WR Eric Parker (Harry How/Getty)
With Philip Rivers failing to protect the ball and Eric Parker struggling to get back on the field, the young receivers must step up and provide a spark in the passing game. Vincent Jackson and Craig Davis disappeared against the Chiefs and have a pair of shutdown corners waiting for them in Denver.
Among the reasons for Philip Rivers' struggles as the Chargers head into Denver Sunday with a three-game losing streak is the absence of wide receiver Eric Parker.
"I don't think you can (overestimate) how much we miss him, but it's not a reflection of who we have out there," Rivers said. "Eric brings a lot of value to me and he raises the level of everybody in the room the way he practices and the way he works."
Unfortunately for the Chargers, a team in no need of further bad news, it now looks like Parker is out another three to four weeks.
Nearly 73 percent of his catches last year were for first downs and a quarter of those were on third-down receptions.
That represents a great safety valve for Rivers, and it's something he hasn't had this year. Rivers already has six interceptions this year and has been sacked nine times. A receiver like Parker would quite possibly minimize those numbers.
And Parker was supposed to be back this week in Denver or at least the next week against Oakland. But after undergoing toe surgery just before the season, the team revised the timetable for his return.
That's not a positive for an offense fighting the negative. Parker's 2006 stats hardly knock you over -- 48 catches, 659 yards and no touchdowns. But his presence -- particularly as a third-down target -- is soothing for Rivers.
"He brings a lot of physical talent to the game, but his dependability is the best characteristic of a wide receiver," he said. "You know where's he's going to be every play. It gives you a feeling of comfort if you've got him high in the progression or he's singled. You can count on him to win (get open). But the fact of the matter is we don't have him, and the guys we have are doing just fine. He'll add to that when he comes back."
--QB Philip Rivers couldn't follow up a solid game from the previous week with another one. Instead, Rivers turned the ball over three times on two picks and had a fumble returned for a touchdown. He completed but 21-of-42 for 211 yards and no touchdowns. His rating was a puny 44.8. He continues to have trouble getting on the same page with LaDainian Tomlinson on routes.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson was at his MVP-best the first half, racking up 116 yards and a touchdown on the ground. But for some reason the Chargers and coach Norv Turner got away from the run, with Tomlinson getting just six more rushes. But Tomlinson, and the left side of the line, was sensational when given a chance.
--TE Antonio Gates had a team-high six receptions for 79 yards, but it was Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez that got the touchdown. Gates continues to be Rivers' favorite target for a couple of reasons. The pass-protection has broken down at times and the wide receivers have yet to prove themselves on a steady basis.
--WR Vincent Jackson took a step backward when he dropped a sure touchdown pass inside the Kansas City 5. Jackson did have a long of 39 among his three catches for 52 yards. But just it seemed he would start playing on a consistent level, he suffered a drop such as Sunday's.
--WR Craig Davis' one reception for eight yards wouldn't have been so glaring if not for former LSU teammate Dwayne Bowe going for eight catches and 164 yards and a score. Davis is going to be asked to do more for a longer stretch with word coming this week that starter Eric Parker is still three to four weeks away from returning. The rookie has to pick up his game quickly.
--LT Marcus McNeill likely dodged a bullet after suffering a left knee sprain in the game. But the way the team doctors and others kept looking at him, he's worth watching this week in practice and in the game on Sunday. McNeill has already been beaten for two sacks, the same amount he allowed all of last year.
--ILB Matt Wilhelm could finally return Sunday after leaving after the first series against New England in week two. Wilhelm has been slowed by a strained calf and the injury dates to training camp where it forced him to miss three of the four preseason games.
--S Marlon McCree had his hand stepped on at some point Sunday but he appears OK. What isn't right is the secondary he is directing as it often finds itself out of position and taking terrible angles.
--OLB Shawne Merriman had a team-high eight tackles and a sack Sunday and did something he said he wouldn't: his Lights Out dance. When he made such a vow back in training camp, few believed him. Sure enough, he went into his gyrations after nailing Damon Huard. The trouble was on the next play Dwayne Bowe pierced the defense on a slant for 51 yards and a score.
--OLB Shaun Phillips had a very animated discussion with defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell after Bowe's play. Phillips said Cottrell was just trying to calm him down but it looked to be, if nothing else, much like the competitive conversation Rivers and Tomlinson had in Green Bay. Whatever they were talking about, it seldom looks good having the coordinator and linebackers shouting at each other. Phillips had four tackles and a sack. Phillips leads the team with 3.5 sacks.
--CB Quentin Jammer continues to have issues tackling and covering -- not a good sign for the team's supposed top corner. Jammer declined to speak with reporters after the game. Jammer was a much better corner last year when the Chargers had a more consistent pass rush.
--KR/PR Darren Sproles is handling the return duties for both punts and kickoffs now and there has been some progress in this area of special teams. Sproles had a 42-yard kickoff return and a 20-yard punt. His contributions become more pronounced with the way the offense is sputtering and in need of good field position.
--WR Malcom Floyd seemed to be in the mix more and had three catches for 28 yards. The No. 3 wide out might see the field more if Davis can't get open more. With Eric Parker (toe) being out for another month or so, it might mean an opportunity for Floyd.