Source: USA Today
They still believe, or at least that's what they are saying.
The Chargers' fortitude is being challenged as they take a four-game skid into Chicago on Sunday, facing a Bears team that is playing their best ball of the season.
But the Chargers can't be too concerned with what is on the other side of the ball. They have enough woes - real and imagined - on their side to decline diving into the Bears too heavily.
It's fairly simple: the Chargers need a win in the worst way over the favored Bears.
"In this league, it's any given Sunday," said inside linebacker Takeo Spikes.
It's a cliche, and one we are reluctant to use. But that's what the Chargers are staring at in trying to find a boost anywhere they can locate one.
Soldier Field isn't a spot that will breed much confidence. The Bears are playing with a nasty persona and the Chargers typically fall flat against physical teams, especially on the road.
"You see teams get up week in and week out," Spikes said. "That is why you play the game, regardless of what happened last week or the last two weeks. I still like our chances."
Chances are this is nearly a do-or-die proposition for the Chargers, even if they are but one game off the AFC West lead. If the Chargers fall and the Raiders prevail in Minnesota, the Chargers would be two out with six to play, with one of those losses coming to the Raiders.
But a win keeps them in contact and just maybe, a share of first place.
It can change oh-so-fast and don't the Chargers know that. Was it really that long ago they had stiff-armed their typical slow start by breaking from the gate at 4-1?
"You're going to have adversity and it's just how you handle it," running back Ryan Mathews said. "You got to get after it and keep driving."
This season took a wrong turn on Oct. 23 and it's been nothing but a rough patch of road since. Now the Chargers must win on the road, where they have done so but once in four attempts this year.
"Everyone is still confident," Mathews said. "And there is still a lot of the season left."
But if the Chargers don't get right starting Sunday, all that might be left is a string of meaningless games.
But there aren't irrelevant yet, and if it's up to Rivers, they won't be after Sunday.
"As tough as it's been, it's wide open," Rivers said of the battle for first-place in the AFC West. "It's a rough time in the win-loss column the last few weeks and rough in other ways as well, but we've got to battle through it.
"We keep talking about getting on a roll, but we've just got to win a football game. It's been a long time, Oct. 9, since we've won. We need to go win a game."
And it needs to come in one tough place, Solider Field in Chicago.
SERIES HISTORY: 11th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 5-5, with the Bears winning four of the past five matchups. Strangely, Chargers coach Norv Turner, in his other NFL head-coaching stops, is 4-0 against the Bears. The last time the Chargers were in Solider Field was in 2003, and not only did they lose, 20-7, but the game was noted for a quarterback controversy when starter Drew Brees was benched in favor of backup Doug Flutie. After the game, outspoken Chargers defensive end Marcellus Wiley ripped the Chargers for not going to Flutie sooner.
—QB Philip Rivers is having a down year (an NFL-high 15 interceptions) but he is approaching some pretty significant milestones on Sunday. Rivers needs one touchdown pass to become the third player in Chargers history with 150 career touchdowns, joining Dan Fouts (254) and John Hadl (201). Rivers (2,743) needs 257 passing yards to reach 3,000 for a sixth consecutive season and he's shooting for his 60th win as starting QB (59-30, .663).
—No matter what the NFL throws at the Chargers in the season's second half, it can't match that 11-day, three-game swing the team just completed. The Chargers lost all three games to accelerate their four-game losing streak. "That schedule was grueling," coach Norv Turner said. "It does take a toll. I think having the three days off for the players was important physically and mentally. And now we have a seven-game schedule."
—ILB Takeo Spikes said it's no secret how to slow down the Bears: make sure RB Matt Forte feels the heat. "If you can't stop the run you don't have to worry about stopping the pass," Spikes said. "We got to worry about the run. Something like 45 percent of their plays go through Forte and that is unbelievable for a running back. So you know what they are going to do and the question is can you stop it? That is the challenge of it."
—RB Ryan Mathews has been nicked with various injuries, but said he is fine going into Sunday's game. Mathews will be playing without one of his closer friends on the team, when LG Kris Dielman was placed on IR with a concussion. "He cares so much about the game and works so hard at it," Mathews said. "We just have to pick it up and keep working and know that he is right there with us."
—NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, in town last week for a fund-raising dinner, met with San Diego Major Jerry Sanders on the prospect of building a downtown sports and entertainment complex which would include a new Chargers stadium. Construction funding, of course, remains to be the biggest obstacle to erecting such a venue. The Chargers have been clear they will need tax monies to help pay for it, a difficult sell in tax-averse San Diego.
—WR Vincent Jackson hasn't been available to the media since giving a questionable effort on a Rivers pass that was intercepted in the waning moments of the team's loss to the Raiders. "I was looking for it but I never saw it go up," Jackson said. "Usually you can see the ball at least go up in air and try to track it. There was a little confusion there; I just didn't see it."
—Rivers got pounced on in the Raiders game, absorbing a season-high six sacks. Some of the protection problems came with three backups being inserted into the offensive line because of injuries. Rivers expects a better showing from the next-man-up-crew on Sunday. "I think (this week) allows some of these guys that had to get thrown in there all the sudden, they get to practice all week in case they're called on again," he said.
BY THE NUMBERS: 4 - Chargers victories in their last 12 road games. They play at Chicago on Sunday.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got the best leadership we've had since I've been here. We need to play better. Every guy needs to take care of their own job and responsibility." - Coach Norv Turner on how the free-falling Chargers can get back on track.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers have to be hopeful their depth and the signing of a street free agent will get them through their game with the Bears.
