Sorry, but we have to ask.
"I wish I didn't have to keep answering it," coach Norv Turner said.
But answer he does as the Chargers head to Cincinnati Sunday for another must-win game.
The Chargers remain a game behind the AFC West-leading Chiefs with two games remaining. The Chargers must win out and hope the Chiefs trip up to win their fifth straight division title.
But the Chargers, despite this streak, which has seen them win six of seven games, are still in that dang hole they dug. No matter that they are playing some of the best football in the entire league, it doesn't mean much when you start 2-5 and spent the year climbing from the mat.
So the questions keep coming at Turner. Why is this club so dynamite now — it came within a quarter of consecutive shutouts — and so embarrassingly bad back in September and October?
He reads them off like a kid memorizing the Gettysburg Address. Turner takes a deep breath and rattles off the reasons.
This year we played a number of young guys early," Turner said. "We played a number of young guys early in the kicking game because of injuries. In our first seven games, we lost 13 fumbles. Our starting two running backs lost six fumbles. Four of those were inside the 20-yard line going in, and a couple of them were inside our 20-yard line going out. Because of that, we lost some games.
"Everyone asked me about the slow start, and I could name 15, 18 players that I think got off to a fast start. (Antonio) Gates, (Philip) Rivers, (Malcom) Floyd, Eric Weddle, Shaun Phillips played awfully well early, or else we really would've been in trouble."
The Chargers are still in jeopardy — if they miss the playoffs with all this talent that will be a colossal waste of a season. But they righted the ship in a way which always works — ball security.
"Over the past seven games, we've lost three fumbles, and it's obviously made a big difference in terms of how we've played and how we've finished games," Turner said.
So they reach this point of the calendar when they play their best.
"Good teams, teams that have a chance to go to the postseason, usually are playing their best in November and December," Rivers said. "That's one thing we've been able to do the past four years now."
Usually that approach works — this year, maybe not so much.
"Unfortunately, we had quite a deeper hole than we've had previously," Rivers said. "We've been in a situation where we've really needed to be perfect for the past nine games. We were 2-5; we had one slip-up."
That came against the Raiders to open December. But one more clunker and it's a chunk of coal in the Chargers' stocking.
"Obviously, we know we need to win the next two to even have a chance, and we still need some help," Rivers said. "We've always wanted to finish strong and we've always been able to do that, but it's certainly going to be a challenge these last two weeks."
SERIES HISTORY: 30th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 19-10. But the most famous game these teams played was their lone playoff matchup: "The Freezer Bowl" 1981 AFC Championship Game. Cincinnati won 27-7 — in a minus-59 degree wind chill — to advance to Super Bowl XVI. That game was one week after the Chargers prevailed in overtime in the heat and humidity of South Florida. But there was nothing warm about that day in Riverfront Stadium when the wind chill was the lowest for a game in NFL history, and the mercury was minus-9, the second-coldest ever. Last year, the Bengals came to San Diego and left with a 27-24 win. The Chargers also won the last meeting in Cincinnati, a 49-41 shootout. The last Bengals win was a 38-31 decision at Cinergy Field in 1997. The Chargers lead 9-6 as the visiting team, including a 2-0 record at Paul Brown Stadium.
—Does coach Norv Turner see the Bengals as having made that switch from a run-first to a pass-first team? "There are so many things that affect what you want to do and how you do it," he said. "A lot of it is how games go. Every year, you'd like to think you're going to be the same, but things change. When we put the tape on, they moved the ball. There are a lot of guys contributing. They played a very difficult schedule against awfully good teams. We put the Cleveland game on, and it's what you're looking for. You've got great balance, you're running the ball, play-action, high-percentage passes. They ran for 188 yards, threw for 210. Those things are very impressive, and I thought Carson (Palmer) was extremely sharp in the Cleveland game."
—RB Ryan Mathews and teammate Mike Tolbert push each other during games. "You feed off what the other guy does," Mathews said. "After a while it turns into a little competition, where if he makes a big run then I have to follow with one, and vice versa. If one guy builds some momentum, the main goal for the other is to keep it going."
—The Bengals played the franchise's inaugural regular-season game in San Diego, on Friday night, Sept. 6, 1968. The Chargers won, 29-13.
—The Chargers will play their first cold-weather game of the season with temperatures expected to be in the high teens. Even with San Diego's recent rains, there's little to do to prepare players for the frigid temperatures. "I don't know what you can do," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We've probably been fortunate to get a little bit of weather these past two days. It was real windy (Wednesday), and it rained Monday during the whole practice. I know that's different than 18 degrees and maybe a little snow. I don't know what the wind is like there, but it was good to be in the wind (Wednesday). I don't know if there's anything you can do. You just go there in warm-ups, get acclimated, and handle it for three-and-a-half, four hours, and hope you play really well and win the game."
—When asked about handling WR Vincent Jackson's return, Turner mentioned Jackson wasn't the only one out. "It wasn't just Vincent — we had three guys that were in that position," Turner said. "Shawne Merriman, Marcus McNeill, and Vincent, and they all came in at different times." But the players didn't let it bother them, Turner said. "This group is very close, and the nucleus of the team has been together a long time. I think they did a good job of separating the football side of it from the business side, and when each of those guys came in, they were accepted and welcomed and excited to have them back. Marcus is playing at a real high level, and Vincent has come in, and after the injury he had where he missed a couple games, he's been very productive for us."
