Internal Focus Changes External Perception

Coach Norv Turner (Kevork Djansezian/Getty)

Whether the Chargers are enduring a slump or savoring a winning streak, Norv Turner's message is the same: improve every week. His players have taken the mantra to heart and netted a four-game winning streak that has San Diego back in the thick of the AFC playoff race.

It would have been easy for the Chargers to implode when they struggled out of the gates at 2-3, marking the third consecutive season the team had a losing record after five games. However, the Chargers heard the criticism and used it as fuel for their latest resurgent effort.

"We came out of the first month of the season and we were a beat-up football team," Turner said. "We asked a lot of young guys to step in and play who had not played. And we played very good football teams and we continued to get beat up. As I said, I think the bye helped us. I think we got healthy."

One player whose return to health has been pivotal is LaDainian Tomlinson. Back from an ankle injury suffered in the season-opener, Tomlinson has rushed for at least 70 yards in three of the last five games. Although the numbers aren't what they used to be for the two-time rushing champ, he is providing balance to an offense in need of it.

RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Kevork Djansezian/Getty
LT had his best game of the season Sunday against the Eagles, running 24 times for 96 yards and a pair of TDs.

"This is a good defense," said Tomlinson of the Eagles. "If you look at where they're ranked, they're in the top-10 in every category. So for us to run the ball as effectively as we did, that showed a lot. That showed that we could run the ball when we need to and we had talked about that. There was going to come a time where we were going to need to run the ball successfully and we did."

San Diego's one-week-at-a-time approach was born of necessity. After losing to the Broncos at home on Oct. 19, the Chargers were 3.5 games back in the AFC West. So rather than think about making up a daunting deficit, the Bolts turned all their focus inward.

The result: Less than one month later, the Chargers and Broncos have identical 6-3 records and are tied atop the AFC West. The teams will meet again next week in Denver to fight for sole possession of the division lead.

"It's been a lot of great focus and discipline and hard work to put ourselves in it," said Philip Rivers. "I remember sitting [at the podium] after the Denver loss and I said, 'We have to worry about us, focus in, and hopefully we'll look up in a month and be in it.' And none of y'all believed us.

"Anyway, being in it doesn't mean anything other than we've given ourselves an opportunity. We've got a long way to go, but it is nice to put together a string of wins and play better football in a lot of areas."

San Diego's winning streak is a direct result of its introspective approach. And now -- because of this mindset that was designed to prevent the Chargers from focusing on the Broncos -- San Diego enters the rematch with its rivals on even footing.

If the Chargers win in Mile High, it could spark a fantastic finish to the season. The Chargers would open up a one-game lead in the division, improve to 7-3, and prepare for games against the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns.

Translation: If the Chargers win, they could go from 2-3 to 9-3 in the blink of an eye.

Note that this kind of talk is restricted to fans and the media; the players prefer to stick with the week-by-week approach that has salvaged their season.

What's your reaction to Sunday's win over Philly? Talk about it in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter. Recommended Stories