Bumbling to the Top

LaDainian Tomlinson (Matthew Stockman/Getty)

The Chargers have two ways to view their position entering Sunday's game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. One, that they were incredibly lucky and didn't deserve to win Sunday night's game over the Colts when Adam Vinatieri missed a 29-yard field goal. Or, they can look back at that game as a turning point to a season that so far has been a disappointment.

It's obvious the Chargers aren't clicking on all cylinders in their encore performance to last year's stunning season.

"It's still a work in progress, learning each other and figuring what we do best," LaDainian Tomlinson said.

Yet the Chargers are in first place in the AFC West, even if their 5-4 record is hardly worthy of a bow.

So the learning curve continues? Coach Norv Turner disagrees.

"I don't know how to answer that," he said. "We came back from Denver, (where we) scored 40 points, and it didn't look like there was any learning curve.

"When we played Houston, we were ahead at halftime 35-7 and had moved the ball extremely well.

"I think it's a matter of we're not playing with as much consistency as we'd like to be, and we have to try to get back to doing the things we were doing a month ago."

Whichever way the thinking goes, the Chargers know they have a tough task in store in the Sunshine State. The Jaguars (6-3) present a physically challenging matchup.

"I think they're playing awfully well," Turner said. "They're so physical up front. I think the additions in the secondary and then the experience in the corners, you see them having grown and having grown."

The Chargers, by their own admission, haven't been playing extremely well. That said, they have won four of their past five games after stumbling to a 1-3 start.

But what's been a red flag is the play of quarterback Philip Rivers. He has 10 touchdown passes, but he's also thrown 10 interceptions and lost five fumbles.

He is coming off one of his worst games as a pro, recording a 30.6 passer rating against the Colts.

"Philip has had the ups and downs I think that you have as a young quarterback," Turner said of second-year starter. "We are working through some things, and we just have to eliminate the negative play, and ultimately that's his responsibility."

Who's responsible for the Chargers' sporadic start through nine games?

Is it A.J. Smith for helping get rid of coach Marty Schottenheimer in favor of Turner? Is it Turner? Is it the players?

It really doesn't matter to Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP.

"We knew it was going to be a tougher season because we knew that we were going to play way better teams," Tomlinson said. "We knew there was going to be a grind, but it will help us down the road, that is what we are hoping."

They hope it starts Sunday in Jacksonville.

SERIES HISTORY: 3rd meeting. Series tied, 1-1. This is the Chargers' second trip to Jacksonville after losing there 27-21 in 2003. The Jaguars fell in San Diego, 34-21, in 2004.

NOTES, QUOTES

--Among the ways the Chargers have compensated for their inconsistent offense is some fine special teams play. Darren Sproles brought a kick and punt back for a score in the last game, but coach Norv Turner knows others play a role. "You don't play special teams the way you're playing them if everyone on your 45-man roster isn't contributing," Turner said. "We've got a lot of guys that are playing awfully well."

--CB Antonio Cromartie's three-interception game got the attention of Colts QB Peyton Manning, with Manning telling Cromartie, "I guess I really made your day, huh?"

"I just busted a smile because he really did," Cromartie said. The AFC selected Cromartie as its defensive player of the week.

--Sproles was named the AFC special teams player of the week.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson needs 91 rushing yards to reach 10,000 for his career.

--QB Philip Rivers and Jaguars CB Brian Williams were teammates at North Carolina State. Williams has an interception in a club-record three straight games.

--The differences between the teams in the fourth quarter is startling. The Chargers struggle in the last quarter, getting outscored 77-34. On the other side, Jacksonville has done well, outscoring its opponents 62-42.

--Turner said while the starters get the headlines, the backups are just as critical for a solid second half. That was evident, he said, in the win over Indianapolis. "I think you could name our entire defensive group," he said. "Whether it be Marques Harris getting a sack or Carlos Polk going in and playing with the emotion he had. You don't beat the Indianapolis Colts unless it was a combined effort."

--FS Marlon McCree likes where the Chargers are. "We are No. 1 in our division," he said. "We are back in first place. We have been fighting hard, and we've lost some games. This puts us right where we want to be. Now we have to play a good Jacksonville team."

--This marks the third straight year the Chargers have swept a series against the previous season's Super Bowl teams. They beat New England and Philadelphia in 2005, swept the Steelers and Seahawks last year and this year beat the Bears in the opener and the Colts on Sunday.

--Jaguars coach Jack Del Rio was an All-America linebacker at USC when Chargers coach Norv Turner was on the Trojans' coaching staff.

--Ex-Chargers K John Carney could step aside this week for Jaguars K Josh Scobee, who has been out since September. Carney's 261 field goals as a Charger are a team-high.

--The Jaguars are undefeated against the AFC West this year, winning at Denver and Kansas City.

--The Chargers have scored five return touchdowns in the last three games and six in the last five games.

--When the Chargers collected six interceptions last week, it marked the sixth time they had accomplished that in franchise history. The last time it happened was at Denver in 1975.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson thinks highly of Jaguars RB Fred Taylor: "In my opinion, he is the most underrated back in history in what he has done in his career and has not make the Pro Bowl yet," he said. "To me, it's mind-boggling on how good he has been for so long and not be recognized for it.

BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Consecutive second halves in which the Chargers were shut out -- and they won both games.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We certainly know we are going to have to do more than that down the road." -- QB Philip Rivers about the offense needing to show more production starting Sunday in Jacksonville.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

There is concern that depth could be an issue at defensive end.

Starter Luis Castillo is out at least five more games with an ankle injury. His main backup, Jacques Cesaire, is being slowed by a toe injury and didn't practice Wednesday. Cesaire has played in pain in the past, but it's worth watching how well and long he holds up.

Ryon Bingham figures to get additional snaps, but he's more of an inside player who also gives Jamal Williams a blow. And Williams might need a few more breaks than usual considering how physically Jacksonville play and the fact that Williams is coming off of two knee surgeries he had just three weeks ago.

Look for Brandon McKinney to get more playing time to keep Bingham fresh on the outside.

PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES

--CB Antonio Cromartie's three interceptions in the first half Sunday were the most in the NFL since Stevon Moore of Cleveland had three against the Oilers in 1995.

--KR/PR Darren Sproles' 89-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on Sunday on the opening play marked the first time a Charger had done that since Tim Dwight had an 87-yarder in 2004.

--P Mike Scifres is on a roll. Of his last 22 punts, 17 have been downed inside the opponent's 20-yard-line.

--TE Antonio Gates needs 131 receiving yards to tie Tony Martin for seventh place on the club's all-time list.

--ILB Stephen Cooper not only leads the team in tackles but is the first to reach the century mark at 101.

--OLB Carlos Polk supplies some depth to the linebacker corps, but his bread-and-butter has always been his special teams play. He leads the team with 11 special teams tackles and has added a forced fumble that resulted in a touchdown.

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