Alone at the Top

RB LaDainian Tomlinson (Donald Miralle/Getty)

The Chargers avenged their 2006 loss at Baltimore, destroying the Ravens' playoff chances and catapulting themselves to the top of the AFC West. The Chargers now prepare for a two-game road trip where they must improve on their 1-4 mark away from Qualcomm Stadium.

WHAT WORKED

--The offensive line welcomed back Nick Hardwick, and his return eliminated the high volumes of pressure that had been flooding up the middle. This gave Philip Rivers a clean pocket from which he could survey the field, set his feet and deliver crisp passes. The result was a season-best passer rating of 119.8.

"There's a reason Nick's a Pro Bowl center. He played like a Pro Bowler today," Norv Turner said.

--The 5-yard touchdown pass to Chris Chambers was Rivers' 20th career touchdown pass in the red zone. Rivers has never thrown an interception in the red zone. He feels less pressure to force throws with the sure-footed Nate Kaeding waiting in the wings. Kaeding went 4-for-4 against the Ravens in his highest-scoring outing of the season.

"I've never been a big fan of getting field goals in the red zone, but I'm thankful for having a guy like Nate, who was outstanding today," Rivers said.

--Credit Norv Turner for his commitment to the running game. The Chargers averaged less than 1 yard per carry in the first half, yet Turner stuck with it and the team carved out 83 rushing yards by game's end. LaDainian Tomlinson is the kind of gritty runner that can wear down a defense as the game progresses. His fourth-quarter rushing average (5.6 yards) is markedly higher than his overall season average (4.1).

"We stayed with the run today and I think that was a reason for some of our pass plays, opening up the play-action pass and things like that," Tomlinson said.

--Vincent Jackson answered the bell with a five-catch, 65-yard performance. He answered his critics by displaying sure hands and a willingness to come back and fight for the ball. If Jackson puts forth that kind of effort every Sunday, he will reclaim his alpha dog status from Chambers. If not, his spot in the rotation is in peril with youngsters Craig Davis and Legedu Naanee nipping at his heels.

--The Chargers gambled by not signing another defensive lineman to the roster after Luis Castillo went down with an ankle injury. So far, it's paid off. Jacques Cesaire, Ryon Bingham and Brandon McKinney are all playing increased snaps and have made the most of their extra minutes. Cesaire earned a sack on Sunday and Bingham split one with Shaun Phillips.

--Jyles Tucker made his presence felt in his first NFL game. He brought down KR Yamon Figurs with a powerful arm-tackle when it appeared Figurs was going to break free up the left sideline.

WHAT DIDN'T

--The Chargers are unable to pound the ball against eight-man fronts. Take away Tomlinson's history-making 36-yard scamper and he averaged a measly 1.8 yards per carry. Michael Turner saw his first two carries since week nine and gained just 2 yards.

--The absence of Carlos Polk was obvious on special teams. Figurs ripped off a 57-yard kick return and had two more returns of 20-plus yards. This against a Chargers team whose opponents typically start at the 20.5-yard line following kickoffs.

--The defense entered week 12 leading the league in interceptions (17). However, the Chargers came away with zero picks for the second consecutive week. It was understandable against David Garrard, who has not thrown an interception this season, but Kyle Boller is far more erratic and the defense was unable to take advantage.

--The Chargers missed an extra point for the second time in three games. It makes little sense that the team continues to use Mike Scifres as the holder when using Eric Weddle makes much more sense. The sure-handed Weddle was a holder in college and, as a former running back and quarterback, poses a threat for fakes. Additionally, Weddle is itching for more ways to contribute.

"It was tough in the beginning not playing every down. You play so much in college and now you're in a certain role," Weddle said.

WHAT'S NEXT

Next week will go a long ways towards determining the AFC West champion. The Chargers head to Arrowhead to take on the Kansas City Chiefs while the Oakland Raiders seek a second consecutive division win when they travel to Invesco Field to take on the Denver Broncos.

The Chargers have plenty of motivation for the Chiefs game. Kansas City won earlier this season in San Diego, 30-16. The Chargers have lost their last two games in Kansas City. In 2006, the Chiefs were one of two teams to topple the Chargers in the regular season. In 2005, Kansas City knocked off San Diego in week 16 to all but eliminate the Chargers from the playoffs.

"We need to put a string together," Rivers said. "It's been kind of our deal this season: win one, lose one, win two and lose two. We need to win a couple back to back. We know how bad that Kansas City loss felt a couple of week ago."

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.

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