Chargers seek December glory

This is what normal football fans wait for each year. They eagerly stock up the cooler and fetch the Bar-B in anticipation of a game that means something in December. They put on their heaviest winter coat (a sweatshirt will do in San Diego) to watch their favorite team live as they chase down a playoff spot. That excitement has come to an unthinkable place, where the Chargers play.

"They won," a buddy says at the water cooler Monday morning. "Is that two in a row?"

"It's actually five in a row," says the football savant, swelling with pride.

And the murmur begins to travel.

The excitement is so great that one would think Britney Spears was in town.

"Electric," LaDainian Tomlinson said.

And so it is. The Chargers have pulled a furlong ahead in the AFC West race. While they lead by a nose, the Broncos are looking to even things up and present a problem for San Diego. Denver has been here before while the Chargers have not smelled anything but last place in years. Most of the Chargers were in middle school or freshmen in high school when the Chargers were good.

But everyone understands the implications of Sunday's game. You would have to be from another planet if you didn't.

Even second year player and emerging superstar Antonio Gates understands what is at stake on Sunday:

"We are at home and we want to protect our house," he said with an eye towards a playoff game at Qualcomm. "It is playing for first place again, despite them being 7-4. Opportunity presents itself again and we put ourselves in a situation to be first in the division and take advantage of it."

Of course, Gates is playing like a veteran and has the attention of the entire Denver defense. Their coordinator seemed genuinely scared of the Bolts' offensive attack and mentioned Gates explicitly. The rest of the defense talked about how other teams have been inconsistent in their responsibilities and vow they won't make the same mistakes. Gates has garnered so much attention that Champ Bailey will likely draw him one-on-one whenever possible.

"The corners are usually your best cover people," Bailey said. "If he's the best receiver, why not put a corner on him?"

As usual, the Chargers hope the threat of a downfield passing attack will soften up the Broncos defense for the running game, led by LaDainian Tomlinson.

With the addition of Keenan McCardell since last time these two teams met, the Broncos have an additional man to watch while being down a corner (Lenny Walls).

The list goes on but Gates is the key, as witnessed by his 11 touchdown receptions.

"I think Antonio Gates is LaDainian Tomlinson's best friend," Schottenheimer said knowingly. "Because if we split L.T. out of the backfield and we have Gates in a position where he has free access, some linebacker has got to go cover one or the other."

A dream made in heaven and the offense hasn't been slowed in weeks. It could not be a better time for the Chargers to be playing at the top of their game.

This, my friends, is what December is supposed to be. Welcome to the fraternity.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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