Sitting at home over their bye week the Chargers knew they faced a daunting task ahead of them in the second half of the season. Coming off three consecutive losses was painfully humbling – especially being pummeled by the Dolphins 37-0. And although their 13-6 victory over the Raiders raised their record to 6-4 and kept their playoff hopes alive, questions surrounding Philip Rivers’ injured ribs and the inability of his offensive line to protect him dominated sports talk in San Diego leading up to the Rams game.
“How can this line protect Rivers against the dominating Rams pass rush?”
“Bring in Richie Incognito!”
“Shuffle-up the line – move (D.J.) Fluker to guard and Willie Smith to tackle.”
“The Chargers will be lucky to win two out of their last six games!”
“The best ability is availability and Telesco’s draft picks (Manti Te’o, Jason Verrett, Jerry Attaochu and Steve Williams) are unavailable because of injury – he needs to draft better.”
Those were just a few of the topics Chargers fans were clamoring about after the unimpressive victory over the Raiders. After all, how could the Chargers beat a Rams team that just dominated the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos 22-7 – the same Broncos team that beat the Chargers 35-21 on a nationally televised Thursday Night game just a month earlier?
Confidence, determination and playing together as a team – that’s how.
That the Chargers were able to beat the Rams shouldn’t be that much of a surprise. Just when you seem to count this team out over the past few years they suck it up and go on a late season run that is all too familiar.
Whether they can do it again this year against this schedule remains to be seen. But don’t count them out just yet because the Chargers have three x-factors in their corner – quarterback Philip Rivers, the healthy return of a few impact players and the proverbial ‘On any given Sunday any team can be beaten.’
The numbers don’t lie –
Since Rivers became the starting quarterback in 2006, the Chargers sport a record of 38-10 over the last six games of the season (best in the NFL). The Chargers have gone undefeated three times over that span and never finished worse than 3-3 (Per the Union Tribune’s Kevin Acee).
Playing in his second game since missing seven straight games with a knee injury, Ryan Mathews’ impact on the team cannot be understated. He rushed 16 times for 70 yards (4.4 avg.) with a long of 20 against the Raiders and rushed 12 times for 105 yards (8.8 avg.) with a long of 32 for a touchdown in their win over the Rams.
As daunting as the schedule ahead appears, before you count the Chargers out of the playoff race take a look at a few of the losses their upcoming opponents have suffered:
The 9-2 Patriots were destroyed in front of a national televised audience by the Chiefs 42-17; the 8-3 Broncos were beaten by the Rams 22-7; the 7-4 49ers lost to the Rams (13-10) and the 7-4 Chiefs lost to the Raiders 24-20 last Thursday night.
Remaining schedules of possible wild card teams –
Chargers (7-4): @Ravens, Patriots, Broncos, @49ers, @Chiefs.
Ravens (7-4): San Diego, @Miami, Jacksonville, @Houston, and Cleveland.
Chiefs (7-4): Denver, @Arizona, Oakland, @Pittsburgh, San Diego.
Browns (7-4): @Buffalo, Indianapolis, Cincinnati, @Carolina, and @Baltimore.
Steelers (7-4); New Orleans, @Cincinnati, @Atlanta, Kansas City, Cincinnati.
Dolphins (6-5): @NY Jets, Baltimore, @New England, Minnesota, NY Jets.
As we go to print the Chargers are in control of their own destiny – at 7-4 they would be the sixth and final seed if the playoffs started this weekend. If they can win three out of their final five games to finish the regular season 10-6, that should get them back into the playoffs.
With their 27-24 win over the Rams Sunday, the Chargers are tied with the Chiefs for second place in the AFC West. The win also raised Rivers’ career-record in the last six games of the season to 39-10. Since Mathews’ return, the Chargers have produced their second – and third-highest rush-yardage totals of the season (Per the Union Tribunes Tom Krasovic. Playing in all 16 games in 2013, Mathews rushed for an NFL-leading 534 yards during the month of December – surpassing 100 yards in three of the last four games. In the only game over that span where he didn’t top 100 yards, he gained 99 yards in a win over the Oakland Raiders. Mathews finished the 2013 season with a career-high 285 carries and 1,255 yards rushing and was voted the Chargers’ Offensive Player of the Year. Making his first career NFL start at center, rookie Chris Watt became the Chargers’ fourth starting center this year. A third-round pick out of Notre Dame, Watt brings a much-needed nastiness that the offensive line has needed since guard Kris Dielman retired.