As the Chargers continue to sail a winning ship, the Minnesota Vikings (2-5) try to plug a big hole…
Trial By Fire
That was the collective feeling among the Chargers as they turn the page on a week they'll never forget.
The Chargers clobbered the Texans Sunday, 35-10. It capped a week in which wildfires chased 24 of them from their homes and the entire team to Arizona to practice.
But the schedule only gets tougher for a Chargers team that has won three straight.
The Chargers put their head above .500 (4-3) for the first time this year. And they own a share of first place with the Kansas City Chiefs.
But this Sunday in Minnesota starts off a four-pack of contests that will reveal much about the Chargers.
The Vikings appear to be the soft spot of a stretch that follows with a visit by the Super Bowl champion Colts, a trip to Jacksonville and a home game against the Ravens.
So while the Chargers are finally on the right side of the ledger after a dismal 1-3 start, there's no call for cartwheels.
"This is the NFL," veteran right guard Mike Goff said. "You can't dwell on it too long because you got a job to do next week."
The Chargers' job Sunday was well done. Despite the emotions swirling around Qualcomm Stadium in the wake of the devastating wildfires, the Chargers were able to execute. And they didn't play down to an inferior Texans team.
The team wanted to put on a good show, and it did.
"It was like a whole different feeling," Goff said. "It was great to just go out there and hear the fans. They come out and support us even with all that is happening, and that is still going on. On the drive over to the stadium and still seeing the smoke and haze, it is a reality check."
Coach Norv Turner said the game's outcome is a testament to the team's resolve.
"It would have been easy to not be prepared," he said. "Obviously our team was prepared."
--WR Chris Chambers was a quick study as he caught a TD pass in his first Chargers game. Chambers was added during the bye week in a trade with the Dolphins. His presence adds yet another option to a loaded offense. "Chris draws some serious attention," TE Antonio Gates said. "It doesn't matter what formation we are in."
--TE Antonio Gates not only had two TD catches but became the third-fastest tight end in NFL history to reach 4,000 career yards. Gates did it in his 68th game. Only Kellen Winslow (58) and Mike Ditka (67) got there quicker. "He's remarkable," coach Norv Turner said. "Both his touchdowns he caught he lined up as a wide receiver. That has an effect on the defense. For a 260-pound man, he can stop and start and change direction as good as anyone I've ever been around."
--ILB Matt Wilhelm said the win went a long way for those weary of the fires. "For us going out there and playing the way we did, we think we put out the fires a little bit in one way or another," he said. Wilhelm was among the Chargers players forced from their homes.
--The Chargers did allow a sack Sunday, but it had been a while - the first one since Sept. 30.
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--DT Jamal Williams (knees) is expected to play this week after missing Sunday's game.
--OLB Shaun Phillips left with a groin strain Sunday and a decision on him practicing won't come until later in the week.
--CB Quentin Jammer had to come out with a hamstring strain. That's worth watching this week; he's day to day.
--DT Brandon McKinney left with an elbow injury. His availability could be important with Williams working his way back from two minor knee surgeries.
--Rookie S Eric Weddle continues to play well. The team's second-round pick had his first NFL interception. He also had four tackles, a QB hit, a pass defensed and a special teams tackle.
--An argument could be made to try CB Antonio Cromartie as a return man; he saw some action there at Florida State. Coach Norv Turner said the speedy Cromartie has brought up the idea as well.
--C Cory Withrow played well in replacing Pro Bowler Nick Hardwick. Hardwick (foot) is out at least another week. Withrow, a former Minnesota Viking, will be tested Sunday by the Metrodome noise.
--RB Darren Sproles got a rare rushing attempt; he gained two yards. Sproles is usually restricted to being a returner; he has two carries on the year.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Hard to argue with Philip Rivers' 143.9 rating. He wasn't asked to do much, but he did a lot when asked. Three TD passes among his seven completions on 11 attempts. His first TD pass to Antonio Gates wasn't pretty; Gates came back to make a nice grab. Addition of Chris Chambers already paying dividends with TD catch. No real protection issues.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- When the Chargers needed to run, which wasn't often, LaDainian Tomlinson was on his game: a 5.3-yard average on 17 carries. The blocking was fine, which was encouraging for the Chargers with backup Cory Withrow filling in for Nick Hardwick (foot). Five different players ran for the 109 yards.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- Antonio Cromartie had a coming-out party with two interceptions, one of which he returned 70 yards for a touchdown. His open-field running and speed were impressive. Stephen Cooper and Eric Weddle also added interceptions from wobbly Texans quarterbacks. Just one sack but the pass pressure was there.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- A few hiccups here, especially considering Adimchinobe Echemandu averaged 6.2 yards on 10 carries. But this unit was missing Pro Bowl DT Jamal Williams (knee). That's why it can live with the 4.0 yards a clip the Texans were getting. Good play from ILBs Matt Wilhelm and Cooper.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- Cromartie got an easy touchdown when the snap on the punt ended up in the end zone -- he recovered for the first of his two touchdowns. P Mike Scifres was sensational with a 50.2-yard net average on five attempts -- a long of 63. Coverage units solid again; return game continues just a tick above average.
COACHING: A -- Trying week for coach Norv Turner with his players' focus divided on football and the fires. But he got them to concentrate during three days practicing in Arizona and they delivered a strong performance. The Chargers channeled their emotions in the right way -- give Turner his due.
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