Playoff Push Bodes Well for Future

The Chargers fell short in their quest to reach their second Super Bowl, falling to the undefeated Patriots, 24-12. But it was far from a wasted season as the team found its footing under new coach Norv Turner and served notice it will be a squad to contend with for years to come.

Still, the pain of the final loss to the Patriots was evident.

"Anything I say isn't going to change the disappointment I feel or the guys in our locker room feel because we came in here with every intention of winning this football game," said coach Norv Turner, who guided the team to its second AFC West title in three years.

"I know our guys competed. We had some unbelievable efforts, some guys making remarkable commitment in terms of laying it on the line when they probably shouldn't have been out there on the field, and I can't say enough about guys who care that much."

WHAT WENT RIGHT: The Chargers were able to overcome a 1-3 start to win their second AFC West title in three years. It was quite a feat in that Turner was being roasted in the early part of the year and there was a real shot the team could have packed it in. But in a nod to the type of stability Turner has and the character of the players, the Chargers rallied from being 5-5 and streaked to six straight wins to end the regular season. Then they won the franchise's first playoff game since the 1994 season in upending the Jaguars at home and upsetting the Colts on the road.

LaDainian Tomlinson, while a tick or two off his MVP season of 2006, turned in another phenomenal season as he lead the league in rushing for the second consecutive year. And quarterback Philip Rivers -- while experiencing somewhat of a sophomore slump midway through the season -- showed that he has the panache and attitude to overcome obstacles and be a top-notch quarterback. CB Antonio Cromartie quickly established himself as one of the NFL's elite defensive backs as he worked his way into the starting lineup and ended up leading the NFL with 10 interceptions -- and he scored touchdowns in three different manners. Shawne Merriman turned in another solid season with 12.5 sacks and Shaun Phillips added 8.5. Plus, the Chargers worked in two new starters at inside linebacker -- Matt Wilhelm and Stephen Cooper -- and they played with savvy and productivity of veterans.

WHAT WENT WRONG: The Chargers couldn't avoid the injury bug down the stretch and it ended up costing them in their playoff loss to the Patriots. The front line struggled early-on, but eventually turned the corner which helped propel the team to its strong finish. When the season was young, the team didn't get the production it hoped from wide receivers Vincent Jackson and rookie Buster Davis. That fueled the thought to make the trade with Miami for Chris Chambers; Jackson did come on big in the playoffs. "We know we are a great team," defensive end Luis Castillo said. "And we will do some great things in the future."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson had a sprained MCL and not a hyperextension in the game against the Pats and was able to carry it but two times to open the game.

--QB Philip Rivers, it was revealed, has a torn ACL that could require offseason surgery.

--QB Billy Volek, who is to become a free agent, might be looked at by the Chargers as someone to re-sign considering the injury to Rivers.

--RB Michael Turner, one of the NFL's top backups, will get plenty of action in the free agent market.

--Look for S Eric Weddle to possibly supplant Marlon McCree as a starter next year.


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