While other 4-7 squads are deciding on vacation spots, the Chargers still eye a playoff spot.
Strange, but true when trailing the first-place Broncos with two games with five to play.
The Chargers still feel as if they have the weapons to make a run. They still feel like it's not too late to flip one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history. They remain confident all is not lost, despite losing four of their last five games.
"The mood of the team is to keep on fighting," linebacker Shaun Phillips said. "I think the leadership around here did a good job of getting a good nucleus of guys with high character."
Phillips said that translates into teammates not giving up when the losses pile up.
"When you get high-character guys, no matter what is going on, they are going to be out there crawling, scratching, fighting and that is what I expect out of these guys," Phillips said.
Trouble is other teams are doing the same thing. That includes the resurgent Falcons, whose season as also been a surprise -- in the right way.
When the Chargers' schedule came out, this was a game which had a "W" put aside it. The Falcons were without quarterback Michael Vick and replaced him with a rookie in Matt Ryan.
QB Philip Rivers
And the defense is playing well, too.
"They are a tough defense, a talented group and playing with confidence," quarterback Philip Rivers said.
The Chargers? While they say they are confident, human nature says something else.
"Teams that are winning, when you turn on the tape, you can see the confidence and how fast they play," Rivers said. "And it's evident when you watch these guys."
The Chargers confidence, Rivers said, is still there -- to a degree.
"You are not lacking it, but certainly when you are winning you continue to build on it," Rivers said. "I don't think our confidence is shaken or we have a lack of belief of what we can accomplish and what we can do and how we can finish games.
"But when you don't do it, if you keep getting beat the same way, it's deflating.
"But we all know we can do it, we have all done it. There is not an unknown there. Can we do it? Can we get on a hot streak? Can we win some games? We know we can it's just a matter of us putting it together and I think that is the reason for the optimism is the situation we are in."
Those rosy glasses the Chargers wear are directly related to where they hang their hat. Being 4-7 in the AFC West means never having to say you are sorry -- at least not yet.
"If we are 4-7 right now and down five with five to play, it's a little different picture," Rivers said. "We're right there in the thick of it. They don't really care what your record is once you get (in the playoffs). But we have to be one of those teams that gets there and it starts by beating Atlanta on Sunday."
If not, the Chargers' playoff boat will spring another leak.
SERIES HISTORY: 8th regular-season meeting. The Falcons lead the series 6-1. These teams' last matchup came in a highly anticipated game between Falcons QB Michael Vick and Chargers RB LaDainian Tomlinson -- the No. 1 and No. 5 picks of the 2001 drafts, respectively. The Falcons held on for a 21-20 win before more than 70,000 fans at the Georgia Dome. Atlanta hasn't played in San Diego since 1997, another Falcons win. The Chargers' lone victory came during the 1988 season; the Falcons have won the past four games. The teams have never played each other in the playoffs.
--ILB Stephen Cooper said the Chargers can't keep wasting chances. Trailing by two games to the AFC West-leading Broncos, the Chargers could be only one game back if they would have won Sunday night after Denver was upset by the Raiders that afternoon. "We got a lifeline," Cooper said. "But if we're not winning games, we're not going to make the playoffs."
--It's amazing that the Chargers have lost three games by one point and one game by two points. "It seems like its Groundhog Day, where the same things keep on happening," OLB Shaun Phillips said.
--QB Philip Rivers (2,806) needs 194 passing yards to reach 3,000 for a third straight season and third time since taking over as a starter for Drew Brees.
--Rivers, on the team losing seven of 11 games but having the good fortune to play in the AFC West: "There isn't another 4-7 team in the league that still has a chance," he said.
LT Marcus McNeill
--The Chargers' pass defense has ranked dead last going into eight of the past nine games. After Week 1, it was tied for No. 27. Since, it has been either No. 32 or 31.
--The Chargers' potent offense might not get much help from the return game this week. The Falcons are ranked No. 1 in covering punts and No. 7 covering kickoffs.
--Only three ACC quarterbacks have completed more than 300 passes in a season -- the Chargers' Rivers (North Carolina State) and the Falcons' Matt Ryan (Boston College).
--Of the Chargers' four wins, only two have come at the expense of winning teams: the Jets and Patriots.
BY THE NUMBERS: 5 -- Sacks in the past two games since Ron Rivera took over as the defensive coordinator.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "It's a little surprising. But who knows what the reason is? Sometimes, when it's happened to you over and over again, sometimes the lack of confidence in those situations gets to you. It's just human nature." -- RB LaDainian Tomlinson, when asked why the Chargers consistently lose games in the final 30 seconds.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
Cornerback Cletis Gordon returns after missing two games with a knee injury. While not a starter, Gordon sees action in the dime package and can also spell Antonio Cromartie in the base. When Cromartie didn't start three games ago, it was Gordon who filled in and not the nickel back, rookie Antoine Cason.
