Bolts Anticipate a Second-Half Push

Is it too late for the Chargers' second-half push? The Chargers, at 3-5, are bummed in how the season has progressed. But they are upbeat for a couple of reasons as they try to return to the playoffs for the third time in four seasons.

Despite stumbling in the season's opening half, they are not far off the pace behind the Denver Broncos.

If the Chargers produce anything like last year's late sprint -- went 7-1 in the final regular-season games and advanced to the AFC Championship Game -- they could claim their fourth AFC West crown in five seasons.

"Well the thing is that we are in a division that is winnable," coach Norv Turner said. "When you are at the halfway point and you haven't played at the level you'd like to play that is a bonus. I think to a man our guys know that we haven't played at the level we are capable of playing."


HC Norv Turner
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The Chargers, who traveled 11,000 miles for road games in Buffalo and London before Sunday's bye, also are ready for some home-cooking. Five of their final eight games are at Qualcomm Stadium -- but they aren't easy with a slate including visits from the Colts, Falcons, Raiders and Broncos.

"That we are at home, the fact that we know we can play better, the fact that we're in a division that is very, very competitive and is going to go or should go down to the wire, gives us a lot to look forward to," Turner said.

New defensive coordinator Ron Rivera also makes his debut Sunday against the Chiefs. Rivera is hoping to light a fire under a unit that has underperformed, and never compensated for losing Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Rivera, who had been the Chargers' inside linebackers coach since 2007, replaced Ted Cottrell. The Chargers were ranked No. 28 overall and No. 32 against the pass when the Chargers introduced their third defensive coordinators since 2006.

GOOD NEWS

The Chargers have many problems but their offense isn't one of them. The unit has been smoking hot of late, with Philip Rivers enjoying the best first half since he became a starter in 2006.

Rivers is completing nearly 64 percent of his passes and is among the league leaders with 19 touchdown passes.

Also, running back LaDainian Tomlinson (toe) and tight end Antonio Gates (hip, toe) are also as healthy as they have been all year. They both ended the first half with their best games of the season.

The Chargers are also hopeful the offensive line is starting to click, as injuries wrecked any early-season continuity.

BAD NEWS

While the offense has sizzled, the defense has fizzled.

Any team would be derailed by losing a game-changing player such as Merriman. But the Chargers haven't figured out a way to mask the loss and that was among the reasons Cottrell was fired.

This unit led the league in interceptions, turnovers and turnover ratio last year, but has yet to play at the level. With a fondness for playing soft zone coverage and seldom employing a blitz package that rattled quarterbacks, everyone from Jake Delhomme to Drew Brees have embarrassed the defense.

Maybe inserting Rivera and his more aggressive coach as the coordinator will supply the spark. But it's the players -- Pro Bowl defensive tackle Jamal Williams and cornerback Antonio Cromartie performances have been spotty -- that need to respond to right the defense.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is expecting a big second half as his toe injury is no longer an issue. He also spoke with coach Norv Turner about being a larger focal point of the offense.

--CB Antonio Cromartie is hoping his second half isn't a repeat performance of the first half. Cromartie seemed more intent on intercepting passes than supplying solid coverage and teams have been picking on him. He's also been slowed by a bad hip, which will improve during the bye week.

--ILB Stephen Cooper isn't talking about it much but he is fighting a sprained knee.

--WR Chris Chambers has got past his sprained ankle and is primed for a solid second half. Chambers is tied with Antonio Gates among Chargers with five scoring catches.

--WR Vincent Jackson, in his second year as a starter, is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season. Jackson has 30 catches for 538 yards and four touchdowns.


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