"Man, words can't even explain (it)," tight end Antonio Gates said. "It's been rough these last couple of weeks, particularly last week."
Last Sunday brought with it the team's eighth loss in 12 games, all but eliminating any hopes for a playoff berth. The reeling Chargers trail the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos by three games with four to play.
If the fat lady isn't singing, she is at least clearing her throat. The truth is the underachieving Chargers are closer to the cellar than the penthouse in the woeful AFC West.
But nothing gets the Chargers' attention like a visit by the Raiders -- even in the worst of times.
"Just being a short week, we're going to have to zero in on some things, little detail things that we need to do to try to focus on getting a win against the Oakland Raiders," Gates said.
GM A.J. Smith
"I've thought about that, and the way I'm looking at it right now is yes, there's a glimmer of hope, but to me, it looks very, very dim," Smith said. "The reason I say that is Denver has met the challenge. After a heartbreaking loss (to Oakland) at home, they went on the road against a terrific team in the Jets and got it done.
"So because of that and the statement they made, I just believe it's probably going to happen for them. I'd be very, very shocked to see a total collapse by the Denver Broncos.
"They've earned their position right now." So have the Chargers with a second-half slide few saw coming.
"That's a frustrating fact," Gates said. "The reality is that it is a fact. If we lose this game and (the Broncos) win, we're definitely out the playoffs.
"But it's been a learning experience. Basically because it lets you know talent alone doesn't get the job done in this league. ... Playing together, working together is what wins in this league."
The Chargers have had their share of bad luck as well -- losing four games in the final 24 seconds. But nearly every team could play the woe-is-me card, and Gates won't go there.
"Well, you can make the case for things not going our way, but I'm a firm believer that you are what you are," he said. "We are a 4-8 team. That's the facts. Facts are facts in this league. You can't judge off of nothing else.
"There are situations that have occurred where plays are made in the last seconds of games that we felt we should have won. We had some unfortunate calls in the last second of games that we felt we should have won. But it is what it is."
What it is is a dreadful picture in San Diego, where the players are grumbling and the fans are turning away from the team and its coach, Norv Turner.
For the second consecutive week, the Chargers have had to request an extension to sell enough tickets to lift the local TV blackout. It seems the Chargers fever that gripped the region before the season has dissipated faster than one's 401(k) plan.
"We have to find a way to get it turned around, and that's what championship teams do," said Gates, who has only eight catches and no touchdowns in the past three games. "They deal with adversity. They accept constructive criticism when things aren't going their way, and they just find a way to turn things around."
HC Norv Turner
Turner, whose career mark is 73-95-1, was recently given a vote of confidence by Smith.
"That coaching thing has already been addressed," Smith said.
So the Chargers set their sights on the Raiders, knowing their coach is coming back. The same can't be said for a number of players, which gives Thursday's game more of a sense of urgency than one might expect from a battle between two NFL doormats.
Still, the Chargers look at the AFC West standings and start scratching their noggins.
"When you played a year ago in the (AFC) championship game, it's hard and I don't know that it sinks in in terms of where we are because our guys perceive ourselves as a good football team," Turner said. "Obviously, we haven't been able to play at that level."
What happened? Is it coaching? Personnel? Flawed evaluations? All of the above? That answer is tougher to find than Chargers and Raiders fans sharing a hug.
"We have the guys, we have the experience, we have the leadership, we have the unselfishness on this team that somehow it's just not necessarily falling the way we want it to fall," Gates said.
The thud being heard is the Chargers returning to earth in the cruelest of ways. A win Thursday over the Raiders would help heal the wounds of an unsightly 2008, but the scab would remain.
"It's amazing, man, it really is," Gates said of the lost season. "We in this locker room collectively, we all agree, we all understand that we aren't playing Chargers football."
SERIES HISTORY: 98th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead the series 54-41-2. In their only meeting in the postseason, the Chargers fell to the Raiders 34-27 in the 1980 AFC Championship Game. The Chargers have beaten the Raiders 10 straight times. During that span, the Chargers' average margin of victory has been just shy of 15 points per game.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson
--The Chargers are playing for the sixth time on Thursday night and for the first time in more than 11 years. The last time was Oct. 16, 1997, when they fell to the Chiefs.
--The Chargers have risen to No. 31 against the pass, the first time they've been able to say that since Week 6. Still, they have allowed 31 more completions (320) than the next-worst team. They are last in opponents' completion percentage at 69.3. The Raiders faced the Broncos when they were the worst-ranked defense in that category at 69.1 and completed 11 of 12 passes two games ago. The Chargers also have allowed a league-high 21 touchdown passes.
--While the Chargers' recent domination of the Raiders is impressive, it must be noted the Chargers once played the Raiders 18 straight times without getting a win, having only two ties to show for that run from 1968-1977.
--Coach Norv Turner was 9-23 as head coach in Oakland before he was fired. Turner said he's not worried about such a fate in San Diego, despite a regular-season mark of 15-13 since taking over last season.
"I've just been doing this too long to get caught up in that," Turner said. "We're coaching to prepare this team to beat Oakland. That's the only thing we can have an effect on right now, and it's the only thing we can control."
