Chargers Plan to Deliver an Impressive Finale

The Chargers get ready to drop the curtain on the regular season, hoping for a strong encore.

In welcoming the Washington Redskins to San Diego on Sunday, the Chargers will try to extend their 10-game winning streak and keep their momentum rolling.

Other than that, it's an exhibition game in January.

If the Chargers can add misery to the Redskins' miserable season, great.

If the Chargers fall short and head into a first-round playoff bye with a loss, well, that's OK, too.

The Chargers already have the AFC West title and the AFC's No. 2 seed in their equipment bag. Win or lose Sunday, the Chargers will open the playoffs at home Jan. 16 or 17.

But this team didn't get good, this team didn't climb off the mat at 2-3 and this team isn't -- once again -- among the savvy picks to reach the Super Bowl.

It's a proud bunch and it doesn't want to end what has been a sensational regular season with a clunker.

"The couple things I talked about all the way back to minicamp was the maturity level of our football team," coach Norv Turner. "I thought that was going to be a big reason why we could take a step as a football team. I believe the maturity level of our team is one of the reasons, whether it be we've played well on the road or overcome the injuries we did early. That was critical."

The Chargers do have a business-like approach, maybe the result of falling short of their Super Bowl goal despite winning five of the past six divisional titles. This team has a purpose and it doesn't want to look bad on Sunday.

"Everyone is going to play," safety Eric Weddle said. "We've got to keep this thing going. No time to rest."

The weary team waiting for them is the Redskins, as they put a final stamp on a season that will cost Jim Zorn his job. All the same, the Chargers would like to send him out with another loss and add another level of good vibes to their season.

"I think that the only reason guys shouldn't play is if they are injured," LaDainian Tomlinson said. "If you're healthy, why sit out?"

It's believed Tomlinson and the majority of the starters will play sporadically -- some if at all. Turner said he will go through the entire week of practices then meet with his staff in deciding which players are idle.

Some could use the time to put their feet up -- defensive players Shaun Phillips, Shawne Merriman and Jacques Cesaire.

Other younger players -- safety Kevin Ellison, linebacker Brandon Siler and offensive lineman Brandyn Dombrowski -- could use the time to hone their games before the intensity which is playoff football kicks in.

But Sunday's game has some Chargers watchers wondering if it will be mind over matter for the team. Might the Chargers think that if the game matters zilch, do you mind if we don't play well?

The Chargers, though, will have none of that. Just like Turner wouldn't bite when asked why wouldn't he just rest all of his key players?

"You have 53 guys on your roster and you have 45 guys active; we're going to go play a game," he said. "We're going to play a four-quarter game and if you start resting the guys you're talking about, then you've got a 35-man roster.

"If you play 35 guys an entire game, offense, defense and special teams, some of those guys are going to get hurt and pretty soon you can't put together your best kickoff coverage team when you get ready to play a playoff game and you're limited in terms of those guys that people don't think of as essential, but they are.

"Obviously we are as committed to the kicking game as any team in the league and that's a big part of our success."

So the Chargers won't kick back, instead electing to be yet another team to kick in the Redskins' teeth.

The Chargers have a smile that comes with making the playoffs and knowing that at the very least, they will be alive until its second week.

SERIES HISTORY: 9th regular-season meeting. Redskins lead series 6-2. The Chargers have won the last two by scores of 30-3 in San Diego (2001) and 23-17 in overtime in Washington (2005). LaDainian Tomlinson's 41-yard run in OT put the finishing touches on a 184-yard, three TD game and propelled the Chargers to victory in that '05 game at FedEx Field. In '01, Tomlinson made his debut against Washington, rushing for 113 yards and two TDs.

NOTES, QUOTES


QB Philip Rivers
Jaime Squire/Getty
--The call of the Pro Bowl was heard by numerous Chargers. Those making the AFC roster are QB Philip Rivers, TE Antonio Gates, LG Kris Dielman, K Nate Kaeding and special teams ace Kassim Osgood.

