Up next: First look at San Diego

The San Diego Chargers can breathe a little easier with a tough patch of their schedule behind him. They head to San Francisco on Sunday to play the underdog 49ers at Monster Park after a road loss to the Ravens and a home victory over the world-champion Steelers. But the Chargers aren't in a position to exhale too deeply.

They realize if they want to make the playoffs for the second time since 1995, it's games like the ones against the 49ers which must be handled smartly.

What the Chargers hope prevents them from taking a foe lightly after a big win is coach Marty Schottenheimer's midnight rule. Regardless off the outcome of that week's game, it is retired by midnight Monday night.

"Like golf, they say you got to stay in the moment, deal with now," Schottenheimer said. "If you hit one out of bounds, you put it on the tee and you have to hit it in play somewhere."

So if a particular Chargers' opponent is or isn't up to par, Schottenheimer stresses to his players to place it aside.

"Each of us have a finite ability to focus and some of us focus better than others," he said. "But the reality is don't get involved with dealing with things that you have no further control over because you are wasting your time, you're taking away your focus for the next event, whatever it might be.

"The whole idea is that you recognize the fact you can't do anything about - it is over. All you can do is look forward because if you find yourself distracted by what has already happened, you become less efficient in what you have to do. So you put it aside and you move on, that is the essence of it."

The players have bought into the idea, although they admit some weeks are more challenging than others.

"That is why this is the toughest sport to deal with, I think, from week to week," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "You don't get but 16 shots and you are either in or out after that. So you gear back up because you don't have many opportunities."

Rivers made the most of his latest chance, directing the Chargers to a come-from-behind victory over the Steelers. Rivers helped erase a 13-7 deficit for a 23-13 victory in his fourth NFL start.

"I didn't play perfect, I made some mistakes," Rivers said. "It was a good win and a good step. I still have a ways to go."

But Rivers is quickly gaining the confidence of his teammates. Not that they had questioned it when the Chargers made the decision to let Drew Brees flee to New Orleans. But there is a difference between talking a good game and playing a few in a similar fashion.

"Philip is getting comfortable," LaDainian Tomlinson said.

Added Antonio Gates: "Since Day 1 we had faith he was going to do it and he did it."

Rivers has done it with a load of expectations. Club officials have stated they expect to go deep into the playoffs, despite a quarterback with just a handful of starts.

And Rivers' play becomes more important as defenses continually dare the Chargers to beat them through the air by loading up against the run.

--- S Terrence Kiel, who recently pleaded not guilty to five felony drug counts, started on Sunday and will continue to be in the lineup.
--- LT Leander Jordan has undergone additional test on his neck injury. Jordan, who at one time was running with the first string before getting beat out by rookie Marcus McNeill, suffered a stinger on Aug. 26 and hasn't practiced since.
--- K Nate Kaeding has bolted from the gate, converting on 11 of 12 field-goal attempts.
--- Getting Antonio Gates more involved in the offense has been a priority. Against the Steelers he had his second touchdown reception, finishing with three catches for 55 yards.
--- QB Billy Volek continues to be the No. 3 quarterback behind rookie backup Charlie Whitehurst.

Niners Digest Top Stories