--Playing for pride is a cliche, but it's the driving force for Thursday's game. "They don't call the season off when you're going bad or when the odds are stacked against you that you won't be playing in January," QB Philip Rivers said. "So we've got to go play a game. If you've got any pride or anything about you, you'll prepare and go play. We're playing a division game, an NFL game, at home."
--Turner isn't buying into the talk that the Chargers have quit.
"I watched the tape, and there are certainly a lot of areas that we need to play better, but there's no lack of effort, and you look at the guys who have played over a long period of time and they're playing," Turner said. "We had a number of guys this last week defensively in Jamal Williams, (Stephen) Cooper, Shaun Phillips playing at a high level and competing, and to me that's the great leadership of going out and putting it on the line and laying it on the line and continuing to play at that level."
--Oakland receivers coach James Lofton held the same position with the Chargers from 2002-07.
--Raiders owner Al Davis was a Chargers assistant coach from 1960-62.
--Raiders LB Kirk Morrison and WR Chaz Schilens played at San Diego State.
BY THE NUMBERS: 3 -- Home losses this season, or three times as many as the previous two seasons combined.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "If we can't bear down and get excited about going out to play on Thursday night against the Raiders, then we're not the group that we said we were when we were 14-2 or 11-5. But this is the time you find that out." -- QB Philip Rivers, on the fading Chargers' motivation.
CB Paul Oliver
The Chargers could be getting taxed at the safety position with Clinton Hart nursing a neck injury and Steve Gregory rebounding from a shoulder ailment as well.
What that means is Paul Oliver, a second-year pro, could get some extended playing time if either of the ailing Chargers aggravates his injury.
--RB LaDainian Tomlinson has rushed for more yards (1,815) and scored more touchdowns (21) against the Raiders than against any other foe.
--TE Antonio Gates' production continues to dwindle, as he has gone three games without a touchdown catch.
--LG Kris Dielman is back practicing after missing Sunday's game and Monday's workout with the flu.
--WR Chris Chambers had only one catch Sunday and hasn't scored a touchdown since Oct. 5 in Miami. He missed two games in that span with an ankle injury.
--QB Philip Rivers didn't have a touchdown pass last week, but he still has a career-high 23 this season. He needs 10 more to tie Dan Fouts' team mark.
--OLB Shaun Phillips' production continues to baffle those thinking he was an elite pass rusher. In the past seven games, Phillips has half of a sack.
--RB Darren Sproles had six carries against the Dolphins on Oct. 5. Since, he hasn't had more than three carries in a game, and he has only three total in his last three games.
GAME PLAN: The Chargers have gone to a pass-first mentality, but that might not be the way to attack the Raiders defense. Instead, the team could go to a throw-back mentality, when its running game was among the best in the league.
The Raiders are having issues stopping the run, and it figures they will encounter a ticked-off LaDainian Tomlinson. He had only 24 rushing yards in Sunday's loss to the Falcons and will be bent on showing he and the team aren't yet finished.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH:
WR Chris Chambers
The Chargers need to stretch the field not only to get their wideouts in the mix but also to loosen up room underneath for runs by LaDainian Tomlinson and routes for TE Antonio Gates. But QB Philip Rivers completed only one pass to WRs Chris Chambers and Vincent Jackson in the loss to Atlanta. Rivers will try to change that, but he has to do it by going into the teeth of the Oakland defense. The Raiders have 13 interceptions, with nine players collecting at least one. Rivers has 10 interceptions this year, but he hasn't had one since throwing his fourth in a two-game span on Nov. 16 in Pittsburgh.
Chargers run defense, which was punched for 141 yards in the last game, vs. the Raiders running game, which features rookie Darren McFadden.
The Chargers had kept opponents under 92 rushing yards in three of the previous four games before being pushed around Sunday by the Falcons, who ran for 141 yards. If the Chargers can squash the run, it would put more pressure on inconsistent QB JaMarcus Russell. And if the Chargers can't stop the run, it figures to give the Raiders a better chance in staying in the game. The Raiders don't want to get into a shootout with the Chargers, as Oakland is ranked 30th in points per game and 32nd on third-down conversions. That latter statistic reveals that the Raiders aren't getting the necessary yards on the early downs to stay out of third-and-longs.
Chargers running game, led by LaDainian Tomlinson, vs. Raiders run defense, which is ranked No. 29 in the NFL.
In his last game, Tomlinson got to go against Atlanta's 30th-ranked run defense. But the result wasn't what was expected, as Tomlinson rushed for 24 yards, the second-lowest total of his stellar career. This is too big of a matchup for the Chargers to overlook, although their running game is a shadow of what it once was. With the return of RG Kris Dielman to the lineup, the Chargers could have more luck running the ball after being stopped time and again by the Falcons. The Raiders will counter with an aggressive linebacker unit led by Kirk Morrison and his team-high 101 tackles. It marks the fourth consecutive season Morrison has reached the century mark.
--DE Luis Castillo (groin) worked Tuesday and will be able to play Thursday.
FB Mike Tolbert (shoulder) didn't work Tuesday, and he will be down again this week.
DT Jamal Williams rested on Tuesday; he will start Thursday.
S Clinton Hart (neck) didn't practice but will try to work Wednesday. He said he will play Thursday.
OLB Marques Harris (hamstring) didn't practice, and he could be out this week. Harris has battled the injury for most of the year.