Source: USA Today
The Chargers play the Broncos in a meaningless game to end the regular season and where have we seen this movie before?
It was in 2005 and the exact scenario unfolded on what would become one of most dramatic days in Chargers history.
Starter Drew Brees played, got his throwing shoulder busted up, and never played again for the Chargers.
So while that opened up the way for Philip Rivers, he has no plans on not sitting Sunday when the Chargers drag their 8-7 record into INVESCO Field at Mile High.
"I'm playing," Rivers said. "We signed up for 16 of these things, and I'm going to play them all if I'm able."
It's tough for the media to get under Rivers' skin. But even the even-keeled Rivers bristled when someone mentioned that the game really doesn't mean squat.
The Chargers aren't going anywhere — their string of four straight AFC West titles is kaput.
The Broncos aren't going anywhere — they don't even have the same coach they opened the season with.
"I don't believe we're heading into a meaningless game," Rivers said. "It means something to play games in this league, and I appreciate every opportunity I get.
"You play a pickup basketball game in the parking lot and it means something. We want to win, and I want to play."
Rivers said the threat of injury has never held him back, and Brees' experience won't either.
"That can happen in Week 1, too," Rivers said. "That was a freak injury during a crazy play on a wet, rainy day. It was unfortunate, but Drew's obviously recovered and done quite well. There's an injury risk every time you step on the field, whether it's Week 1, Sunday or Week 17. From what I've gathered, we're going to do all we can to win this football game."
Coach Norv Turner, who along with general manager A. J. Smith was given a vote of confidence by team president Dean Spanos after one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history, is all in as well. Turner stressed that if someone is available, they will play.
"If someone's not physically capable of going and if it puts them in jeopardy then we'll make a wise decision but we're going to go play the football game to win," Turner said.
That's the theme in the Chargers' locker room. Along with the disappointment that comes with missing the playoffs is a resolve to salvage the final outing.
"I don't think it's a meaningless game," wide receiver Legedu Naanee said. "The Broncos are going to have something to prove. It's still a chance to finish our season right and set us up for success going into next season. It's not meaningless at all."
It is, really, especially when your goals are set as high as the Chargers. But they'll have a very long offseason to think about all that.
One more time, they'll try to prove the 2010 Chargers aren't that bad after all.
SERIES HISTORY: 102nd regular-season meeting. Broncos lead series, 54-46-1. The Chargers have put a dent in the Broncos' advantage of late. They have won three of the last four meetings and seven of nine overall. Earlier this season the Chargers dominated the Broncos, 35-14. The Chargers spotted the Broncos a 7-0 lead then scored five straight touchdowns. But the Chargers have won but 14 times in 50 visits to Denver.
—What makes the Chargers absence from the playoffs so baffling is that coach Norv Turner can point to numerous players enjoying solid seasons. "I look at our team and obviously it is disappointing that we haven't won more football games but I look at individuals and I look at the guys that have probably had the best year of their career," he said. "I can go across the board and they may not have had their best game (against the Bengals) but (Antoine) Cason and (Eric) Weddle and (Quentin) Jammer, Kevin Burnett is playing at as high a level as he can play, (Antonio) Garay on defense. I look at the offensive guys, those guys inside, offensive line, Nick (Hardwick) and (Kris) Dielman, Jacob Hester's played as well as he can play. Getting Randy McMichael and having the contribution he's had. We all know what Philip (Rivers) has done."
—FS Eric Weddle, one of the team's leaders, struggles in summing up what this year has meant. "Words can't really explain how we feel right now," he said. "Our season is done, even though we have one more game. It's probably the worst feeling you can have. You can only do what you can, and we need to come out and try to finish the season off right."
—Three Chargers were selected to the Pro Bowl: QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates and LG Kris Dielman. Gates and Dielman were named as starters. It is Rivers' third selection and seven in a row for Gates. Dielman was honored for the fourth consecutive time. Gates isn't expected to play because of injuries. LT Marcus McNeill was named a second alternate. OLB Shaun Phillips and DT Antonio Garay were third alternates.
—OLB Shaun Phillips is having a good season, but it's not much fun without the winning. "It's frustrating," he said. "Everyone has talent in this league. The league is getting better because of the new talent added each year. We have to go back to the drawing board and prepare to play one more game."
—Among the most embarrassing moments of the team's disappointing season was when CB Antoine Cason wasn't ready for the Bengals' quick snap and the result was him giving up a touchdown. Just how does that happen? "They were going to throw the ball deep and went to the line fast," Turner said. "They didn't use a cadence. They didn't shift or move anybody. They got up there and snapped the ball and we obviously weren't ready for it."
—The Chargers scored more than 400 points for the seventh consecutive year.
—Turner goes for career win No. 99 on Sunday — it's obvious he needed to be aiming for No. 100 for his Chargers to have a chance at the playoffs. Turner, with 105 career losses, reached 100 losses faster than any coach in NFL history.
