On the road again

The Carolina Panthers are favored to win on Sunday when they play the San Diego Chargers. Then we throw out this statistic and wonder what they know that we don't. The three teams to beat the Bolts are a combined 15-2 and in each one of them the Chargers played the opposition tough.

Now the Chargers have added another piece to the puzzle with Keenan McCardell and their star running back, who many felt should perhaps sit for a game, is reportedly healthy.

LaDainian Tomlinson, who looked slightly hobbled last week, reports to be just fine with his groin injury. His coach, Marty Schottenheimer, confirmed that he is better this week than last. And perhaps the rain that kept him off the practice field was a blessing.

"He is fine," said Schottenheimer. "We have been holding him out a day or two at practice because he is one player who will get his reps in the game. He is much improved this week over the last."

The Panthers are ranked 30th against the run (143.4 yards per game) and now are missing standout DT Kris Jenkins. Good news for the Chargers and Tomlinson. The fourth year running back has been steady but has only had one real breakout game.

The addition of McCardell and Bobby Shaw should open up the running game a bit more. Defenses will still stack the line – until they get bit.

"The mixture of all of them is going to be tough to defend when you throw in LaDainian, Gates, Peelle and the rest of them," quarterback Drew Brees said.

McCardell maintains a simplistic approach as he years to get on the field against Carolina this Sunday.

"It is basic football," he said. "Just throwing and catching and blocking."

But receivers aside, the Chargers feel they are on the cusp of a run in the AFC West. They see that Denver is atop the division but no one is knocking on their door.

The Panthers have lost four games but they have also faced stiff competition in their losses. The combined record of the four teams to beat the Panthers have gone 17-6 this year and one of those teams, Green Bay, is 2-4 but widely considered a perennial powerhouse.

So this game won't be easy. Carolina has had to deal with injuries by the truckload.

San Diego, making a trek to the east coast for the second consecutive week, still sees itself in an enviable position.

"I think we are happy with the situation we are in," Brees said. "Obviously, we would like to be better than 3-3, but we are happy we aren't worse than 3-3. We have given ourselves an opportunity because we really haven't dipped into our AFC West schedule except in Denver. We still have a lot of season left, and I think we are right where we want to be."

His coach, however, is a little scared of the game this week. He has stressed to his players that 1-4 means nothing in the NFL. Any team can make a surge.

"My concern is we are dealing with a wounded bear, and they are going to bring their best," Schottenheimer said. "I think we are going to have to be at our best to be able to compete."

Their best hinges on the health of Tomlinson and the addition of two veteran receivers on offense and stopping the run on defense. They have assembled a nice core of veterans to compliment this young team.

The veterans know the road is long but are eager to teach the lessons associated with winning.

"Young and excited about winning football games," Shaw said of his new team. "Not just playing them but winning them."

A win this week could set the Chargers up for a true run at the playoffs. A loss and they will need to reexamine their team again.

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