LB Shawne Merriman (Doug Pensinger/Getty)
A look at the standings shows the Chargers as a 2-3 team. A look in the locker room reveals all the confidence of last year's 14-win squad. It turns out, a 38-point win was more than enough to undo weeks of critiques and criticisms.
The Chargers got more than a win on Sunday in Denver.
"Definitely we got some confidence back," LaDainian Tomlinson said of the Chargers' 41-3 rout of the Broncos. "But I think more than anything, we started to find ourselves, this team. This game proved what we do well, and we kind of found what we can do if we play like that."
This performance is what the Chargers had promised from the get-go. But for whatever reason, they had yet to play as complete a game as they did Sunday. The win snapped a three-game losing streak.
"I feel a little better than I did a week ago," coach Norv Turner said.
Tomlinson was wearing a smile as well. But he warned his teammates not to turn an ankle while doing cartwheels over the victory.
"I don't want us to get all happy and patting ourselves on the back after one win," Tomlinson said. "It's a long season, and we definitely need to make sure that we stay focused on continuing to build on this.
"No doubt getting that win in Denver was big for us, but now we have to turn our attention to Oakland and build on what we did (Sunday)."
The Raiders arrive rested off their bye and in first place in the AFC West. Few would have thought of such a scenario facing the Chargers five weeks into the season.
"It was a big win (Sunday), but again we can't get overexcited about it," Rivers said. "We've got Oakland coming in here, who's playing good and right now is sitting at the top."
--QB Philip Rivers was teased about his first NFL scoring run, a 2-yard jaunt that was far from a world-class sprint. RB LaDainian Tomlinson was among those with the biggest needle. "I got so many phone calls about that run, obviously for how slow he was going," Tomlinson said. "The funny thing is Philip was really trying to get there, and he just looked horrible.
Rivers finished 13-for-18 for 270 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. His 151.4 rating was more than 70 points higher than his season mark before the game. But while Rivers' numbers were down, he said his confidence wasn't.
"I hadn't lost any confidence," he said. "I hadn't played great, but if you wipe away those turnovers -- which I know you can't do -- large portions of those games I was being very effective and efficient."
--How good has TE Antonio Gates been? He is on pace to make 128 receptions for 1,565 yards. Both would be NFL records for a tight end.
--The Chargers winning in consecutive years in Denver hadn't happened since 1967-68.
--FS Marlon McCree said the team's attention to tackling paid off Sunday. "Our Achilles' heel has been our tackling," McCree said. "And we did a nice job."
--The Chargers' 38-point victory over the Broncos tied the largest margin ever between the teams. The Chargers pounded the Broncos 58-20 in 1963.
--Pro Bowl OLB Shawne Merriman was again held without a sack. He has three, and they came in two games.
--Don't overlook the hit by Carlos Polk that allowed Brandon Siler to catch a fumble out of midair and race 23 yards for a score. It was Polk's hit on returner Brian Clark that set up Siler.
"I was running down and I saw Tim Dobbins on the other side of me; he came down and took out the wedge, and there was only one hole open," Polk said. "I came through, and I just tried to take his head off. I saw the ball going. I just didn't know where it went. Next thing I know, I saw everybody running to the goal line."
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Vincent Jackson suffered a shoulder injury Sunday but is expected to play this week. He might not practice, though, on Wednesday.
--DE Jacques Cesaire suffered an ankle injury Sunday, but he should be ready for this week's game.
--TE Antonio Gates continues to spit out numbers that are usually associated with a wide receiver. Gates had a team-high seven receptions Sunday for a game-high 113 yards, with a score.
--FB Andrew Pinnock (knee) has a chance to return after the Oct. 21 bye.
--WR Eric Parker (toe) could come back after the bye, but that appears to be the optimistic view.
--ILB Matt Wilhelm played well after missing the previous two games with a strained calf.
--WR Craig Davis was able to go Sunday with a sprained ankle, but he was not a factor, as he had no catches.
REPORT CARD VS. BRONCOS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- QB Philip Rivers was pretty darn good one week after being pretty bad. He completed 13 of 18 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns. More important, he didn't turn the ball over; he already has nine turnovers on the year. The pass blocking was fine, as Rivers was not only not sacked but seldom hurried. TE Antonio Gates was again the leading receiver with seven catches for 113 yards. Good thing, as the wideouts were restricted to Vincent Jackson's three catches for 84 yards and one touchdown.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- For really the first time this year, the Chargers went to the run and stayed with it -- why it took them so long is the real mystery. The Chargers spit out a season-high 214 yards. RB LaDainian Tomlinson got 67 of them, but the real damage came from backup Michael Turner. He had 147 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown scamper. The offensive line was outstanding -- that, and the Broncos' run defense stinks.
PASS DEFENSE: B -- Passing yards were kept to a minimum and the tackling was much improved. S Marlon McCree had an interception, defensed a pass and forced a fumble. CB Quentin Jammer had a team-high seven tackles, a pass defensed and a fumble recovery. Although the pass pressure still is missing in action with the only sack coming from ILB Stephen Cooper, the Chargers allowed just 232 passing yards and no scores after getting torched three consecutive weeks.
RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The work here was solid, and some of that was because of the return of starting ILB Matt Wilhelm. Another part of it was the Broncos got behind so quickly, they pretty much gave up on running the ball. Still, the Chargers didn't allow Travis Henry to get much -- 65 yards on 16 carries -- and on the whole, allowed only 72 yards on the ground. Wilhelm, who has been slowed by a strained calf, had six tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Brandon Siler returned a fumble 23 yards in the first half, which gave the Chargers a 14-0 lead and two scores in 11 seconds. But Siler was a star because of the punishing hit from Carlo Polk that separated Brian Clark from the ball. Nate Kaeding was perfect on his two field-goal attempts, including one from 45 yards. Mike Scifres averaged 55.5 yards on his punts; his long was 60.
COACHING: A -- Norv Turner gets credit for sticking with what the Chargers have always done best since Tomlinson got here: running the ball. Whether that result came because the Chargers ran to a 17-3 halftime lead or not isn't important. What is key is that the Chargers won and gulped down a huge dose of confidence as well. Give credit to embattled defensive coordinator Ted Cottrell, as well as the Broncos offense that never could find any rhythm.