Coach Turner Rallies the Troops

The Chargers are doing just what coach Norv Turner constantly talks about: clicking at the end of the season instead of at the start or the middle.

San Diego, which lost five of six games earlier this year, has won three straight to storm back into the playoff picture.

A win on Sunday over Denver would erase the Broncos' three-game lead in the AFC West and send the Chargers to the playoffs based on their divisional record.

"Going back two years, during Norv's first meeting in March, one of the first things he said was, 'You know, we're going to learn to be the most complete team when it matters most," said defensive end Luis Castillo, who had a key forced fumble in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay. "He had just come in after we had lost the playoff game to New England at home after the 14-2 season."

While others were steamed over Marty Schottenheimer being canned, the players were at least intrigued by what Turner had to say.

It revolved around being able to move the ball through the ground and air and being their most efficient in December and not September.

Castillo said that was among the reasons the Chargers never lost faith this baffling season, when everyone else did and was calling for Turner's scalp.

"You can point to some unlucky plays, you can point to games where we lost by a few inches, by one play, one touchdown pass, one bad call," he said.

But the call to keep believing in Turner is paying off.

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES


QB Philip Rivers
Laurence Griffiths/Getty

--QB Philip Rivers isn't a Pro Bowl selection this year, but he continues to play like one. Rivers had a career-high four touchdown passes in Sunday's win and nearly threw for 300 yards -- all without any turnovers. He continues to be the NFL's highest-rated passer and leads in touchdown passes -- but the AFC is taking Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Brett Favre to Hawaii instead.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson is showing he has plenty left when given some running room. Tomlinson took advantage of some solid run-blocking to average 4.3 yards on 21 carries for 90 yards. He added another 20 through the air, making it obvious that he's as healthy as he has been all year.

--RB Darren Sproles was in the game -- and not LaDainian Tomlinson -- during a critical series down the stretch to illustrate how much the Chargers think of him. While not too effective with conventional handoffs -- two carries, 3 yards -- he is a dynamo on those little swing passes in the flat. Sproles had 46 yards on three catches, including a 32-yard scoring scamper. Sproles also contributed 172 return yards.

--FB Jacob Hester has taken over for Mike Tolbert in the starting role. Hester was used strictly as a lead blocker for LaDainian Tomlinson, as he didn't have a catch or a carry.

--TE Antonio Gates showed off his incredible athletic skills by plucking a couple of passes out of the air with one hand. He had two touchdowns and 43 yards on four receptions. Gates improvised on one of them by finding some open area at the back of the end zone, running in the same direction Philip Rivers was rolling for a scoring hook-up.

--WR Vincent Jackson continues to assume the No. 1 wide receiver role, as he collected team highs in receptions (seven) and yards (111). It was enough to put him over the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the first time in his career.

--WR Chris Chambers has been relegated to a secondary role with Vincent Jackson's emergence and Antonio Gates becoming a bigger part of the passing game of late. Chambers had only two catches for 27 yards Sunday, as it seems Philip Rivers doesn't look his way as much as he used to.

--WR Legedu Naanee got some playing time with Malcom Floyd being inactive, and he showed well while on the field. Naanee had two catches for 29 yards, and he has gained the coaches' confidence to be used in pressure situations.

--WR Malcom Floyd's season could be done -- depending on if and how far the Chargers make it in the playoffs. Floyd was having an outstanding second half before sustaining a collapsed lung two weeks ago in Kansas City. He is doubtful for this week's game with Denver.

--FS Eric Weddle continues to be among the Chargers' top tacklers, game in and game out. He had nine tackles Sunday and was sharp in most of his coverages.

--OLB Jyles Tucker was active and disruptive most of the game. He had one of the Chargers' two sacks among his three tackles.

--CB Quentin Jammer was stout in run support all game, and it was his thunderous hit on Jeff Garcia that drew blood and sent a message that the Chargers were going to be physical with the scrambling quarterback. Jammer had four tackles.

--SS Clinton Hart returned to game action after missing three contests with a neck injury. He had a key fumble recovery early in the game and had three tackles. His veteran presence is key in a relatively young secondary.

--ILB Stephen Cooper continues to have a stellar month. He intercepted his team-best fourth pass in three games and tied for the team lead with 10 tackles.

--CB Antonio Cromartie started for the first time in two games, as his nagging hip injury is finally getting better. Cromartie had four tackles but no passes defensed.

--CB Antoine Cason, the team's top pick last April and its nickel back, returned an interception 59 yards for a touchdown that iced the victory.

--K Nate Kaeding smacked a career-best and franchise-record 57-yard field goal in Tampa Bay. That kick could give Kaeding quite a confidence boost heading into the playoffs -- if the Chargers make it.

--WR Kassim Osgood continues to shine on special teams, although for the first time in three years he isn't representing the AFC as its special teams selection in the Pro Bowl.


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