it is because we’re a few days away from Sunday,” Merriman said.

What kind of fight would it be?

“It would be a joke, man,” Merriman said. “It’s like a little kid, you hold out your hand and you hold their head and they swing, you know, and they can’t do anything. It’s one of those things.”

Merriman mentioned the 2006 game when Ochocinco did the “Lights Out” dance.

“Coming from him, disrespect,” Merriman said.

The Chargers rallied that day with 42 points in the second half to beat the Bengals 49-41. Ochocinco set a club record with 260 yards and a pair of long touchdowns.

Merriman jokingly wondered if he could play cornerback against Ochocino. The two are sure to meet up sometime on the field.

“I’ll get him at some point,” Merriman said. “It’s going to be a good game all around. I don’t want to make this Ocho’s deal at all because it’s not. He’s just running his mouth, I guess. But because of our position and this opportunity we put ourselves back into, I think it’s going to be a heck of a battle.”

Whatever happens, Merriman said it won’t be serious enough to attract commissioner Roger Goodell’s attention.

“Roger has nothing to worry about in this case. I’ll keep it legal — as possible,” Merriman said.

Earlier this month, Ochocinco was fined $30,000 for briefly donning a mock poncho and a sombrero next to the bench following his touchdown catch during a 23-13 win over the Detroit Lions. That’s $10,000 more than the fine he got for pretending to bribe an official during a game earlier this season.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Playoff Scenarios

Source: SD Tribune

The Chargers clinch their fourth consecutive playoff berth with a victory over (or tie against) the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. Or they could lose and still clinch if one of six other combinations occur (See below).

The Chargers clinch the No.2 seed in the AFC and the bye that comes with it by beating the Bengals and having Denver and New England lose or tie.

To clinch the AFC West, the Chargers need Denver to lose against Oakland, or the Chargers could clinch the west with a combination of a win or tie and a Denver tie.

Here are the clinching scenarios:

Chargers win the West: 1. DEN loss 2. SD win or tie + DEN tie

Chargers clinch the No.2 seed: 1. SD win + DEN loss or tie + NE loss or tie

Chargers clinch a playoff spot: 1. SD win or tie 2. NE loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + MIA loss or tie 3. NE loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie 4. MIA loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie 5. MIA loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie + JAC loss or tie 6. MIA loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + JAC loss or tie 7. NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + JAC loss or tie

The Beloved Charger Nation!


In a poll recently conducted by Sports Illustrated, NFL players were asked which team, other than their own, they’d most like to play for. The Chargers ranked second among the 32 teams as the most desirable team to play for.

With the beaches, sunshine, restaurants, attractions and a winning NFL franchise, San Diego would seem to be the ideal home for a professional football player, and a poll conducted by Sports Illustrated shows that the Chargers are one of the most coveted employers among NFL players.

The magazine recently asked NFL players which team, other than their current team, that they’d most like to play for. The Chargers were the second-most mentioned team, taking 8.5 percent of the votes. Only the Dallas Cowboys (11.1 percent) received more responses.

Chargers players cited many reasons why they think their club is attractive to other players and success on the field was the most frequent factor they cited. Team President Dean Spanos has shown a commitment to winning by consistently making the Chargers one of the highest cash-spending teams in the League and signing key players to long-term contracts.

“In any organization, success starts at the top,” defensive end Luis Castillo said. “The Spanoses are committed to winning and they’ve done the things necessary to help us be successful on the field.”

Since 2004, the Chargers have won 64 games, the third most in the NFL over that period. They’ve won three consecutive AFC West titles and four of the last five, and San Diego has participated in the Divisional round of the playoffs in each of the last three years.

“What we’ve done here the past six years, being a class program, guys want to be a part of that,” wide receiver Vincent Jackson said. “We’ve won a lot of games and we’re a playoff contender every year. I just think we have a real nice aura around us and every player wants to win.”

Linebacker Kevin Burnett, who signed with the Chargers this spring after four years with the Cowboys, cites on-field success as the biggest factor in his decision to come to San Diego.

“They keep winning,” Burnett said. “That’s the most attractive thing. The second thing was that they were giving me an opportunity to play. Those two things should be attractive to any player.”

Style points don’t mean anything on Sundays, but they can reflect how a team is perceived. Since Norv Turner became head coach in 2007, the Chargers have scored the third-most points in the NFL offensively (27 ppg). San Diego is known for its aggressiveness defensively as well with its attacking style. Qarterback Philip Rivers believes players are drawn to the systems.

