They trail the AFC West-leading Broncos by two games with six to play. And by the time the Chargers kick off Sunday, it could be a 2 1/2-game deficit if Denver beats Oakland earlier in the day.
Grab a shovel, Chargers, and let the digging begin.
The question is, are the Chargers digging their 2008 grave? Or out of a hole which has sunk to unthinkable depths.
It's getting late early for the Chargers, and they realize another stumble Sunday could wreck the season.
The Colts are first off in a three-game home stand that will define this dreary season for the underachieving Chargers.
"This will tell the story," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "What will December mean? What meaning will it have? Two games back but the team we're two games back from, we get to play them once. You just hope you can gain enough ground where that game will mean everything."
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
Or, better put, show the Chargers to be something they haven't been all year: a winning team.
They'll see one Sunday night in the Colts, who have resurrected their campaign with a three-game winning streak. Just the Chargers luck in their luckless season, they get Peyton Manning and his men playing with confidence.
As well as revenge.
Last January, the Chargers eliminated the Colts in the AFC playoffs. That the Chargers did it with Philip Rivers and LaDainian Tomlinson out hurt during the fourth quarter, added to the sting.
And in the regular season, the Chargers thumped the Colts on Monday Night Football when Manning threw six -- six! -- interceptions.
Manning will be looking to rectify that and keep his team rolling toward the playoffs.
But the Chargers can't worry about Manning, Indy or the price of gasoline. Their focus has to be grabbing hold of a wobbly steering wheel and right a ride that has been nothing but bumpy.
The team that has come oh-so-close in its losses can no longer find solace in being close. If it does, its season is close to being over.
"I don't know how many have come down to the wire where we have not been on the top end of some of these games," Rivers said. "There's no consolation in that.
"We haven't made the plays. That's what every team that's sitting at 4-6 or is struggling is saying. 'Golly, we're a couple plays away.' There are teams right now that are 4-6 that go to 7-9 or 6-10 and there's teams that battle back and give themselves a chance for the division. Hopefully we're going to be the latter of those, too."
If so, the Chargers will have to show more grit than they have to date. Maybe the urgency of the situation -- that goes for players and coaches -- will fuel the Chargers' sprint toward the playoffs.
"We know how close we are and our guys know how close we are," coach Norv Turner said. "We just need to get over the hump."
They better hurry.
SERIES HISTORY: 23rd regular-season meeting. The Chargers lead the series, 14-8. Last year the Chargers took a regular-season and playoff game from the Colts. In a Sunday night game in 2007, the Chargers built a 23-0 lead and held on for a 23-21 victory. In the playoff game, backup QB Billy Volek's 1-yard run ousted the Colts from the postseason in the last game at the RCA Dome.
--DE Jacques Cesaire is coming off a two-sack game and looking forward to playing again at Qualcomm Stadium. The Chargers welcome, in consecutive weeks, the Colts, Falcons and Raiders. "We're very excited about this three-game stretch at home because we love playing in front of our fans," he said. "We're hurting right now because things aren't going our way, but we're not down and out. We're still excited. Don't ever count us out. Ever."
--RB Michael Bennett, who was signed last week, has reported to the team and is working. It's unknown if Bennett will learn enough of the offense to be activated on Sunday.
QB Philip Rivers
--Chargers fans always are in full voice against the Colts, giving the Chargers a distinct home advantage. They boo Colts QB Peyton Manning at every opportunity, for being Eli's older brother. Eli Manning didn't want to be drafted by the Chargers in 2004.
--The Chargers intercepted Peyton Manning eight times last year in two games.
--Coach Norv Turner said despite the loss to the Steelers, his team continues to show its mettle by not giving up. "I'm impressed with the attitude, the resiliency," he said. "This is a group that has a lot of pride and care a lot about their performance and where we are as a football team. We've been in some tough situations where games could have gotten away from us. They have not let those games get away from us, whether it was in London or games early in the year where it was 21-3 early in the game (at Denver). This group is pretty resilient."
--Speaking of Turner, team president Dean Spanos and GM A.J. Smith have said they expect Turner to return next season.
--The Chargers feel good about playing on the West Coast. That's where all four of the wins have come -- three in San Diego and one in Oakland.
--The Chargers haven't had a turnover in four straight games.
--The Chargers had but one sack in the 13 quarters leading to the Steelers' game, then produced four. But it got lost with the team losing for the fifth times in six road games. "I don't want to say (we're happy) because we didn't get the win," OLB Shaun Phillips said. "We'll take no sacks and a win any day of the week." Phillips had 1/2 sack in Pittsburgh.
