The Chargers are two back of the AFC West-leading Broncos after dropping their fourth of five road games Sunday in Pittsburgh. Their likely lone shot of securing a playoff berth is by winning the division, and that option looks bleak after losing for the third time in four games.
The promise of a big year has nearly gone poof. If the Chargers truly are going to make a second-half run for the second straight season, they better hurry. Last year they went 7-1 down the stretch. This year they're 1-1 and appear headed for more heartache.
With the Chargers looking to climb back into the race, a few rough patches await. Of their remaining six opponents, four have winning records -- Colts, Falcons, at Buccaneers and Broncos. And their under .500 rivals are divisional foes -- Oakland and at Kansas City -- which are never easy games.
SS Clinton Hart
Plus in a regular-season victory over the Colts, Peyton Manning was harassed into a career-high six interceptions. Manning could be facing a revived Chargers' pass rush, which has struggled this season. But in new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera's second game since taking over, the Chargers recorded four sacks.
To keep the football from Manning, the Chargers will again search for its displaced running game to hog the time of possession. The offense is coming off a game with just 62 rushing yards. LaDainian Tomlinson managed but 57 yards on 18 carries.
The Chargers are banking on quarterback Philip Rivers, who is among the league leaders in various categories, curtailing his recent string of turnovers. He had two more interceptions and fumbled for a safety at Pittsburgh in throwing for a season-low 159 yards.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's just frustrating when you know that that's not the San Diego Chargers." -- TE Antonio Gates, on the offense getting back on track against Colts after a season-low 10 points Sunday.
LINEUP WATCH: Keep an eye on DL Ryon Bingham, who has had a good year in a backup role. With DEs Luis Castillo and Jacques Cesaire getting nicked in Pittsburgh, Bingham figures to see more playing time. Bingham was spelling Jamal Williams inside earlier this year when he was rounding into shape after offseason knee surgeries. Bingham can play tackle and end; the Chargers like his hard-nosed approach. But if Cesaire is out, he'll be missed.
"Jacques comes in as a backup, but if he plays on any other team he'd be a starter," Chargers linebacker Stephen Cooper said. "Jacques has been doing this since he's been in the league. He's a real patient player. He doesn't mouth off or anything about playing time. He just goes in and gets the job done."
--WR Chris Chambers' return from a recent ankle injury has been slow. He had three catches on Sunday after zero receptions the previous game.
--DT Jacques Cesaire injured his thigh and will be evaluated this week. Cesaire is coming off a two-sack game in Pittsburgh.
--DT Luis Castillo (groin) had to leave the game and will be evaluated this week.
--S Steve Gregory (neck) looks to return this week after missing a game.
--ILB Brandon Siler is getting more playing time on running downs. Siler had a big goal-line stop against the Steelers.
--Undrafted rookie FB Mike Tolbert continues to start in front of Jacob Hester, a third-round pick. But the undersized Tolbert has been challenged in some blocking schemes.
--TE Antonio Gates could reach the 50-touchdown mark faster than any other NFL tight end. If he does it Sunday, it'll be in his 88th career game. Jerry Smith caught his 50th touchdown pass in his 100th career game.