Bye Week Review

Heading into the bye week, the San Diego Chargers are 6-3 and tied for first place atop the AFC West. Drew Brees is the heavy favorite for the Comeback Player of the Year award, and will have an outside shot at being named league MVP if he is able to maintain his current high level of play. However, the team has a lot of football left to play, starting with a three-game stretch of divisional opponents that will determine the true direction of the Chargers season.

"We have three games in a row against divisional opponents," Donnie Edwards said. "We have Oakland, Kansas City and then Denver. We have a great opportunity to get ahead in our division."

Even though the team is playing better than anyone could have anticipated at this point in the season, there are still areas in need of improvement. For example, the team switched to the 3-4 defense this season in an attempt to create more turnovers and sacks. However, the team's number one cornerback, former top five pick Quentin Jammer, has yet to register a single interception. Also, Ben Leber, one of the starting outside linebackers (who are used frequently as pass rushers in this scheme) has yet to record a sack.

Then there is the offense, where even though Drew Brees played well, the offense apparently did not perform well enough for Coach Schottenheimer to feel as though his team could win with LaDainian Tomlinson on the bench. Tomlinson's injured groin now has two weeks to heal, and Chargers fans have to hope that is enough. As well as Brees has played, Tomlinson is still the one that drives this offense. When healthy, he is still the best runner in the league and the best receiver on this team. The Chargers are a different team than last year, but to imply that they can win in the playoffs without Tomlinson at 100 percent is ridiculous.

Despite these worries, this team is in great position to make a run at the post-season during their final seven games. The primary reason for this is that the offensive line has exceeded all expectations. The additions of veterans Mike Goff and Roman Oben cannot be overlooked here, as they have provided the leadership and durability that have stabilized the line. Coach Houck deserves his due for having two rookies ready to contribute from the get go.

Another bright spot has been the spectacular play from the tight end position. By now everyone is aware of the emergence of Antonio Gates, the former basketball player who is on pace for over 1,000 yards and 14 touchdowns this year. But the real story here is the solid play of backup Justin Peelle. The third-year player has already caught two touchdown passes this season, which impressive considering the minimal amount of looks he receives. He also deserves some credit for the Chargers steady success in the running game, whether it be Tomlinson or Chatman in the backfield.

Overall, some players have stepped up, and others still need to do so in the season's second half.

"It comes down to how we perform in those seven games," said Schottenheimer. "It is a seven game season. I made it clear to them that we have seven games that remain. If you want to win in this league, you have to win in the division. Four (division) games are still a part of that remaining schedule."

The reason the team is winning, though, is that they trust each other. They realized they were pegged as one of the worst teams in the NFL, and understood that they only had one another to help dig out of that hole. They have worked hard, stayed focused, and are now well on their way. And when they clinch the AFC West title on January 2nd, only the 53 men in that locker room will be able to say they saw it coming.

Michael Lombardo can be reached at

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