Bolts Notebook: Riding High but Short on Time

The Chargers have rediscovered that feel-good sensation after two straight runaway wins. However, the division title appears set for Denver and the wildcard is a long-shot. Nonetheless, San Diego will still be in the hunt by kickoff time Sunday night. We give you a couple players to keep an eye on and take a deeper look at what it will take to put the Chargers in the postseason.

Looking for Liuget

The Chargers plan to face the Ravens without Jacques Cesaire (ankle), which means more playing time for rookie Corey Liuget. The team's first-round pick has been a major contributor this season, starting 10 of his 12 games played, but has struggled to make impact plays. He has yet to record a sack or even lay a hit on an opposing quarterback. Also, he only has two tackles for loss, a small number for a player known for his ability to get quick penetration.

He has a few big plays to his credit, including a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He also knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage last week against the Bills, the first pass breakup by a Chargers defensive lineman all season. However, those kinds of plays need to become more regular if San Diego is to feel justified for spending the No. 18 overall pick on him. Liuget will get his chance with expanded playing time on Sunday night against a 10-3 Baltimore squad.

Re-Open the Gates

When Antonio Gates (foot) was shut down in Weeks 3-5 following a catch-less performance in Week 2, there was concern he would bounce in and out of the lineup for the rest of the season. But Norv Turner remained optimistic, even predicting during Gates' down time that he would play enough in the final two-thirds of the season to finish with 60-plus receptions. With seven catches on Sunday night, Gates can hit the 60-catch mark for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

Gates has another magic number in his sights, as well. He is five catches away from becoming the team's all-time receptions leader, a record currently held by receivers coach and Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner. If Gates can carry his newfound healthiness into next season and beyond, he'll own many more major records in the near future.

An Uphill Battle

San Diego's best chance to make the playoffs involves winning its final three games, having the 8-5 Jets lose two of their next three (at Eagles, vs. Giants, at Dolphins) and hoping the Bengals, Titans and/or Raiders join them in a three-way tie at 9-7, which would likely put the Chargers in the playoffs on a tiebreaker.

Believe it or not, the hardest part of the equation is San Diego winning its last three games, despite how well the Chargers have played in December. San Diego's final three foes -- the Ravens, Lions and Raiders -- all have winning records (a combined 25-14). The Chargers are just 1-6 against teams with winning records, with that lone win coming against the Broncos in Kyle Orton's final start. Additionally, two of the Chargers' final three games are on the road, where Turner's team is just 2-4.

What's your take on Gates' bounce-back season? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the 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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