Chargers hit defining moment

The San Diego Chargers will be challenged this weekend more than any other. Their mental resolve and ability to pick up a victory against a team with a winning record, their physical toughness in the trenches and willingness to trade blows with a team that can be explosive on offense will be severely tested.

But this isn't the team that lost to Denver in week three. They have lost one game since. Harsh as it were, the facts are they haven't beaten a team with a winning record but they would have if one of those lucky teams met them right before the bye. The Chargers were playing better than any team in football at that point.

Since then have slid back slightly, beating teams they should anyway. Their kicking, Mike Scifres' job aside, game has fallen to pieces when it was termed one of their strengths by head coach Marty Schottenheimer. Their running game showed signs of weakness this past week. But these are good things when the team is still winning.

It takes away any thoughts that this magical run is done. It puts reality square in the middle of the fantasy year they are accumulating.

"I was disappointed in our rush defense last week, as was our team, but maybe it was the best thing because it was a wakeup call," Schottenheimer said. "We have to do a lot better job because this guy (Reuben Droughns) can run the ball downhill. He can probably run uphill too.

"He is a load. He runs like he is 240 or 250. He does a great job of getting behind his pads. He has good body lean. I can't believe he is only 215 pounds."

Schottenheimer even compared Droughns to Terrell Davis. I see a Hertz commercial in his future.

The Broncos are loaded with talent. They have the big names the Chargers supposedly lack.

While the Broncos are blowing fourth quarter leads, however, the Chargers are holding them.

"When a player is challenged, that's how you define a great player in my opinion," running back LaDainian Tomlinson said in what will be the biggest game of his career. "One that won't run from a challenge."

The same holds true for the team. They had been searching for an identity and found it and now look to stow away the demons of the past.

Unlocking the door to the future begins with Denver. They run tough, Jake Plummer has athletic ability and can make plays and the defense is tough on third downs, in the red zone and in the fourth quarter. It sets up a matchup of historic proportions.

"The whole nation is going to be keyed into this game," left tackle Roman Oben said.

But as has been the case through the first 12 weeks of the season, the Chargers aren't playing to prove the critics wrong, they are playing to prove their expectations were right.

"We all realize the implications as far as the playoffs and the AFC West," quarterback Drew Brees said. "The fact that it is Denver in general – now that it is for AFC West Championship that makes it even bigger."

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