BY THE NUMBERS: 30-10-10 — Number of Philip Rivers touchdown passes-Mike Tolbert rushing touchdowns-Antonio Gates touchdown receptions. The Chargers are the only NFL team to feature a 30-10-10 trio. It's only happened one other time in franchise history (1981).
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Norv took over a good team and I think he's done a good job under some trying circumstances." — Team president Dean Spanos on coach Norv Turner's tenure with the Chargers.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Mike Tolbert survived his scary neck injury but no way he plays Sunday. So Tolbert will likely be put on IR at some point and Curtis Brinkley will be brought up from the practice squad.
Brinkley doesn't figure to get much work with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles ahead of him, but he's a feel-good story as well by coming back from gunshot wounds. Look for Norv Turner to at least give him a carry or two.
—RB Ryan Mathews could be primed for his biggest workload of the season with Mike Tolbert out. Mathews, a rookie, is coming off one of his best games of the season in rushing for 55 yards and a touchdown on 12. Mathews' carries could easily double on Sunday.
—ILB Kevin Burnett has six sacks and with one more, sets a career high. Burnett has a team-best 116 yards.
—WR Patrick Crayton has been making a strong push to come back from wrist surgery and play in one more game. Before he got hurt against Denver on Nov. 11, he had given the receiving corps a boost. Crayton had two 100-yard games this year, including that one against the Broncos.
—WR Kelley Washington is about as under the radar as an NFL player gets. But keep an eye on him as he continues to gain the coaches' confidence. He was targeted six times last week and had a season-high five catches, which included a touchdown.
—FS Eric Weddle is coming off his second game this season in which he recorded double-digit tackles — he had a season-high 12 in the loss against the Bengals. Weddle leads the secondary with 81 tackles.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers still love to do one thing more than anything — pass the ball. With their season over — save for this game — look for Philip Rivers to air it out.
Not only are the Broncos shaky on the back end with some injured starters, but Rivers is itching for a big game. The Chargers will run the ball just enough to give Rivers a breather.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH: Chargers secondary, which got torched for four touchdowns in the loss to the Bengals vs. Broncos passing attack that is led by Brandon Lloyd, the NFL's leading receiver. The Chargers were schooled by rookies last week with Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco out. Now here comes Lloyd, who has 10 scoring receptions and an average of more than 19 yards per catch. Antoine Cason and Quentin Jammer need to rebound after a rough go in Cincinnati. Lloyd's athletic ability could offset rookie Tim Tebow's passes being slightly off the mark.
Chargers pass rush, which is missing some key players, vs. Broncos scrambling QB Tim Tebow. Among the reasons the Chargers were carved up by Carson Palmer last week was their lack of a pass rush — no sacks. Now the Chargers must chase the mobile Tebow, who isn't shy about pulling it down and taking off. The Chargers are thin in pass rushers, especially their speed guys. Antwan Applewhite has a bum ankle and Larry English is still nursing a sore foot. Tebow is crafty and he'll test the Chargers on the edges.
Chargers passing attack, with Philip Rivers trying to add to a career-high 4,397 passing yards, against Broncos defense, which allows more overall yards than every unit except one and 233 passing yards per game. Rivers is on the edges of one of the top-10 passing seasons in NFL history so he will be eager to let it fly — especially with the game not having playoff implications. Rivers will be without TE Antonio Gates and possibly without Malcom Floyd. But he has a motivated Vincent Jackson to aim at and Rivers had one of his best games ever at Denver: 377 yards and three touchdowns. The Broncos' secondary is ailing, with Champ Bailey not practicing on Wednesday with a sore ankle, and Brian Dawkins limited with a knee injury. If either, or both, of those guys are compromised, it could mean a big day for Rivers and Jackson.
INJURY IMPACT: TE Antonio Gates (toe, foot) did not practice and will not play Sunday.
—RB Mike Tolbert (shoulder, neck) did not practice and will not play Sunday.
—WR Patrick Crayton (wrist) was a limited participant and he could go Sunday.
—WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) didn't practice; he did some running earlier in the week. Even if he goes, he will not be at 100 percent.
—ILB Stephen Cooper (knee) didn't work and there's a strong chance he doesn't go Sunday.
—OL Scott Mruczkowski (ankle) didn't practice but he should be available for a backup role Sunday.
—FB Jacob Hester (knee) didn't practice but it's believed he can go Sunday.
—OLB Antwan Applewhite (ankle) wasn't able to practice. He will test it again later in the week.
—OLB Larry English (foot) continues to miss practice and he could be out Sunday. He came back last week after missing the previous game, but didn't record a tackle.
—ILB Brandon Siler (ribs) was limited in his work but he will likely start Sunday in place of Stephen Cooper.