Also, DE Luis Castillo is expected to return after missing last week with a groin injury. On the surface, that might mean backup Jacques Cesaire would head for the bench. But Cesaire has been impressive in spot play and has become a bigger part of the defensive line rotation. Even if Castillo is fit -- and there's no telling how long he will last when the injury becomes fatigued -- Cesaire will be on the field plenty.
--LT Marcus McNeill has worked all week after suffering a hip injury Sunday night. He will go against the Falcons.
--TE Antonio Gates is coming off a two-catch game. That marked the third time this season the Pro Bowler has had two-or-fewer catches in a game.
WR Legedu Naanee
--WR Chris Chambers has nine catches for 82 yards in his last two outings, a sign that his ankle injury is behind him. But Chambers, who missed two games with the injury, hasn't caught a touchdown pass since Oct. 5, the day he got hurt.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson rushing for 84 yards in Sunday's loss to the Colts wouldn't usually be a note. But to illustrate how far the Chargers' running game has nose-dived, that was the fourth-highest total Tomlinson has produced this year. Tomlinson has but two 100-yard rushing games 11 games into the season.
--QB Philip Rivers has been sacked twice in four of the past five games.
--OLB Shaun Phillips was quite the pass rusher when playing opposite Shawne Merriman. But since Merriman was lost for the season after the first game, Phillips has struggled with his production. In the last six games, Phillips has 1/2 of a sack.
GAME PLAN: On the surface it appears the Chargers should attack the Falcons' shaky run defense. But QB Philip Rivers is a different animal in Qualcomm Stadium, which means the Chargers could instead go after the Falcons through the air. Atlanta is giving up 230 passing yards per game and has allowed 14 touchdown passes. Rivers leads the NFL with 103.3 passer rating and he has been stellar at home. He has an 18-3 (.857) record with 29 TDs vs. 14 INTs and a 94.3 passer rating in home games. Rivers is shooting for his third straight game with three TDs against an NFC team.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
Chargers pass protection, with LT Marcus McNeill vs. Falcons pass rush, paced by RE John Abraham.
The Chargers need to keep an eye on a Falcons' pass rush which has collected 21 sacks, with Abraham leading the charge with 12. McNeill tweaked his hip in Sunday night's game, but claims he is fine. He better be -- and get some help from left guard Kris Dielman and a tight end -- in trying to slow Abraham. Abraham has 22 sacks in his last 26 games and since 2000, his 79 1/2 sacks is the third most in the NFL. The last time he faced the Chargers when with the Jets, Abraham had a sack and a forced fumble. The Chargers have to be careful as QB Philip Rivers has shown a knack this year of keeping the ball too low when going through his progressions. Not only does Rivers have 10 interceptions but he has lost three fumbles.
NT Jamal Williams
Williams was a beast against the Colts, taking on two blockers while letting the linebackers swoop in for the tackles -- and even with that, he had 10 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses. Williams will be asked to gobble up blockers in the middle again as the Chargers are faced with slowing down a familiar face in Turner. The bruising Turner is just as apt to run it up the gut as he is to find the edge -- he is successful doing both. So a big day will be needed from the Chargers' big man in the middle, Williams. But Turner, who rushed for four touchdowns in Sunday's win over the Panthers, will test Williams and inside linebackers Stephen Cooper and Tim Dobbins. The Chargers are tied for No. 15 in stopping the run.
Chargers running game, led by LaDainian Tomlinson, vs. a Falcons run defense that is ranked No. 30 in the NFL.
Tomlinson is hearing the talk of how the mentor has been eclipsed by the student -- that would be Atlanta's Michael Turner, his former backup. Knowing how much pride Tomlinson has, it wouldn't be surprising if he has a big game Sunday. That's especially true when noting that the Falcons get clobbered for an average of 120.9 rushing yards per game. And Tomlinson is coming off a decent game in which he rushed for 84 yards and the pass-first Chargers offense showed the willingness to establish a running game by giving him 21 carries -- only twice this season has Tomlinson had more carries in a game. One of the keys here could be the play of rookie FB Jacob Hester. He will likely make his first NFL start with Mike Tolbert (shoulder) ailing. Hester showed well in his play last week. He'll be asked to take on rookie MLB Curtis Lofton, who is fourth among the Falcons with 76 tackles. Keith Brooking, the team's outstanding outside linebacker, must also be accounted for.
--DE Luis Castillo (groin) was limited in his work Wednesday but expects to go on Sunday.
--FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) hasn't worked this week and will be replaced by Jacob Hester in the starting lineup.
--DT Jamal Williams rested on Wednesday; he will start Sunday.
--CB Cletis Gordon (knee) went through an entire workout Wednesday.
--DE Keith Grennan (leg) didn't practice Wednesday. He is a backup.
--CB Antonio Cromartie (hip) was limited in his work but will play Sunday.