Source: Associated Press
The last-place Chargers limp into maybe the only city to face a team reeling more than them: hello, Jacksonville Jaguars.
It's a Monday night game that has all the bells and whistles that comes with being the only game being played in prime time.
But neither of these teams are worthy of gracing a marquee. The Chargers (4-6) stagger in hoisting a six-game losing streak to battle a franchise that just found a new owner and is looking for a new coach.
It's likely the Chargers will be in the same boat regarding the latter. Last Sunday's overtime loss to the Broncos came with the sense that coach Norv Turner won't be coming back for a sixth season.
But first there is this year, and funny as it sounds, the Chargers are still alive. Although in trailing the first-place Raiders by three games with five to play, even the most die-hard Bolts believer is having a hard time keeping the faith.
It's easy to see why as this disappointing season chugs along, with the Chargers looking worse, not better, with every single loss.
Playoffs? Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers will leave that video nugget to former Colts coach Jim Mora.
"I could give you the famous playoffs sound bite we all know," Rivers said. "We're just trying to win a game."
It seemed like the Chargers picked the right rival, with the Jaguars sitting at 3-8 and losing three of their previous four games.
But nothing is a slam dunk for the Chargers, especially considering how tough the Jaguars defense can be and what a chore it is for any team - especially one with an ineffective run defense like the Chargers - to stop Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Chargers though can't be concerned with who they play or where. They just need to erase this terrible funk that has followed them since they beat the Broncos way back on Oct. 9. "We have to just find a way to get out of it," safety Eric Weddle said. "Going through struggles like this shows true character of who you are and what you're about during tough times."
In some ways, maybe the Chargers relish a trip away from San Diego - and how strange does that sound.
But America's Finest City is filled with disgruntled fans beating the drum about firing Turner, canning general manager A. J. Smith and wondering what is taking team president Dean Spanos so long to clean house.
But first they must clean up this season, which still shows five games. The players are smart enough to know how they finish might determine if they are invited back - regardless of who the coach or general manager might be.
"You have to keep plugging away," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "At some point, you get a win and hope it can jump-start a run. Our main focus is on the next game."
In a season which turned fuzzy nearly two months ago.
SERIES HISTORY: 5th regular-season meeting. Series tied, 2-2, with each squad producing victories when the games are played at its home venues. The Chargers breezed past the Jaguars last year at Qualcomm Stadium 38-13, as the Chargers' offense piled up nearly 500 yards from scrimmage. The last time the Chargers were in north Florida in 2007, they fell to the Jaguars, 24-17.
—Veteran DE Tommie Harris doesn't want to hear his teammates play the pity card as this season slips away. "You're a man and are paid for this profession and to come to work and that's the end of the story," Harris said. "It's not about crying and making excuses, it's about getting up in the morning and going to work and getting ready for the next week."
—With the Chargers battered offensive line, coach Norv Turner said it hampers what he can and can't call from the playbook. "There's no question you're going to call the game different," he said. "You're not going to put a guy in a difficult situation. We're trying not to expose him. You're trying to protect him. You're trying to create some opportunities along the way."
—OLB Shaun Phillips said the players, despite the heat being turned up on Turner, can't doubt him. "The moment we start to not support him, we failed ourselves and failed him," he said.
—RB Ryan Mathews has three 100-yard rushing games in his career but is looking for his first against Jacksonville, or any other team not named Denver. Mathews believes he can build off his career-best 137-yard showing from last week. "It's funny how it happens and everything but I can't just turn it on some games like that," he said. "I know what I did helped me out a lot and I'm going to keep working on it and keep doing what I'm doing."
—Ever wonder if those time outs before a kicker fires away work? Even the kickers know it is coming. "I just went through my normal routine to try and kick that ball before the refs stopped play to get a practice kick in," said kicker Nick Novak, who would fail on his game-winner from 53 yards. "I expected to make it."
—CB Quentin Jammer has been around enough to know that without takeaways, it's tough to win in the NFL. "I play defense; I can't speak for the offense," he said. "I'll just speak for what I think the obvious problem is: we just need to find it within ourselves to create turnovers." The Chargers have but 14 on the season and are a minus-10 in the turnover ratio.