“On both sides of the ball we have a very fun, exciting, get-after-it scheme,” Rivers said. “Be it a defensive player or offensive player, it’s a very inviting and enjoyable environment to be in. You throw in outside factors like the weather and things, I can see why guys had us on their list of places they’d like to play.”

The Chargers also spoke of the fun personalities that fill their locker room. The players genuinely get along well with each other and enjoy playing together. That’s something that’s discussed with their friends around the league, and it’s something other players want to be a part of.

“You can tell everyone on our team is real close,” offensive tackle Marcus McNeill said. “Guys don’t go home as soon as practice is over. We sit around and talk and play dominoes and stuff. It’s a family atmosphere and I think that’s what you need because when you’re real tight as a team that carries over to the field. San Diego is a great place to play and the Chargers have a lot of great players who are fun to play with.”

Then of course, there’s also that factor that makes San Diego appealing to everyone, not just NFL players, one that is evident by simply stepping out one’s front door.

“Everybody out east and north, they’re practicing in the snow when we’re in 75 and 80 degree weather,” McNeill said. “Where else would you rather be?”

Monday, December 14, 2009

Bolts' Stomp Cowboys, Looking To Playoffs

ARLINGTON, Texas — A goal-line stand near the end of the first half, a long drive near the game’s end and big plays in between put the Chargers on the verge of their fourth straight playoff berth and perhaps more.

“We took care of business here, and now we’re going to get ready,” receiver Vincent Jackson said. “Cincinnati’s our biggest game.”

A 20-17 victory Sunday over the Dallas Cowboys on a day the Denver Broncos and Cincinnati Bengals lost put the Chargers two games up with three to play in the AFC West and also gave them an edge in the race for the No. 2 seed going into next Sunday’s home game against the Bengals.

“We’ve got a big game next week,” defensive end Luis Castillo said. “It’s a really big game with a lot of meaning for the next couple months.”

It was the Chargers’ eighth straight victory this season and 16th consecutive December win dating to 2006.

“Everything just seems to be clicking for us right now,” linebacker Shawne Merriman said. “We hit a stride that we’re continuing.”

Jackson has seven catches for 120 yards, including two of the Chargers’ three crucial long third-down receptions.

Dallas, which tied the game at 10 with an 11-play, 99-yard drive that ended the third quarter, will look back on a missed 42-yard field goal and failure to get in the end zone on three tries from the 1 in the second quarter.

After taking a 17-10 lead and stopping the Cowboys, the Chargers took over at their 11-yard line with 9:13 to play and kept the ball more than seven minutes en route to a field goal that made it 20-10.

The Cowboys scored a touchdown with two seconds to play, but Antonio Gates recovered an onside kick attempt to effectively end the game and keep the Chargers perfect over the past four Decembers.

“Everyone talks about finishing strong,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “You want to peak in December, and we have a history of doing that. We hope to carry that onto January, into 2010.”

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chargers Team Report 12-11-09

Source: USA Today

Riding yet another winning streak, it’s time for the Chargers to Cowboy Up.

The Cowboys are up next for the first-place Chargers, as they tie up their seven-game winning streak to the hitching post outside splashy new Cowboys Stadium.

The Chargers have been living large lately, extending their winning run thanks to playing two of the NFL’s dregs: the Chiefs and Browns.

But that soft stretch of the season is history, with the Cowboys, Bengals and Titan looming in the not-so-distant future.

For the Chargers, they may or may not be playing the right team to notch win No. 8 in a row. But they are playing in the right month, as they have won 15 straight in Santa’s favorite month.

That 2-3 start is oh-so-history with the team leaning toward the tape at 9-3, and a game ahead of the Broncos in the AFC West.

“We seem to finish strong,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. “We’ve talked about it and really made it one of our mottos. I think that has a lot to do with our mind-sets in December. We want to play our best football in December going into January. This team is a real focused team and we have a knack for really taking it one game at a time and taking that idea to heart. We’ve done that.”

Now, can they do it against Dallas, a team, like the Chargers, that isn’t shy about reaching the end zone or getting after quarterbacks with its aggressive defense.

Tomlinson said it’s more than offensive and defensive weapons which have the Chargers in the driver’s seat for their fourth straight AFC West title. That mojo, which was harder to find than a snowball in San Diego earlier this season, is tagging along for the ride to the Lone Star State.

