Several unexpected backups stepped to the forefront to help the Chargers pass their biggest test of…
What's different this time around?
In Week 2, Chambers was still a member of the Miami Dolphins. He made his Chargers debut in Week 8 and the Bolts are 10-2 since. Chambers has caught at least two passes in every game since relocating to San Diego and led the team in the regular season with 15.9 yards per catch. With Chambers playing opposite a surging Vincent Jackson, Bill Belichick will have to think twice about loading up to stop LaDainian Tomlinson and the running game.
The Emergence of Antonio Cromartie
When these teams met earlier this season, Cromartie was a nickel back who had never intercepted a pass or scored a touchdown. Since that time, he has picked off 11 passes and scored touchdowns on an interception return, a fumble recovery and a missed field goal return. It will be interesting to monitor how Ted Cottrell deploys Cromartie in the rematch, as the base defense would have Quentin Jammer as the primary defender against Randy Moss.
The Development of Philip Rivers
Make no mistake—Rivers will play on Sunday. Norv Turner simply sees no reason to be forthcoming with Belichick, whose injury reports are far more questionable than Rivers' knee. Rivers is more comfortable with Turner's expanded playbook than he was in Week 2, when he lost a fumble and threw two interceptions, including one that was returned 65 yards for a touchdown. During the Chargers' eight-game winning streak, Rivers has completed 133 of 214 passes (.621) for 1,656 yards with 14 TDs and only five interceptions for a rating of 98.2, nearly 16 points higher than his cumulative season rating (82.4).
The Growth of Young Players
Norv Turner has several young players who have stepped into contributing roles since Week 2. Jeromey Clary has moved into the starting lineup and stabilized the offensive line, which has gone 113 plays without allowing a sack. Darren Sproles has gone from merely a kick returner to a dangerous change-of-pace back. Legedu Naanee has leapfrogged Malcom Floyd on the depth chart and become a versatile contributor, as evidenced by his 27-yard reception in the Divisional Round.
The Trust of the Veterans
How quickly Norv Turner's reputation has changed. Four games into the season, he was seen as an incompetent coach who was derailing a team that Isiah Thomas could have led to 12 wins. The players did not respect Turner they way they did Marty Schottenheimer and it was evident in their play. Three months later, the Chargers believe that Turner is the reason why they are enjoying their most successful season since they went to the Super Bowl in 2005. Confidence goes a long way and the Chargers are brimming with it.
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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