WR Danario Alexander (U.S. Presswire)
The Chargers swept the Kansas City Chiefs and snapped a three-game losing streak with a 31-13 win on Thursday. Philip Rivers emphatically answered his critics -- save for one inexplicable throw -- and the defense scored twice in a three-minute stretch to vault San Diego back into the playoff race.
It is important not to assume the Chargers are back to playing to their potential after Thursday's runaway victory. The Chiefs (1-7), after all, are among the league's worst outfits. Kansas City has yet to enjoy a lead during regulation and -- after giving the ball away four times on Thursday -- has a league-worst 29 turnovers.
But from a practical standpoint, Thursday's win was massive. It allowed the Chargers to improve to 3-1 in the AFC West. It also means the Chargers have 10 days to ready for their Week 10 showdown in Tampa Bay, where Vincent Jackson will look to go ham against his former team.
If the Chargers can topple the Buccaneers (3-4), they will enter their rematch with the Denver Broncos with first place in the AFC West up for grabs.
San Diego showed signs of being a contending team in Thursday's win. Philip Rivers hit on 90 percent of his throws despite playing without Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal. RBs Ryan Mathews, Ronnie Brown and Jackie Battle combined to carry 23 times for 125 yards (5.43 ypc). The defense forced four turnovers, returning two of them for scores, and held the Chiefs out of the end zone until garbage time.
The Chargers made it look easy, with the assist going to a Chiefs team looking ready to throw in the towel.
The Buccaneers, while not a powerhouse, will not roll over so easily. Josh Freeman is light years ahead of Matt Cassel; Doug Martin piled up more than 200 yards from scrimmage in his last game; and V-Jack will be on a mission. Tampa's defense is no joke, either, ranking No. 4 against the run.
But the Chargers head to the east coast with momentum and purpose, giving hope for another late-season run and a possible return to the playoffs.
--Danario Alexaner was targeted three times and caught all three throws for 61 yards. Seyi Ajirotutu, just days after rejoining the team, caught the only ball thrown his way, making a diving 28-yard reception on third-and-5. While the newcomers stood out, old faithfuls Antonio Gates (three catches, 43 yards) and Malcom Floyd (four catches, 48 yards) provided the points with scores from 14 and 13 yards out, respectively.
--Demorrio Williams intercepted a pass that deflected off of Dexter McCluster and returned it 59 yards for a score. It was sweet redemption on two fronts, as Williams -- a former Chief -- had a pick-six called back earlier this year thanks to a roughing-the-passer penalty. Williams also forced a fumble.
--Jarret Johnson picked up his first sack as a Charger, forcing a fumble in the end zone that was recovered by Shaun Phillips to bust the game open.
--Eric Weddle filled in for Royal returning punts but fumbled his only return to extend a Kansas City drive. Weddle was let off the hook when Ryan Succop ended the drive with a missed 39-yard field goal.
--Shareece Wright (ankle) was active for the first time since the season opener. He recorded one tackle.
--Nick Novak was good on his only try from 25 yards out. He has connected on 88.9 percent of his field goal tries.
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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.