Chargers Get Healthy, Hot at Right Time

C Nick Hardwick (Ezra Shaw/Getty)

The Chargers are playing well and they are getting healthy.

Not only is San Diego (5-3) back in the AFC West race after three consecutive wins while Denver (6-2) has lost twice in a row, but some key Chargers could be returning soon.

Inside linebacker Kevin Burnett is expected to play this week. He's missed the last three games with an ankle injury, but barring any setbacks, he should go Sunday when the Chargers welcome the visiting Eagles.

Also, Pro Bowl center Nick Hardwick has seen his work go up in practice of late. Hardwick tore ankle ligaments in the season opener and hasn't played since, but if he can get through another week of practice, a return against the Eagles isn't out of the question.

If those two starters come back, both sides of the ball will feel the impact.


LB Kevin Burnett
Gregory Shamus/Getty
Burnett will help a pass defense that is rounding into shape because of the additional pressure being applied to opposing quarterbacks.

Hardwick could give the NFL's worst running game a boost with his skill-set and veteran-like demeanor.

How Burnett and Hardwick respond Wednesday and Thursday at practice will tell their weekend story. But if not this week, they are still coming back sooner rather than later.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Philip Rivers is proving he plays his best in the fourth quarter, a trend that has followed him since he became a starter in 2006. Rivers was cool and calm in directing Sunday's 80-yard drive in the final two minutes. It was the 11th time in his career and second time this season Rivers has directed a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive.

--WR Vincent Jackson continues to emerge as one of the NFL's most gifted receivers. His two touchdowns Sunday gave him seven on the year, tying him for the league lead. Jackson, at 6-foot-5, plays much smaller getting in and out of cuts, then uses his size to out-jump defensive backs for passes.

--WR Malcom Floyd will figure to get even more opportunities as defenses shift their attention over to Vincent Jackson. Floyd, though, is a very similar target, and Philip Rivers has no qualms about going his way. Floyd had two catches for 29 yards Sunday.

--TE Antonio Gates dropped a couple passes Sunday, which stood out only because of how rare of a sight it was. Actually, Gates continues to play at a high level and tied with team-high honors with five catches.

--TE Kris Wilson isn't just on the field to block. He proved it Sunday when he leaked out of a blocking assignment and caught his first scoring pass with the Chargers.

--OLB Shawne Merriman has been lights out the past two games, collecting his first four sacks of the season. Merriman has shown more speed off the edge and trust in his mending knee.

--OLB Shaun Phillips is on a three-game tear that has much to do with the Chargers winning three straight. Phillips has five sacks in that span.

--ILB Stephen Cooper has fought through a nagging knee injury and is playing some of his best football of the season. Cooper had a game-high 13 tackles in Sunday's game.

--RB/KR Darren Sproles isn't running the ball much these days, but he is still piling up the yardage. Sproles, who had a key 21-yard reception in Sunday's winning drive, has 1,397 combined yards to lead the league.

--ILB Brandon Siler has shown well in filling in the past two weeks, despite being No. 3 on the depth chart behind Tim Dobbins and Kevin Burnett. Siler had eight tackles Sunday.

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