Will Bolts Make Excuses or Statement?

The Chargers, 0-4 versus teams with winning marks, look to make a long overdue statement as they head to Chicago to take on the red-hot Bears. The players are beat-up and the coaching staff is under scrutiny, so this game could ignite or crush San Diego's hopes for another late-season playoff push.

The Chargers, though riding a four-game skid, are in the thick of the playoff race thanks to the mediocre nature of the AFC West. The Raiders have a one-game lead on the rest of the division, but Oakland still has to play every team in the NFC North, the winningest division in football. The Raiders also have to deal with the Chargers and Chiefs one more time, games that could ultimately decide the division.

It's clear the Chargers are still in the hunt, but to close the gap they must win some games that outsiders have penciled in as losses. That begins on Sunday.

The topic this week has been injuries. The O-line is a mess, with Marcus McNeill (neck), Kris Dielman (concussion - I.R.), Louis Vasquez (ankle) and Tyronne Green (hand) all in danger of missing the game. Other key players in danger of sitting out are Shaun Phillips (foot) and Malcom Floyd (hip).

Fortunately, the Chargers have some depth at these positions. The replacements for McNeill and Dielman, Polish Powers Brandyn Dombrowski and Scott Mruczkowski, both have more than a dozen career starts under their belts, so it's not like they are new to the experience.

Things get trickier if Green sits out -- he played through his hand injury on Thursday but it has worsened since. If he's down, he will be replaced by rookie Steve Schilling or journeyman Tony Moll, who has played in 60 games in his career but none so far this season. Another midweek pickup, Ikechuku Ndukwe, will be active if all of the "questionable" players are unable to go.

It is not an ideal situation, but other teams have overcome worse, most notably last season's Super Bowl champions, the Green Bay Packers.

That has to be the attitude adopted by these Chargers if there is any hope of them rallying to reclaim the AFC West -- shut up and deal with it.

Ryan Mathews has to show he is a workhorse, moving the chains and controlling the game clock. Vincent Brown must continue his breakout. Na'il Diggs needs to shadow Matt Forte and stop him from racking up yardage. Antwan Barnes has to pressure Jay Cutler into some bad decisions.

Oh, and Philip Rivers needs to protect the football, but that should be a given by now.

There is a long list of players who must step up, some of them headliners and some of them who don't even know the names of all their teammates yet. From top to bottom, this team must rally and steal a win against a quality team, both to show the Chargers are for real and to put some pressure on the Raiders.

It has to be now ... the line between first and last place has never been thinner.



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Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.


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