After winning three straight and mugging the Ravens on national TV Sunday night, the Chargers are feeling good about themselves. They should, although that feel-good vibe falls down a notch when eying the playoff picture.
The Chargers remain one game off the AFC West pace behind the Broncos, with two games remaining. They are also in the wild-card chase, but they'd need to leapfrog numerous teams there.
Still, considering where the Chargers were less than a month ago and where they are today, they'll take it.
"It's a big game for us," defensive tackle Antonio Garay said of Saturday's battle with the Lions. "We have two games left. We have a short week, and then it's one game at a time just like we've been approaching it all year. We need things to go our way obviously, but all we can do is play our game."
The Chargers have done that of late -- playing their best game of the season Sunday night. But it's probably too little too late -- although it might save the jobs of coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith.
First, though, is the game against the Lions.
"I know they're an awfully explosive offensive football team," Turner said. "I know that they're very talented defensively. I know they play very fast in their dome. It's going to be another real big challenge."
The Chargers have been challenged since falling three games under .500. Now they are back on even ground and back in the playoff conversation.
"When they are healthy," Ravens running back Ray Rice said of the Chargers, "they are a great team."
The Chargers just hope they're not the best team not to make the playoffs.
--Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes is making his mark, leading the team with 11 sacks. Barnes had a career-high four sacks Sunday against the Ravens, his former team. "It was nice," he said. "You think about the things that I went through with them, and everything happens for a reason, and I have no animosity toward the Ravens. ... It was great to get out there and show what I can do."
--Left tackle Jared Gaither was another Charger with a score to settle Sunday night. Gaither started with the Ravens, bounced to the Chiefs and landed with the Chargers for the past three weeks -- all wins. "I have a great cast around me," Gaither said. "They help me out tremendously. I tip my hat off and give thanks for those guys. We have a great nucleus, and they've been able to help me out and bring me up to speed quickly."
--With the Chargers' comeback, is it a sign of how the team is rallying around embattled coach Norv Turner?
"I hope so; I'm not the issue," Turner said. "They're the guys that go out and play. They're the guys that lay it on the line physically. They're the guys that hang in there mentally. We have great leadership. We have some new guys that are great leaders, but we've had a group of guys that are outstanding leaders."
--DE Jacques Cesaire (ankle) has a good chance of playing Saturday after skipping the Baltimore game. Cesaire was almost active against the Ravens, but a decision was made to let him sit.
--OLB Travis LaBoy (knee) could be down this week. LaBoy was undergoing tests to determine the severity of his injury.
--CB Antoine Cason could get some more work as a punt returner. The Chargers have been reluctant to put a starting defensive back in that role, but they are looking for a boost in their return game.
--TE Antonio Gates could eclipse Charlie Joiner to become the franchise's all-time leading receiver in his native Detroit on Sunday. Gates needs three catches to pass Joiner, a Hall of Famer and team's receivers coach.
--TE Randy McMichael had only two catches Sunday, but that doesn't speak to his contributions. McMichael helped the Chargers' pass protection, which didn't allow a sack against the Ravens.
REPORT CARD VS. RAVENS
PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Philip Rivers threw for 270 yards and a score, but more important, he didn't turn the ball over. Rivers is a different player now that he has his injured targets back near full strength -- Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates. The pass-blocking was great in keeping Rivers clean -- no sacks, though he did get rocked once or twice.
RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert are proving to be the two-headed monster that few teams want to tackle. Mathews went past the 1,000-yard mark on the year with 90 yards and two touchdowns. Tolbert added a touchdown as well. The run-blocking produced 145 yards, which is saying something against the Ravens.
PASS DEFENSE: A -- This was a role reversal with the Chargers getting seven sacks, the Ravens zero. OLB Antwan Barnes had four sacks. San Diego got interceptions from OLB Shaun Phillips and ILB Takeo Spikes. The defense took advantage of the Ravens being forced to pass.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Ravens love to point Ray Rice at the defense and go from there. And while Rice averaged 5.7 yards a carry, he was restricted to 10 carries with the Chargers jumping to a big lead. The Ravens didn't crack the 90-yard rushing mark. ILB Donald Butler and Spikes each had four tackles.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- A missed field goal keeps it from being an "A." Nick Novak did nailed field goals from 45 and 28 yards. Mike Scifres didn't punt all day to illustrate how much the Ravens were dominated. A 47-yard kick return by Baltimore wasn't pretty.
COACHING: A -- Norv Turner has kept this team interested when it was 4-7 and very easily could have closed up shop. Against the Ravens, his play-calling was good, and he coached up his line do its best blocking of the season. Defensively, Greg Manusky was dealt a solid hand when the Chargers went ahead and the Ravens were forced to throw -- which isn't what the Ravens do.
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