Hot Winter in SD

The weather is turning cold and the Chargers are warming up. The Chargers (7-5) head to Tennessee on Sunday, two games over .500 for the first time this season. They got there by beating the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium, 24-10, on Sunday.

"We want to get on a roll and be hot come the end of December," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "It's certainly better to be where we are rather than looking up at someone. But we still have that sense of urgency that we had a couple of weeks ago."

The Chargers swore they never panicked, but doubt had crept in after a shaky start -- they lost three of their first four games -- and a stretch of maddening inconsistency. It seemed after every time the defending AFC West champions took a step forward, it was followed by one in reverse.

But their drive to consecutive playoff appearances is picking up steam. They lead the division by two games over the Broncos and should be favored in their remaining games: at Tennessee, Detroit, Denver and at Oakland.

"We know where we stand and we know that we control our own destiny, but we can't breathe any easier because we're still not pleased with being 7-5," Rivers said.

But the picture is rosy after dominating the Chiefs. The previous time they played this year the Chiefs shocked the Chargers at home, sending them to 1-3 and turning the heat up on new coach Norv Turner.

But those critics don't have as much ammunition with the Chargers atop the AFC West and looking for their third straight win.

"I think we have improved as a football team all the way through," Turner said, after defeating the Chiefs for the first time after six losses. "I know there were some weeks that it didn't show up."

But the Chargers are revealing what many said before the season -- this is among the NFL's most talented and diverse teams.

The offense is back on track, with Rivers taking better care of the ball and LaDainian Tomlinson getting some running room with improved run-blocking. He rushed for 177 yards in Kansas City, going over the 1,000-yard mark for the seventh consecutive year.

The defense is showing its aggressive side with eight sacks and four turnovers in K.C. Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman had three of the sacks and recovered a fumble.

"We just kept applying pressure the whole game and we didn't let up," Merriman said.

And cornerback Antonio Cromartie continues to blossom as the second-year pro had two more interceptions, giving him the league lead at eight. Cromartie is looking for at least two more to reach 10.

"That's my goal every single year," he said. "But that's not the biggest thing for me. My biggest thing, for me, is as long as we get a victory."

This victory came with a dose of confidence. The Chargers had won but one of their five road games before prevailing in Kansas City for only the second time in 11 trips.

"We have to be able to put together a win streak," Tomlinson said. "Not only that but be able to win on the road. We're not going to play all our playoff games at home if we make it to the playoffs."

Not long ago a playoff invitation seemed dicey. But no more, with the way the Chargers are rolling.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson passed his childhood idol, Walter Payton, in career rushing touchdowns after scoring twice Sunday. Tomlinson has 111, the third-highest total in NFL history.

--DT Jamal Williams sprained an ankle in the win over the Chiefs, but should be able to go Sunday.

--DE Jacques Cesaire suffered a thumb injury and will be evaluated this week.

--DE Luis Castillo hasn't suffered any setbacks in his rehabilitation from ankle surgery and is hoping to return against Denver on Dec. 24.

--OLB Shawne Merriman has 10 sacks, which ties him for fourth-most in the league. That gives Merriman double-digit sack totals in each of his first three seasons.


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