“It comes with our confidence,” Tomlinson said. “We believe that when the clock shows all zeros, that we will have had made enough plays to win the game.

“At the same time, going into the game, we identify who can beat us, how can we lose this game, and then we focus on that and the game plan and execute. The past seven weeks, we’ve been able to do that.”

Thanks, in part, to the fine play of quarterback Philip Rivers.

Rivers doesn’t quite get the headlines that Sunday’s counterpart, Tony Romo, does, but he is every bit as good — and many think better.

Especially in December, a month in which Rivers has never lost an NFL game.

“I think it says a lot about our team for one,” Rivers said. “We’ve had the focus and the attitude that you need down the stretch that it takes to make a run at it.

“The last few years we’ve been hot in November and December and this year we have a tough one. Now we are going to Dallas, another tough team in that NFC East division, so hopefully we can keep it going.”

Like Tomlinson, Rivers said the Chargers’ winning ways is like an avalanche picking up speed when thundering downhill. The more the Chargers are successful, the more their belief in each other grows.

“There’s no doubt that it’s contagious,” Rivers said. “Just like when you lose and you keep losing, it keeps getting harder and harder to win. When you win, it doesn’t get easier to win, but your confidence and your level of play seems to rise each week.

“I don’t really think there is a danger in it other than when people get caught up in it and start talking about the postseason and where we stand. As long as we don’t let that talk get in our way, I think we’ll be fine.

“There’s no denying that the talk is out there but if we can keep the boring one game at a time approach that we’ve had, we can keep this streak going.”

Boring, maybe. But there is nothing dull about watching the Chargers steamroll one defense after another. And there’s nothing ho-hum about building momentum for what they hope is a deep run in the playoffs.

But the Chargers also know the Cowboys have their own quarterback to get excited about. And with the Cowboys smarting from Sunday’s loss to the Giants, they are in desperation mode.

“He obviously can make all the throws; he’s having an outstanding year,” Turner said of Romo. “The thing that jumps out to you is that he’s such a good athlete, he creates plays with this athletic ability. You have to do a great job of containing him. He’s going to break contain because he does every game. Once he does, you have to do a great job of picking up the receivers and covering because he makes big plays with his athletic ability.”

The Chargers have been picking up their game since falling to the Broncos way back on Oct. 19. But they’ve got their horse headed in the right direction, with plenty of hay (nine wins) already in the barn.

But the Chargers are looking for No. 10, and they will have to master a sour Cowboys team to do it.

SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Cowboys lead series 6-2. The last time the Chargers were in Dallas, it was the first game back after the 9/11 attacks. The Chargers won, 32-21. The Cowboys came to San Diego last in 2005, when the Cowboys pulled out a 28-24 victory on opening day.


—DT Ogemdi Nwagbuo was placed on IR with an ankle injury. Nwagbuo’s absence leaves a void in the interior line rotation which had worked well for the Chargers since Jamal Williams was lost of the season in the opener. The team filled his roster spot by adding Antonio Garay, a defensive lineman from the Jets’ practice squad. Garay, a four-year pro, played for Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera when both were in Chicago.

—RB LaDainian Tomlinson is looking forward to heading to Dallas while recalling the Chargers’ last trip. The Chargers prevailed, but Tomlinson lost a couple of diamond earrings during the game — about a $25,000 hit.

“I remember it pretty vividly,” he said. “Obviously losing my earrings was one thing that sticks in my mind. I’ll never forget that. I remember us winning and talking to Emmitt Smith before the game. I remember being emotional before the game, having my family there and running out in Texas Stadium where I had visited a couple of times before and also watched many Dallas Cowboys games on television growing up. So it was a pretty emotional day for me.”

—This time last year the Chargers were 4-8 and Tomlinson was grumpy with the way the season was playing out. This year, the Chargers are rolling and Tomlinson is having as much fun as he has had in a while.

Does coach Norv Turner agree with that assessment?

“I don’t know because two years ago he led the league in rushing and people kind of forget that,” Turner said. “Last year he missed a substantial amount of time and had 1,200 yards and people act like that was a down year. I think he’s enjoying the fact that things are spread around. We aren’t wearing him out.

“Really, what we’re doing, in the first half of our games he’s playing — first half to maybe to the middle of the third quarter — he’s playing the game like it’s a normal game. That’s why his numbers are down. If he’s playing and getting 25 carries, I’m not sure that his numbers would be a lot different. When you don’t get the number of opportunities, you don’t get the number of opportunities to make the big play, the big run. (Darren) Sproles is getting some of those opportunities, which is helping us. I think LT knows that we have a good football team and that we’re getting better and we have a chance to continue to have success over the next couple months.”

