Chargers recipe is home cooking

The San Diego Chargers received a 24-hour extension in an attempt to sellout Qualcomm Stadium. Perhaps fans remember the four times last season they had to drive home sulking after a loss.

The Chargers kick off their home schedule Sunday against the Titans, hoping they've kicked to the curb their Qualcomm Stadium woes.

Among the reasons the Chargers earned the best-team-not-to-make-the-playoffs tag last year were the hiccups at home.

Playoff teams dominate at home, and the Chargers seldom did that in their 9-7 campaign. The Chargers spit out but a 4-4 record on their home turf, and that included two losses to end the season.

Chargers general manager A.J. Smith called the team's .500 home mark last year unacceptable. The Chargers have to accept the notion that playing tough at home is a prerequisite for making the playoffs for only the second time since 1995.

Just look back at the Chargers' run to a rare AFC West title in 2004. The Chargers accumulated a 7-1 record. This year's home schedule appears to be built to the Chargers' liking. There is a Sunday night date with the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 8, but there are also some potentially soft spots.

Sunday's first visitor is the Titans, who are coming off a 5-11 season. Skip the Steelers, then two other winnable games appear: the Rams (9-7 in '05) and Browns (5-11).

The Raiders will try to end their recent road troubles in San Diego on November 26; the Raiders haven't won in San Diego since 2002.

The last three home games could prove more difficult. The defending AFC West champion Broncos arrive in December, one week ahead of the Chiefs. Both of these divisional rivals figure to be pushing the Chargers for a playoff berth; the Broncos ended the Chargers' season last year in San Diego with a 23-7 spanking.

The Chargers finish their home and regular-season schedule by playing the Cardinals, who could be vastly improved at that stage of the season.

If nothing else, third-year pro quarterback Philip Rivers recognizes the importance of winning at home, just like he knows he doesn't have to carry the squad by himself.

"I think that's the key thing," Rivers said. "Not only (LaDainian Tomlinson), but this team that we have is such a solid bunch. Offensively the weapons -- LT, (Antonio) Gates -- and I could go on and on. And the guys up front now are going into their third year together. Obviously a new left tackle (Marcus McNeill), but those other guys have been together, this is their third year.

"And a defense that gets better every day. I could go on and on. But I think I'm stepping into a great situation where I don't have to come in and say, 'All right, I have to make every play. I gotta try to be a hero.' I just have to try to manage the game.

"I do feel fortunate that I have a guy standing directly behind me that I can give the ball to that can make big things happen."

If the Chargers happen to make the playoffs, they have to stand tall at home. Anything less, and general manager A. J. Smith's talk of going deep in the playoffs will look foolish.


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