Source: USA Today
It's hard to tell what the Chargers are more pleased with: being 4-1 or heading into a week off.
The Chargers hit their bye in first place in the AFC West. They've won four of their first five for the first time under coach Norv Turner.
Not since Marty Schottenheimer was barking orders in 2006 have the Chargers begun in such a manner. That year, Schottenheimer's last in San Diego, the Chargers finished 14-2 before a dramatic collapse in the playoffs.
This year, the Chargers feel as if their foundation is good and that they are only going to get stronger as a team.
Coach Norv Turner said Monday that he expects to have a full team on Oct. 23 when the Chargers resume their schedule with a road game against the New York Jets.
The Chargers were thankful for their 29-24 win over the Broncos on Sunday, but the flight home brought with it a long injury list.
Running backs Ryan Mathews (wrist, calf) and Mike Tolbert (concussion) were unable to finish the game. Wide receiver Vincent Jackson (hamstring) was compromised. Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates (foot) didn't even suit up. Even so, the Chargers found a way to win.
Turner was cautiously optimistic that the injured players would all trot onto the Met Life Stadium field to battle the Jets.
The biggest surprise might be that Gates is going to try to play again. He hasn't practiced or played since Sept. 18.
The Chargers basically shut Gates down after he tore scar tissue from his plantar fasciitis injury. The plan was to get him to the bye week, then try again.
That they were able to do that, and win four of five, has the Chargers feeling pretty good.
Being in first place does that. But so does a bye week that, with one look around the Chargers' training room, appears to have came at an appropriate time.
—Quarterback Philip Rivers isn't thrilled with his play, but he's not complaining about his team's record. "Well, it's going to all come together at some point," said Rivers, who has nine turnovers (seven interceptions) and six touchdown passes. "Honestly, I know I keep saying it, but we're 4-1. That was the only goal we had coming (to Denver). I think if you told us September 11 you'll be 4-1 at the bye, we'd say, 'We'll be 5-0, we're going to try and be 5-0.' But we've won four of five."
—With more wins comes more confidence, and when the tough sledding starts after the team returns from the bye, that increased belief should serve the Chargers well. "I think everyone on this team believes in each other," fullback Jacob Hester said. "We don't care if we're pretty or not, we're 4-1."
Hester made sure of that by contributing a career-high 47 yards on 11 carries at Denver. He was switched to running back during the game, after injuries to Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert.
—Among the Chargers' shortcomings has been their lack of success in the red zone. That showed again Sunday when the team scored but one touchdown in four red-zone trips. The Chargers are among the worst in the league inside the opponents' 20, producing touchdowns only 40.9 percent of the time.
"I'd like to get touchdowns, but we seem to have that one bad play that takes us out of that position," coach Norv Turner said after San Diego settled for three field goals against the Broncos. "That will be a major emphasis for us over this next week."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—WR Patrick Crayton continues to give the punt return game a boost since returning to action two games ago. Crayton, the team's No. 3 receiver, had a long of 29 yards Sunday.
—DE Luis Castillo isn't going to return until at least November. Castillo is out with a broken leg.
—ILB Donald Butler continues to be one of the steadier players on defense. Not only did the first-year starter have his first NFL interception Sunday, but he also had four tackles and one other pass defensed.
—K Nick Novak has been amazing since replacing Pro Bowler Nate Kaeding, who was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener. Novak has hit all 11 of his field-goal attempts, including four Sunday. Novak's kicking is critical considering how much trouble the Chargers have had scoring touchdowns in the red zone.
—DE Jacques Cesaire could return to game action on Oct. 23. Cesaire, who plays a significant amount of snaps as a backup, has been out with a knee injury.
—OLB Larry English remains a backup, as he couldn't build on his two-sack game leading up to the Denver game. English did have two tackles, but he didn't get any sacks or quarterback hits. Travis LaBoy remains the starter.
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: C-minus — Philip Rivers threw for a touchdown and ran for another — that's worth something. But he remained a turnover machine, losing an interception and a fumble, as ball security continues to be an issue. The pass protection was shaky at time, allowing a season-high five sacks. Rivers spread it around to eight receivers. Malcom Floyd had 100 receiving yards and a score on just three catches.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B — Ryan Mathews was among those dinged up, but he collected a career-high 125 rushing yards. Mike Tolbert suffered a concussion, but not before getting 47 yards on 11 carries. The team went for a season-high 206 yards, so the run blocking was keen.
PASS DEFENSE: B — The secondary helped force a bad game from Kyle Orton, which prompted the Broncos to go with Tim Tebow. Neither quarterback did anything of note through the air. ILB Donald Butler had an interception, and Eric Weddle dropped one.
RUSH DEFENSE: C — Willis McGahee had 125 yards, and Denver ran for an average of 7 yards. But Tebow got 38 of the team's 162 yards with the Chargers in the prevent defense, giving him plenty of room to run. That said, McGahee shed some tackles and left people behind in a manner that isn't encouraging.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A — Good think Nick Novak made the team bus, as his four field goals — one a career long of 51 yards — were the difference in the game. The Chargers' kick coverage was shaky at times. Patrick Crayton continues to look good returning punts.
COACHING: A — Norv Turner won in a tough place to play, especially against such a desperate opponent. Turner had to tweak the lineup, especially his offense, on the fly with so many injuries. Again, his offensive balance was on the mark, but his quarterback has to take better care of the ball. Defensively, the Chargers were going to make Orton and/or Tebow beat them with their arms, and neither one was successful in that endeavor.