—During the Chargers’ seven-game winning streak, they have outscored their rivals 52-7 in the first quarter.

—Count QB Philip Rivers among those anxious to see the Cowboys’ new palace.

“It’s a new stadium and I’m sure it will be something to see,” he said. “Anytime you are going on the road and playing against a championship-caliber team and a storied franchise like the Cowboys it’s exciting. It’s going to be fun. I’m expecting a playoff-type atmosphere. It’s why you play the game.”

—OLB Shawne Merriman speaks for the majority of Chargers defensive players when asked about their former coordinator, Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips.

“I love Wade,” Merriman said. “Love and respect.”

—Rivers isn’t sure how much of an advantage it is to face Phillips’ defense, one that he knows from when Phillips was in San Diego.

“The schemes are very similar in many ways; Wade was here for a handful of years,” Rivers said. “At the same time, there’s a similarity from the offensive side. Dallas runs a similar scheme offensively that we run so both teams will have a pretty good feel for one another. It’s all about going out there and executing and playing at a high level. This game is important to both teams and it will be a big one.”

—With LT Marcus McNeill ailing, veteran Jon Runyan could see some more playing time Sunday. He was in for about 10 snaps against the Browns, playing on the right side. Turner said he was pleased with what he saw as Runyan made his Chargers debut.

“He did fine,” Turner said. “I’m excited that we got Jon and I think he’s going to help us as we go through the next month. He’s a talented guy in terms of he’s got awfully long arms, he’s physically talented and he knows how to use them. His experience is outstanding.”

—The Chargers are doing a good job of keeping their eye on the prize on a weekly basis.

“I don’t even know who we have after Dallas, honestly,” Merriman said. “That’s how week-to-week we’re taking it. It’s really from week to week. One game is not bigger than the next. It’s cliche, but we’ve done a great job of taking it one game at a time and that’s what we’ll continue to do.”

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 — Number of sacks allowed in last three games by the Chargers.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s going to be a pretty emotional day for me because you look at your career and the last time I was there, I was a rookie. Now I’m in my ninth year and the schedule says that I might not play there ever again so it will be special for me.” — RB LaDainian Tomlinson on returning to the Dallas area Sunday, not far from where he grew up.


The Chargers could very likely turn to their kids again Sunday, with numerous injuries — especially on the defense — forcing changes.

Look for Paul Oliver to start again at safety in place of Eric Weddle. But Oliver will be part of a rotation which will include Steve Gregory as well. Gregory will stay in the slot in the nickel package, where he has played well.

Rookie linebacker Larry English could be in the spotlight again if Shawne Merriman can’t go. And even if Merriman starts, he will be used cautiously as the Chargers try not to aggravate his foot injury with the playoffs looming.

That means even if English doesn’t start, he will see plenty of action and his play will be a key if the Cowboys, as expected, start flinging the ball around.

If the Chargers are to slow the high-flying Cowboys offense, those not very long in the tooth will have to play well.


—TE Antonio Gates is on pace for one of the better seasons of his remarkable career. He needs 296 receiving yards over the final four games to break ex-Charger Kellen Winslow’s tight ends record of 1,290 yards, set in 1980.

—QB Philip Rivers has thrown only six interceptions all season — with 21 touchdowns. For the second time this season, he has gone four games without an interception.

—RB LaDainian Tomlinson needs one more touchdown to extend his NFL-record streak of 10-touchdown seasons to nine — every year of his career.

—RB Mike Tolbert was the unlikely source of a 50-yard-plus passing play when he went 66 yards for a touchdown reception in Sunday’s win over the Browns. But the Chargers are making a habit of big plays, as they have nine receptions of 50 yards or more this season, which ties the Eagles for the league lead.

—OLB Shaun Phillips doesn’t get the publicity as teammate Shawne Merriman, but maybe he should. Phillips leads the Chargers with seven sacks and is tied for the league-lead with a career-best six forced fumbles.

GAME PLAN: Stay in the air.

If the Cowboys want to get into a shootout with the Chargers, have at it. The Chargers’ running game still isn’t where it should be, so their best approach to get after the Cowboys is to use their oversized wide receivers and lean on Antonio Gates — who is playing out of his mind — on the underneath stuff.

