Welcome to Philcember
It is the unstoppable force versus the immovable object.
Philip Rivers does nothing but win this time of year. He has a career record of 33-6 in regular-season games in the months of December and January. But then again, he has never seen a closing schedule like this.
With home games against the New England and Denver followed by visits to San Francisco and Kansas City, it is hard to envision any quarterback -- even one as seasonally dominant as Rivers -- coming out of that stretch with a winning record.
The first challenge on the gauntlet is the most daunting. Rivers is just 1-5 in his career against the Patriots, with the lone win coming in 2008 when Tom Brady missed the final 15 games of the season with a left knee injury.
"I've never played them by myself, thank goodness," Rivers said. "We've never played this Patriot team. We're 0-0 against this group. There's a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life. You can't really say this team is 1-5 against them."
The Chargers went 4-0 in regular-season games after Dec. 1 last season, riding that winning streak all the way into the Divisional Round of the playoffs. There is no chance this team finishes 4-0, not with the quality of teams left to play, but a 3-1 finish would guarantee San Diego a playoff spot and extend the legacy of Philcember.
A New Kind of Curse
Chargers fans have no choice but to believe in curses. Given what has happened to several members of the 1994 Super Bowl team, how could they not? Now, it appears a whole new kind of curse has landed in San Diego. It is not nearly as serious as the Super Bowl curse, fortunately, but it is hovering over the offensive line.
The Chargers put backup offensive lineman Ryan Miller on the reserve, non-football injury list on Thursday, ending his season less than two weeks after he was called up to the active roster. Miller suffered a concussion when he slipped on his way to the practice field on Wednesday.
"I feel real bad for him," said Head Coach Mike McCoy. "It's a tough situation. It's a freak accident that happened [Wednesday]."
The Chargers promoted Jeff Baca, who just joined the practice squad last week, to the active roster to take Miller's place. Former SDSU lineman Bryce Quigley will take Baca's place on the practice squad.
Elsewhere on the offensive line, D.J. Fluker was added to the injury report with a concussion. He missed practice on Thursday after experiencing concussion-like symptoms after Wednesday's practice. If Fluker cannot play against the Patriots, swing tackle Willie Smith would start in his place. The drop-off there would not be too great in pass protection, but Fluker is far better as a run blocker. That could hurt against the Patriots, as the strategy will likely be to run the ball, control the clock and keep Brady & Co. off the field as much as possible.
Chris Watt, who left the Ravens came with a calf injury, has yet to practice this week. He has a chance to go on Friday, but the odds are that Trevor Robinson will become the fifth player to start at center for the Chargers this season. Robinson, who played with Watt at Notre Dame, did well in filling in against the Ravens. But the constant turnover up front is bound to catch up to the Chargers sooner than later.
The curse is real.
Allies in One Regard
The Chargers and Patriots will oppose one another on Sunday, but they are on the same side of one very important fight: both want to see Junior Seau elected into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Seau, who played with the Chargers from 1990 to 2002 and with the Patriots from 2006-2009, is one of 15 first-year eligible players for the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Nobody loved the game more than Junior did, and nobody would be more deserving to be in the Hall of Fame than Junior Seau," said Patriots coach Bill Belichick. "All-time leader in tackling, but more than stats, his love for the game, his passion for the game and the high level that he played at at a very difficult position."
Seau posted amazing numbers throughout his career (which also included three years in Miami), including 1,522 tackles, 56.5 sacks, 18 interceptions and 11 forced fumbles. But his greatest attributes could never be captured by a box score.
An intense leader who always went 100 miles per hour, Seau was the emotional force behind several top-five defenses. His ability to anticipate the snap and blow up plays before they ever got started is as signature as Cris Carter's sideline toe-taps or Peyton Manning's pre-snap gestations.
Seau, a six-time All Pro selection and 12-time Pro Bowler, was inducted to the Chargers Hall of Fame in 2011.
Can the Bolts overcome Fluker's potential absence? Discuss in the message boards.
Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the Scout.com team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.
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