BY THE NUMBERS: 2 -- Losses in 20 regular-season starts at Qualcomm Stadium for QB Philip Rivers.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "Each year is another season gone and I'll be the first to tell you that I am running out of time." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, on the chances of him ever playing in a Super Bowl.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
With CB Cletis Gordon (knee) and S Steve Gregory (neck) banged-up recently, it means more playing time for Paul Oliver, a second-year pro. With the Chargers expected to see multiple receiver sets against the Colts, Oliver again figures to see plenty of playing time -- that goes for rookie nickel back Antoine Cason as well. Gordon is out again this week and Gregory returns after sitting out a game with a stinger.
Also, the team put WR Buster Davis (groin) on injured reserve. OL Corey Clark will take his roster spot, coming off the practice squad.
--QB Philip Rivers, in leading the Chargers to a 3-1 home mark, has thrown 11 touchdown passes against only three interceptions at home.
TE Antonio Gates
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson needs 17 yards to bump John Riggins from the No. 14 spot on the NFL's all-time rushing list.
--CB Quentin Jammer paces the Chargers with 17 passes defensed. Jammer has given up but two touchdown passes this season when in single coverage.
--ILB Brandon Siler continues to gain the coaches' confidence with his play of late. Siler is used in short-yardage situation and occasionally in the base.
--P Mike Scifres could be headed to his first Pro Bowl as he continues to lead the NFL in net average at 42.9 yards.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers need to hog the ball to keep Peyton Manning's mitts of it. To do so, once again the have to be willing to prove they are bent on establishing the run. The Chargers were pretty much stopped last week in Pittsburgh, but there is a big difference between the Steelers and Colts run defense, the weather conditions and playing at home, where one doesn't strain to hear the snap count. LaDainian Tomlinson, with but two 100-yard rushing games this season, has said he wants to get the running game back on track. If the Chargers can do that Sunday, it keeps Manning off the field.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers CB Quentin Jammer and Antonio Cromartie vs. Colts WRs Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne.
It's no fun being the back end of a pass defense ranked No. 32 and Jammer and Cromartie figure to be tested by Peyton Manning. Jammer is having a solid year -- although he has been slowed by leg cramps late in games -- but Cromartie hasn't played up to last year when he led the league with 10 interceptions -- three came against Manning. Harrison, in his last three games against the Chargers, has averaged 147.3 receiving yards. Wayne seeks his fourth straight 10-catch game against the Chargers.
Chargers underneath pass defense vs. Colts passing game, which features standout tight end Dallas Clark.
Tight ends have been crushing the Chargers this year -- it's one of the recurring shortcomings of the defense, which has been there since the season started. Last week, Pittsburgh's Matt Spaeth collected six catches for 55 yards. It's imperative ILB Matt Wilhelm supplies better coverage and is able to wrap up Clark quickly after the catch. The tackling of tight ends after they make a catch has been weak, and Clark isn't easy to bring down. If the corners are busy with Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne, it might be up to the safeties to give the linebackers a hand in holding down Clark. So far, what the Chargers have been doing isn't working, so don't be surprised if the Colts try to exploit the Chargers struggles in covering tight ends.
Chargers run defense vs. Colts running game.
If hoping to force Manning into obvious passing situations -- although is that a good thing when ranked last stopping the pass? -- the Chargers need to be stout on the early downs. But the run defense got punched for 115 yards by a banged-up Willie Parker last week and now that defense could be without DE Luis Castillo (groin) and ILB Stephen Cooper (recently hyper-extended elbow). Joseph Addai gave notice last week in the win over the Texans that he is back after rushing for 105 yards and a score. The Chargers will need a big day from DT Jamal Williams and improved tackling from the defenders in the second and third levels to keep the Colts' running attack under wraps.
INJURY IMPACT: DE Jacques Cesaire (knee) practiced Wednesday and will play Sunday.
--ILB Stephen Cooper (elbow) practiced and will play Sunday.
--DE Luis Castillo (groin) didn't practice and could be down this week. If so, that would mean more playing time for DE Jacques Cesaire and Ryon Bingham.
--CB Cletis Gordon (knee) will miss one more week.
--S Steve Gregory (neck) is back working and should play Sunday.
--DT Jamal Williams was given a rest day Wednesday. He will play.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) was limited in practice. He should start Sunday.