Rivers, the AFC's top-rated passer, gives coach Norv Turner much credit for his development.

"He's been huge in my progress," Rivers said. "I knew very early on when we first met that we thought a lot alike and have similar approaches to the game. That helped immediately because we were able to understand how each other thinks. Running this system and his ability to coach the position is exceptional. It's been a great fit."

--Rivers and Turner were caught by the TV cameras in an animated sideline conversation during last week's win over the Titans. With the NFL landscape still in a dizzy over the Brett Favre-Brad Childress discussion, some wondered if Rivers and Turner were seeing eye to eye.

"It's funny," Turner said. "My son was watching the game and he said, 'Did you get in an argument with Philip?' I'm half crazy and (Rivers) is full crazy.

"He came off and what happened on the play, it's the first third down and I thought we were going to get the first down. Nick (Hardwick) gets a little emotional and excited and Nick snapped the ball a count early. If you look at the tape, Kris Dielman is tapping Nick and he doesn't even get out of his stance. So they have two guys free and Philip isn't able to throw the ball. I said something like, 'What the heck happened?' He started as he does, 'Nick snapped the ball early!' It looks like we're in an argument and we're talking about Nick snapping the ball early. I said, 'Why'd he do that?' and he said, 'I don't know why he did that!'"

--The Chargers have no shortage of stars, with five players making the Pro Bowl. But like any good team, it's the input from the lesser-known players that has made the Chargers above average.

"Probably the most unexpected thing about this team -- and I've talked about it a lot -- I don't think you could ever count on it but it's been one of our big keys, is our young players: How they've contributed, how they've become really good contributors to our team," Turner said.

"Louis Vasquez going in and doing what he's done, starting at right guard and playing at a high level ... a guy like James Holt that came out of nowhere ... Larry English. Those guys and the contribution they've made to our team are outstanding."

--With Super Bowl participants not playing in the Pro Bowl, that's the category Dielman hopes to find himself in. "It's a great individual honor, but ultimately I hope I'm not playing in it because I want to be getting ready to play in the Super Bowl," Dielman said.

--After two years of mostly special teams play, ILB Brandon Siler is enjoying his expanded role.

"I'm a part of a team right now, a team that's on a mission to win and go into these playoffs on fire," said Siler, who had his first career interception last week. "I just try to help the best way that I can. I bring energy and I try to help the team out every way that I can and try to make them keep me on the field. It's not that I'm looking for something specifically for myself. I'm concerned about this team and the team goals. Those are the things that are most important to me."

--Rivers was voted the team's MVP by his teammates.

--Turner was the Redskins head coach from 1994-2000.

--The Chargers' 10 consecutive wins is the longest current streak in NFL.

--TE Antonio Gates (1,145) needs 55 receiving yards to become the fifth TE in NFL history with 1,200 receiving yards in season. Gates aims for his fourth consecutive game with a touchdown catch.

--Rivers has career-high 4,155 passing yards, third-most in franchise history (Dan Fouts, 4,802 in 1981 and 4,715 in '80).

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson has 138 career rushing TDs, the most rushing TDs in single decade. The Chargers are 8-0 when Tomlinson has at least one rushing TD this season.

In two career games vs. Redskins, Tomlinson averaged 148.5 rushing yards per game (297 total).

--WR Vincent Jackson (1,167) needs 33 receiving yards to become the first Charger since Tony Martin in '95 to reach 1,200 receiving yards in season.

BY THE NUMBERS: 12 -- Number of consecutive games Philip Rivers has thrown a touchdown pass.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I haven't been taking the same amount of shots that I have in past seasons. I've been able to stay fresh throughout the year. I haven't really been beat up or tired, other than that first game where I injured my ankle. Besides that, I've been great." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson on ending the regular season fit because of his reduced workload.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL


OT Brandyn Dombrowski
Jaime Squire/Getty
With the Chargers' regular-season hay already in the barn, there isn't much at stake Sunday. That means backups and role players will see more action as the Chargers try to reach the playoffs in the best possible shape.