Yes, the Chargers need to get their running game on track at some point. But in this battle, with the Cowboys eager to show their offense takes a backseat to few teams, they figure to get after the Chargers secondary, which is missing a starter.

If so, the Chargers need to throw to keep pace — luckily for them, that is one of the things they do best.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers run defense vs. Cowboys RBs Marion Barber and Felix Jones. The Chargers got punched in the mouth for 115 yards last week, and that was with the Browns missing Jamaal Lewis. And the Chargers could be banged up along the line again this week, with Luis Castillo and Alfonso Boone ailing. The Chargers are giving up nearly 118 yards per game and they figure to get plenty of running plays thrown at them Sunday. The Cowboys, rightly so, figure the best way to keep the ball away from the high-powered Chargers offense is to run the ball and eat the clock. In Barber, they have someone averaging 4.4 yards a carry, which is impressive; even more impressive is Jones checking in at 6.4 yards per carry, which includes a 56-yarder. In three of the Cowboys’ games this year, he has averaged more than 9.5 yards per carry.

Chargers pass coverage vs. Cowboys TE Jason Witten. For years the Chargers have made opposing tight ends famous — last week was no exception. Ever hear of Evan Moore? Didn’t think so, but despite playing in his first NFL game last week, the Browns tight end went for 80 yards on six catches. The Chargers will again be without safety Eric Weddle (ankle) and there is a chance OLB Shawne Merriman and DE Luis Castillo could be down. That could open the middle of the field considerably for Witten, who is coming off a sensational game. The Pro Bowler caught 14 passes for a career-high 156 yards in the loss to the Giants. With the Chargers’ consistent trouble in tracking tight ends, Witten could be in for a giant game again.

Chargers OLB Shaun Phillips vs. Cowboys OT Doug Free. Phillips has been on a tear of late, which is a tad surprising in that Shawne Merriman has played in only a handful of plays the last two games. Phillips helped turned the tide last week when he stripped Brady Quinn of the football, which was recovered by the Chargers. Free, who is filling in for starter Marco Colombo, figures to have his hands full with Phillips. Free is considered a better pass-blocker than a road-paver, and he’ll get a chance to prove that against Phillips.

INJURY IMPACT: LG Kris Dielman missed practice Wednesday because of a personal reason – he’s expected to play Sunday.

—DE Travis Johnson (groin) didn’t practice, as is his custom. He will play Sunday.

—WR Legedu Naanee (foot) didn’t practice and his status for Sunday is in doubt.

—C Nick Hardwick (ankle) didn’t work and will not play Sunday.

—OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) was a limited participant and he will play — but for how long is the question.

—DT Alfonso Boone (knee) was out and he could be down this week.

—S Eric Weddle (knee) is out for at least one more week.

—DE Luis Castillo (calf) practiced and is a go for Sunday after missing last week.

—LT Marcus McNeill (ankle) practiced and said he’s good for Sunday.

—OLB Shaun Phillips (calf), as is his custom, didn’t work but will play Sunday.

—CB Quentin Jammer (toe) worked and is fine.

—P Mike Scifres (groin) did all his work and is a go for Sunday.

Stadium Watch: SAN DIEGO (AP)—The San Diego Chargers said Thursday they probably need public money to build a new stadium on a downtown site just east of Petco Park.

The team has said since 2002 that it wants to finance stadium construction privately, although they have sought a piece of public land to develop and help pay for the stadium.

Previous sites under consideration would have accommodated both a stadium and a related development project, the profits from which would help pay for the costs of the stadium.

Chargers attorney Mark Fabiani said Thursday that because the downtown site is just bigger than 10 acres, it would accommodate just the stadium and no related development to help pay for the stadium.

That would require other sources of funding, in addition to $200 million from the Chargers and a hoped-for $100 million loan from the NFL, Fabiani said.

Fabiani said the team, which plays at aging Qualcomm Stadium in Mission Valley, wants to put any stadium measure onto a public ballot.

Fabiani said it’s too soon to say what other funding sources may be available. A redevelopment agency is sponsoring a financing study.

“Nonetheless, we believe it is important for everyone to understand that the downtown site might require some sort of taxpayer subsidy,” Fabiani said.

Such a subsidy would only be possible if voters agree that an investment downtown will result in significant returns for taxpayers elsewhere, he said. The city could save the $300 million or more taxpayers will pay through 2020 to maintain the Qualcomm Stadium, Fabiani said, and the city could sell, lease or otherwise generate hundreds of millions of dollars of revenue from the 166-acre Qualcomm site.