The Bears' defense will be pointed toward quarterback Philip Rivers and it's a question just who'll be in their way.
The Chargers ended the last game against the Raiders with three opening-day starters - two of the Pro Bowl variety - on the sidelines. Pro Bowl left tackle Marcus McNeill suffered his second neck injury this season; right guard Louis Vasquez sustained an ankle injury which forced him from the game. Already, the Chargers were down Pro Bowl right guard Kris Dielman with a concussion.
The team added veteran offensive lineman Tony Moll this week and he could be thrust into action. The injury bug has not only hit the Chargers' starters, but valuable backup Scott Mruczkowski has also been ailing.
—LT Brandyn Dombrowski would start in place of Pro Bowl LT Marcus McNeill if he is unable to go with a neck injury. Dombrowski filled in when McNeill went down against the Raiders and it was a disaster.
—WR Vincent Brown's play has been among the few highlights for the Chargers during their four-game skid. Brown set career highs last week with five catches for 97 yards and added his first NFL touchdown. With Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd being compromised by injuries, Brown should see more playing time.
—OL Tony Moll, a street free agent, was signed for depth as the team is becoming woefully thin along the line with numerous injuries. Moll last played for the Jaguars in training camp; he has appeared in 60 NFL games with the Packers and Ravens.
—Rookie ILB Donald Butler would move over to Takeo Spikes' spot if Spikes can't go with a concussion.
—OLB Darryl Gamble, a summer sensation with his stellar play during the preseason games, has been released. Gamble could be back, though, on the team's practice squad.
—LG Kris Dielman (concussion) was placed on IR and is lost for the season.
—ILB Takeo Spikes (concussion) was able to practice on Wednesday and is a go for Sunday.
—WR Malcom Floyd (hip) didn't practice again and it appears he is out at least one more week.
—OLB Shaun Phillips (foot) didn't work and the plans to have him return for this game seem to be on hold.
—RG Louis Vasquez (ankle) was out and isn't expected to play this week. He could test his injury out later in the week, but there is not a lot of optimism about his availability.
—OL Tyronne Green (hand) didn't practice and Turner wasn't real upbeat about his chances on going Sunday.
—CB Marcus Gilchrist (hamstring) didn't practice for the second time this week and would appear doubtful for Sunday.
—DT Antonio Garay (hip) didn't practice but it sounds as if he can go Sunday.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) is expected to be out for another two-to-three weeks.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers love the long ball and when you have a quarterback like Rivers and receivers like Jackson and Floyd, heaving it down field is among the best things the Chargers do.
But not this week, please.
With up to three offensive linemen starters possibly missing the game, Rivers isn't going to have time for the double moves to develop or have much time for someone to wiggle to get open.
After getting sacked six times last week and now facing a Bears defense which can get after the quarterback from every level, it's no time to stand tall and long in the pocket.
Instead the Chargers will try to establish a running game, even if that means throwing many swing passes to serve the purpose. Running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are both healthy, and the Chargers should take advantage of that rare occurrence by leaning in them with a purpose.
Plus Antonio Gates, while not his old self, has continued to practice and hone his timing with Rivers. He could be targeted with regularity considering how fast Rivers will likely have to get rid of the football.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers leaky pass protection, with a makeshift line vs. the Bears' pass rush, which is playing at an optimum level. The Chargers are hurting along the offensive line with as many as three opening day starters possibly out for Sunday. In a sneak preview of what might be in store Sunday, Philip Rivers was sacked a season-high six times last week in the loss to the Raiders. Backup LT Brandyn Dombrowski, in particular, was overmatched as he allowed four sacks to Kamerion Wimbley. Now here come the Bears, with a revved Julius Peppers, exploiting holes up and down the line; and a blitzing linebacking crew which features Brain Urlacher. Throw in the Soldier Field crowd noise which could make setting blocks quickly a chore, and Rivers could be in for a long day. It's essential the Chargers give their tackles some help with tight ends or keep backs in to chip. Rivers can't take another beating like the one he absorbed the last game.
Chargers special teams, especially the coverage units vs. Bears special teams which feature the electrifying Devin Hester. On the surface, the Chargers special teams isn't as bad as it was last year - although that's not saying much considering what a disaster those teams were. The Chargers gave up a touchdown on the opening-season kickoff and fans still hold their breath when they kick or punt a football. And with the Chargers sustaining so many injuries to their linebackers, it is challenging the depth in the special teams. Hester is coming off a game in which he returned a punt 82 yards for a touchdown last week, giving him 12 in his career and 17 overall in the regular season when including kickoffs.
Chargers run defense, which could be missing ILB Takeo Spikes, vs. the Bears running game behind a productive Matt Forte. The Chargers have struggled against physical runners all season and now they could be hampered by Spikes, if he plays, being at less than 100 percent after suffering a concussion. The Chargers' front is winning few battles and the linebackers are taking the brunt of the abuse by trying to square up backs running down hill. Michael Bush looked like Earl Campbell in shredding the Chargers last week with the best game of his career. Now it's Forte's turn to aim at this porous defense; Forte's 1,308 yards from the scrimmage leads the NFL. Considering the Chargers' inexperience along the defensive line and a linebacking crew that is ailing, Forte could be in store for big day.