Source: USA Today
It never rains in Southern California — OK, it did Monday.
So just maybe things that aren't expected can happen.
Hey, anyone for the Chargers making the playoffs?
It could happen, but probably not after the Broncos, behind quarterback Tim Tebow, pulled another rabbit from their hats in beating the Bears on Sunday.
If Chicago could have hung on, the Chargers would have trailed the AFC-West leading Broncos by one game with three remaining.
But it's a two-game deficit the Chargers must erase, and that is likely too tall of a task even for the traditionally late-charging Chargers.
Now the Chargers — whose wild-card hopes are particularly dire — must hope the Broncos stumble against the Patriots, Bills or Chiefs. And the Chargers just about must sweep their final three against the Ravens, Lions and Raiders.
"Obviously we know all the math," coach Norv Turner said. "There's nothing we can do about that."
Instead, the Chargers could finish in their typically strong manner and be left out of the playoffs for the second straight year. But instead of bemoaning other team's success in keeping them out, the reflection must be put back on the franchise in why it got into such a pickle.
The easiest way is to point to the injuries the Chargers have absorbed. But that excuse, especially at this time of the year, falls on deaf ears around the NFL. It's up to teams to overcome injuries, not use them as a crutch.
So if the Chargers fail to advance, it's not because Tebow resurrected the Broncos and took ownership of the AFC West. Instead, the blame falls on the Chargers for not being able to pull from its six-game skid in a timely manner.
Now, at this time, the Chargers have very little wiggle room. And there will be even a smaller amount of error when taking on the 10-3 Ravens on Sunday night.
The Chargers are showing a pulse because they got well against two lower-level teams in the Jaguars and Bills. Going forward, the Chargers face stiffer tests in the Ravens, and then with two road trips to Detroit and Oakland.
—WR Vincent Jackson said with all the Chargers' weapons, it's not important which player contributes, just as long as one of them does. "We take pride in the fact that all of us can be successful," Jackson said. "When we're all successful, it opens it up for everybody else." With Malcom Floyd and Jackson on the outside and Antonio Gates working the middle, the Chargers are difficult to defend.
—SS Steve Gregory scored his first NFL touchdown on Sunday when he returned an interception 26 yards. It was part of one of the most complete games the Chargers have turned in all season. "Previously we've been making a lot of mistakes out there," he said. "We've eliminated those and we're making plays."
—The Chargers are doing something Philip Rivers predicted: excelling in the red zone. "I remember defending us earlier in the year saying we will end up being a good red-zone team," said Rivers, after the Chargers scored touchdowns in all three red-zone trips against the Bills. "There's nothing magical to the calls, we're running some of the same scheme-wise and trying to get the same match-ups that we wanted to get earlier." Part of that success is attributed to Antonio Gates being healthy.
—The Chargers' final home game this season could be blacked out, making it the third one not to be shown on local TV this year.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
—LT Jared Gaither continues to draw praise from coach Norv Turner. Gaither, a recent pickup who has started the last two games, was awarded a game ball Sunday.
—TE Antonio Gates is five receptions shy of eclipsing Charlie Joiner (586) as the franchise's all-time leader in catches. Joiner is the team's wide receivers coach.
—QB Philip Rivers has now gone three games without an interception. Rivers tossed 17 interceptions in the first 11 games.
—DE Jacques Cesaire could be down this week after being carted off the field Sunday with a serious ankle sprain. Cesaire missed time earlier this season with knee issues.
—OLB Shaun Phillips has now made three straight starts after sitting out four games with a foot injury. Phillips has eight tackles in those games, but his presence is helping his teammates on that side of the ball.
REPORT CARD VS. BILLS
PASSING OFFENSE: A- — Philip Rivers had one hiccup when fumbling into the end zone, which resulted in a Bills touchdown. But other than that, Rivers was solid in completing 24-of-33 for 240 yards and three scores. The pass protecting was keen — just one sack. And there were no drops as Rivers targeted eight different receivers. Antonio Gates had two touchdown receptions and his improving health lets him again be an impact player.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A — Ryan Mathews hit 100 yards for the third straight game — last done in these parts in 2007. Mathews is doing his part, but don't overlook a mending front line that is back to opening decent holes.
PASS DEFENSE: A — Three interceptions — one returned for a touchdown — will get you a top grade here any day. The pass rush was consistent as well as some of those interceptions game when Ryan Fitzpatrick was under duress. Just one sack, by Antwan Barnes, but the pressure was here.
RUSH DEFENSE: B — The Chargers kept the Bills under 100 yards and their top back, C.J. Spiller, to 46 yards on 12 carries. The front line kept the blockers off the linebackers as this battle was won up front. Takeo Spikes had five tackles and was stout in the middle.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A- — A fake punt pulled off by Eric Weddle not only gave the Chargers a key first down, but it swung the shifting momentum back in their direction. A blocked extra point lessens this grade; that should never happen by an NFL team. Not much on returns; coverage was good. Nick Novak was true on a 47-yarder.
COACHING: A — Norv Turner showed some guts in going for the fake punt — especially at his own 30. His play-calling was shifty, in that he switched from running the ball and passing it in a manner that the Bills' defense never did look comfortable. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky wanted to force Fitzpatrick to be the one to beat them, and instead his play — three picks — iced the defeat for the Bills.