Of course, the younger players will go more, but keep an eye on veteran RT Jon Runyan. He has seen increased playing time the last two weeks and coach Norv Turner said the team is going to lean on Runyan at some point during the playoffs.

Brandyn Dombrowski has played well at right tackle in filling in for the injured Jeromey Clary, so well that it has cut into Runyan's playing time. But both players should see the field plenty on Sunday, with Dombrowski moving over to left tackle to spell Marcus McNeill which lets Runyan get some work.

PLAYER NOTES

--OLB Shawne Merriman likely will be down this week as he tries to get his soft-tissue foot injury under control. Merriman has been bothered by it for the second half of the season and it limits his play and effectiveness on game days.

--DE Jacques Cesaire is still slowed by an elbow injury and he could miss Sunday's game.

--FS Eric Weddle isn't all the way back from a knee injury which cost him two games recently. He could be used sparingly Sunday.

--WR Buster Davis, a former first-round pick, is closing in on a dubious distinction. If inactive on Sunday, he would have been basically a healthy inactive for all 16 games.

--QB Billy Volek should see extended playing time Sunday and that's good for him and the Chargers. It was Volek who subbed for Philip Rivers in the 2007 divisional playoff upset win over the Colts.

GAME PLAN: The Chargers figure to come early in an attacking mode, for a couple of reasons. If the starters can score quickly and get a comfortable lead, the coaching staff will feel more comfortable in making wholesale lineup changes. And with the Redskins struggling in the passing game, if the Chargers can get a cushion, Washington could be hard-pressed to concoct a rally this close to ending a dreadful season.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Chargers pass rush vs. Redskins QB Jason Campbell.

OLB Shaun Phillips used to be known as the other Shaun with Shawne Merriman getting three Pro Bowl nods and all the attention. But Phillips is leading the team with seven sacks and has a franchise-best seven forced fumbles this season with his aggressive style off the edge. In Campbell, the Chargers have a quarterback they think they get to. The Redskins have allowed 44 sacks -- nearly 20 more than the Chargers -- and Campbell can be forced into some questionable decisions if he is pestered. The Redskins don't score much and to hang with the Chargers, that must change. But for that to flip, Campbell likely has to have a big day and that could be tough against a pass rush which is getting better each week.

Chargers pass protection vs. Redskins pass rush.

The Chargers figure to get many players many snaps along the line. But even when the first team is in, and especially if Rivers is taking snaps, it must be keen not to get sloppy against the Redskins' two excellent pass rushers, Brian Orakpo and Andre Carter, each with 11 sacks. Orakpo was the lone rookie to make the NFC Pro Bowl roster and is just the 13th rookie in 15 years to have at least 10 sacks. Rivers and Volek must be protected, considered what is at stake down the road for the Chargers.

Chargers KR Darren Sproles vs. Redskins coverage units.

The Chargers have been spending lots of practice time trying to get Sproles untracked. If the return squad can get going, that will give the Chargers' potent offense short fields to work with -- a luxury in the playoffs. But the Redskins, in one of the few things they do well, have both coverage units ranked in the top three, allowing only 7 yards on punts and fewer than 20 yards on kickoffs.

INJURY IMPACT:

--ILB Kevin Burnett (neck) didn't work Wednesday and could be out Sunday.

--WR Vincent Jackson (Achilles) didn't practice and is questionable for Sunday.

--FB Jacob Hester (shoulder) rested, but he should play Sunday.

--DE Travis Johnson (groin) didn't work Wednesday as he has done all season; he could play a little Sunday.

--OLB Shawne Merriman (foot) didn't practice and he likely won't play at all Sunday.

--WR Legedu Naanee (foot) didn't work and could sit Sunday.

--S Eric Weddle (knee) didn't practice and the Chargers are going to be careful with him; it's possible he's out Sunday.

--DE Jacques Cesaire (elbow) practiced, which is a little surprising. He could play briefly Sunday.

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