—The Chargers were routinely one of the NFL's most potent offenses. But in their last three games, they haven't eclipsed the 20-point mark. Only four times in the last 11 games has the Jaguars' defense allowed a rival to reach 20 points.
BY THE NUMBERS: 1 - Number of road games the Chargers won this season, and it came nearly two months ago in Denver.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "I think he's playing under a lot more pressure than he ever has." — Coach Norv Turner on the Chargers' leaky pass protection being among the reasons QB Philip Rivers is suffering through his worst season as a pro.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
The Chargers saw another offensive line starter go to IR this week with LT Marcus McNeill ending his season with a neck injury. LG Kris Dielman is also out for the year with a concussion.
The scramble the Chargers have been forced to do is in full swing. Brandyn Dombrowski has been filling in for McNeill, but he hurt his foot on Sunday. He didn't work Wednesday and his availability, and how long he would be able to go, isn't clear.
The team signed Jared Gaither, a former starting left tackle with the Ravens who played in 10 games with the Chiefs this year before being released on Tuesday.
It's possible, depending on Dombrowski's health that Gaither could start despite being so new to the club. Or left guard Tyronne Green could be pushed outside, if he is fit.
—RG Tony Moll could be starting again on Monday, some two weeks after receiving a call that the Chargers needed help. Moll was bartending at the time and because of injuries, he's quickly been thrown into the mix.
—LG Steve Schilling could take a back seat to Tyronne Green on Monday night after two starts. Green was replacing Kris Dielman after Dielman went to IR.
—TE Antonio Gates, while not 100 percent from his foot injury, is proving why he has an impact when on the field. In his last six games, he has four touchdown receptions.
—WR Vincent Jackson is three touchdowns shy of a milestone not seen in San Diego since 1994. Jackson is closing in on 10 touchdown receptions; Tony Martin was the last Charger wideout to reach double figures in a season.
—WR Vincent Brown will replace Malcom Floyd once again this week. Brown, a rookie, has caught Philip Rivers' eye and has seen the quarterback's confidence grow in throwing to him. No Chargers wideout was targeted more in the last game than Brown, at 10.
—OLB Shaun Phillips (foot) was sore from Sunday and will be eased into practice.
—LG Tyronne Green (hand) was able to practice and the hope is he can start on Monday.
—RG Louis Vasquez (ankle) was able to go and the team will monitor how the injury reacts. He could return to the starting lineup.
—DE Luis Castillo (leg) didn't work and is out at least two more weeks.
—WR Malcom Floyd (hip) practiced, but it's not clear if he will miss his fifth straight game.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers need to have the defense win a game for once, as the offense is having trouble showing any consistency - or points. Defensively, the opportunity is there to be aggressive against the NFL's worst offense and rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. The Chargers were too conservative last week in making sure Tim Tebow didn't expose open lanes. But there's no reason to sit back this week and contain the pocket - the defense needs to show that with Shaun Phillips back and Antwan Barnes revealing a team-high six sacks that it's finally time to force turnovers and score defensively, or at the least, give the offense some short fields to work with.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers run defense, which has been rocked of late vs. a Jaguars running game that features the AFC's leading rusher in Maurice Jones-Drew. The Chargers allowed 208 rushing yards in last week's loss as this part of its defense has consistently been weak all season. At least that side of the ball is relatively healthy and it will need a better performance in trying to stop Jones-Drew. He's rushed for at least 84 yards in 10 of the 11 games and had 99 last week. With a jittery rookie quarterback not expected to beat you with the pass, the secondary needs to squeeze the line tight and stop the run - for once.
Chargers QB Philip Rivers, who has been battered with leaky pass protection vs. a Jaguars pass rush that has 20 sacks in the last eight games and at least two in seven of the last eight. People wonder what's wrong with Rivers and among the reasons is that he is taking a beating every week behind a makeshift line. Only two opening day starters will be up front and it's possible third-stringers could be playing at left tackle and left guard - not good. The Jaguars get after passers - they have 23 sacks on the year, ninth in the NFL. RDE Jeremy Mincey (team-high 4.5 sacks) could get a confused left tackle in Jared Gaither, who just joined the team this week. RT Jeromey Clary has been struggling on the other side and he could draw LDE Matt Roth (3.5 sacks) although Roth's availability isn't certain because of a concussion.