—Turner on some thinking its automatic the Chargers will rally, considering their past success. "It is a different team," he said. "That's one of the things that I always say when I see some of the comments that are made about us nationally. A lot of people couldn't name half the guys that are playing for us, and they're making judgments about how our guys play and compete. We've got a lot of new players. Obviously, both of our running backs, Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert, are guys that are new to the position. Tolbert's been here, but they're certainly new to the position. We've had 72 guys play in games this year, so we've had a lot of injuries and a lot of changes. Our guys have handled it awfully well. It's a young group, and a group that's a lot of fun to be around."
—Might Vincent Jackson's recent play change the Chargers' minds about offering a long-term contract. His agent, Neil Schwartz, hopes so. "Vincent has always said he wanted to be a San Diego Charger. He just wanted to be paid what he's worth," said Schwartz. "The issue is strictly about business. He felt he was worth more (than a $3.268 million contract tender offered to Jackson as a restricted free agent). Maybe the Chargers will change their opinion."
BY THE NUMBERS: 11 — Number of road wins, in 12 chances, the Chargers have claimed in the regular season since 2005 on the road.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Teams that go to the playoffs win on the road late in the year. It's coming down to the last weeks, so teams are going to have to win on the road and win late in the year in the weather to advance. It's always a challenge on the road." — QB Philip Rivers on the Chargers having to sweep their final two games — both on the road — to have a chance to claim its fifth straight AFC West title.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Keep an eye on Randy McMichael and maybe even Kory Sperry when Philip Rivers looks for the underneath stuff and an open tight end. Antonio Gates probably won't play, but that won't be decided until near kickoff. Thing is McMichael, and to a lesser degree Sperry, have filled in well. And if Gates is down — and Vincent Jackson is stretching the field — they might have some key passes thrown their way.
—OLB Antwan Barnes continues to contribute when getting a chance on passing downs. With Shaun Phillips drawing much of the blockers' attention; Larry English still not practicing with a foot injury and Antwan Applewhite sitting with a bad ankle, Barnes could get additional opportunities Sunday.
—ILB Brandon Siler could pick up some extra snaps if Stephen Cooper is compromised by his sore knee. The Chargers are hopeful Siler doesn't wear down as he contributes on special teams as well.
—WR Patrick Crayton (wrist) is easing back into practice. He could still be one more week out.
—WR Kelley Washington has been among the unheralded players to step up but he's been hit with an obstacle with a sore hip. He likely still goes Sunday.
GAME PLAN: The weather might come into play here, with the elements leading the Chargers to run the ball more than usual. That's fine, because after Vincent Jackson went for three touchdowns in the last game, defenses must be cognizant of the over-the-top plays to Jackson — that means more running room for Tolbert and Mathews.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers run defense, which has played stellar of late, vs. Bengals running game behind a productive Cedric Benson. The Chargers are puffing out their chests and deservedly so after limiting the Chiefs and 49ers in such a dominating fashion. This came on the heels of getting blasted for 251 rushing yards in the loss to the Raiders. But the run defense figures to get a test from and a big dose of Benson. The Bengals will be without Terrell Owens, taking away one Carson Palmer target and it figures the weather will be conducive to running. Plus, linebacker Stephen Cooper, the Chargers' top run-stuffer inside, is nursing a sprained knee. How he holds up will determine if the Chargers do likewise against an offense looking to rush for yards while bleeding the clock to keep the ball away from Philip Rivers.
—Chargers pass defense, which shut down Alex Smith and Brodie Croyle, vs. a Bengals passing game led by Carlson Palmer. The Chargers had little trouble with the two quarterbacks leading into this game. Part of that were their skill levels and the other was a defense enjoying the luxury of big leads and going against offenses being one-dimensional (passing). Now can it produce the same results against Palmer, who while struggling this year, still can do plenty of damage — especially if Benson is active to set up the play-action. But the Chargers' secondary gets a break in that Terrell Owens was placed on IR and Chad Ochocinco hasn't practiced this week with a bad ankle. Chargers CB Antoine Cason keeps getting tested and keeps responding.
—Chargers running game, which features Mike Tolbert, Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews vs. Bengals run defense that is ranked No. 22. The Chargers are showing a great blend with Tolbert and Mathews; they have carried and rushed for nearly the same numbers the last two games. And Sproles is good in space, catching that swing pass in the flat which is similar to a handoff. The Bengals, though, need to be selling out to stop the run and try to get Rivers in throwing situations, which plays to their defensive strength, especially at cornerback.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Antonio Gates (right foot) didn't practice Wednesday, and he is likely to sit out the final two games of the regular season. He hopes the rest will allow him to play in the postseason, if the Chargers get there.
—WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) didn't work which might have been more of a precaution on the slick field. He's got a chance to go Sunday.
—RG Louis Vasquez (neck) was a full participant but it's not known if he will start.
—ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) didn't practice and he won't get many reps with his injury. He'll likely go Sunday but he won't be near 100 percent.
—ILB Brandon Siler (ribs) was able to get through the entire practice which is encouraging considering Cooper's status.
—WR Patrick Crayton (wrist) practiced on a limited basis but is likely down one more week.
—OLB Antwan Applewhite (ankle) didn't practice and he could be out this week.
—OLB Larry English (foot) didn't practice. He'll try Thursday but he's far from certain for Sunday.
—FB Jacob Hester (ill) should be OK for Sunday; he didn't practice.
—RB Ryan Mathews (ill) didn't work but should be OK for Sunday.
—WR Kelley Washington (hip) was limited but he'll go Sunday if they decide to make him active.