Chargers Gameday Primer

Now that the Chargers are out of playoff contention, the last game of the season becomes an exercise in horror – that they have to play another game that is meaningless stings as fans bring in the New Year without the postseason to look forward to.

On Offense:

No Philip Rivers this week. The team will maintain the status quo with Drew Brees at the helm.

"There is a difference between preseason and regular season." Head coach Marty Schottenheimer said on why he won't consider playing backup QB Philip Rivers.

This game, like all others, will be won in the trenches. The offensive line play has deteriorated as the season has progressed and the loss or Roman Oben proved to shake up the line play forcing erratic behavior across all the parts.

The line will be playing for jobs next season as the Chargers may be interested in several top college players who can help solidify the position and take LaDainian Tomlinson to a whole new level of effectiveness.

The Broncos will be without linebacker Al Wilson, providing a small break for the running game and Tomlinson is sour about not scoring a touchdown in four straight games. He wants to finish the year strong and begin the building blocks for next year.

"The wins go by so much faster and the losses stick with you," Tomlinson reminded as they head into the off-season.

Brees, for all his turnovers, hasn't had the cooperation of his receivers of late. Antonio Gates has dropped a few passes and even Tomlinson has missed a ball or two.

The two players who don't get as much publicity, Eric Parker and Keenan McCardell, have been stellar. They will be counted heavily in this game as well. Brees would like to get Parker his bonus with four more receptions and McCardell eyes Rod Smith on the other side as two unheralded players that simply go about their business.

"The key for any receiver being productive for his career this long of time, especially at mine and Rod's age, is to go out and outwork everyone else," McCardell said.

One player with a vested interest this week is Vincent Jackson. He has seen considerable time on the field in recent weeks and is looking forward to coming home.

"I'm not going to take it any differently than I would any other game, but I will have a lot of friends and family paying a little extra attention," Jackson said. "I didn't get to play the first time against Denver when we were there, so it'll be nice to get on the field against the Broncos and see what I can do."

On Defense:

Shawne Merriman heads the list of players who have something to really play for. A good game on Sunday could wrap up honors for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.

With Jamal Williams expected to be a game-time decision, the Chargers could face a stiff running game led by Tatum Bell.

"I want to prove to the coaches and my teammates I can carry 25 times and still come out of a game healthy," Bell said.

And with the Broncos already secure in their playoff positioning, Bell will likely get his chance.

There is the potential for a letdown in all phases of the game as the team talks the talk of playing hard but must walk the walk.

Mental lapses are common among teams that suddenly don't have much to play for.

"For everything to play out as it has is depressing at times," linebacker Steve Foley admitted.

That can't lead to mistakes or the team will go home with two losses in a row to end the season and a .500 record at home.

On Special Teams:

Darren Sproles was impressive the first time he practiced in minicamp. But the Chargers are surprised he's been unable to translate his dazzling speed into at least one kickoff-return touchdown. He has a respectable average of 24.4 yards per attempt, but he's yet to hit a home run.

It was Sproles' inability to handle punts that cost that return role. He's more comfortable fielding kicks, but after coming oh-so-close numerous times, he can't break that one tackle which would spring him toward the end zone.

The team feels it has progressed through the year in all areas of the game except the kicking and return game. Schottenheimer said that both were on par with last year. Heading into the off-season, this is a game the kicking game needs to make a statement – jobs could be on the line.


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