Norv Turner at a Playing-Time Crossroads

The dilemma is to play or stay. To keep this train rolling or to pull to a side track and let some others go by.

Coach Norv Turner is leaning toward playing his starters in Sunday's regular-season finale against the visiting Redskins even though the Chargers, the AFC's No. 2 seed, can't improve their postseason standing and have already wrapped up the AFC West title.

So with nothing to gain and everything to lose if a key player gets injured this close to the playoffs -- even with a first-round bye -- what is Turner's thinking?

"We can get better," he said. "We're going to play. Our players know we're going to go play, and they want to play."

Turner will conduct a week of practice as he normally would, then meet with his staff Friday and Saturday to make decisions on which players will sit.

There are some Chargers nicked and banged-up, but the star players -- Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, Vincent Jackson and LaDainian Tomlinson -- are fit.

But Turner said the Chargers need to keep improving.

"Where we've made our progress, and I said it even when we were struggling early, is the way we've practiced on Wednesdays and Thursdays, but even our Friday tempo has been outstanding," Turner said. "There's no question there are things we can work on. There are little wrinkles we can work on that we don't have to use in this game.

"Obviously next week is a bye, and it's different than an in-season bye: to me it's a working bye. It's like your normal week practices. We'll practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, and it'll be like game preparation because that is not only how you stay sharp, but how you get better."


LB Shaun Phillips
Wade Payne/Getty
Turner said there is a falloff when the starters sit.

"Shaun Phillips leads the NFL with seven forced fumbles, and those plays are the difference-makers in my mind," he said. "Obviously in this game against Tennessee, you saw it. When we create turnovers, and we had awfully good plays to create those turnovers, then we score a lot of points. When we get the ball at the 50-yard line after a turnover, we're one of the better teams at taking turnovers and turning them into points.

"Those guys make plays that change games. We do have some young guys, who are capable, but I think the things that Shaun Phillips and Shawne Merriman have been doing for a long time, we don't take those things for granted."

PLAYER/PERSONNEL NOTES

--QB Philip Rivers isn't getting much love for MVP consideration despite being at or near the top in all the critical passing categories, not to mention leading an offensive-oriented team to 10 consecutive wins. Rivers has never played at a higher level than while directing the Chargers to their fourth consecutive AFC West title -- all since he took over as the starter.

--RB LaDainian Tomlinson won't make the Pro Bowl, and he is OK with that. He's turned his motivation to the Chargers winning their first Super Bowl. His streak of 1,000-yard rushing seasons will be snapped after eight years, as his workload has been decreased and he missed two games with an ankle injury. He's not what he was, but he's still dangerous in the open field.

--WR Vincent Jackson has established himself among the NFL's elite receivers, although he is still a secret to some. He has consecutive 1,000-yard seasons and is Philip Rivers' favorite target when the quarterback wants to pick up a big chunk of yards. Jackson is staying grounded, but only when not leaping into the air to snag a Rivers pass. He could become a more well-known commodity if he has a stretch of success during the playoffs -- which could make him wealthy, as he is wrapping up his first contract this season.

--TE Antonio Gates continues to have a stellar year, as he has set career highs around the board. The difference is Gates is moving again as he did when he first came into the league, with toe and foot problems finally behind him. With the Chargers stretching the field with their vertical game, Gates has plenty of room to get open. And once he catches it, he's making moves that haven't been seen in some time.

--WR Malcom Floyd often gets overlooked when outsiders eye the Chargers offense, but they do so at their own risk. Floyd is a great target at 6-foot-5, and he has developed a great bond with QB Philip Rivers from their work together years ago when they were both Chargers backups. With defenses focusing on Jackson and Gates, Floyd could have a big postseason run.

--OL Brandyn Dombrowski's stock continues to rise. He has filled in well for RT Jeromey Clary since he went down, and then he moved over and played some left tackle Friday so Marcus McNeill could get some rest and Jon Runyan could get some work. Considering Dombrowski can also play inside, his versatility is making him valuable.

--ILB Kevin Burnett has missed the last two games with a neck injury that the Chargers thought he was already past. However, it flared up two weeks ago, and the Chargers are trying to manage it. Trouble is, he practices during the week but then becomes fatigued as the time grows closer to the game. His status for Sunday has yet to be determined, but the Chargers want to be careful here.

--DE Jacques Cesaire has an elbow injury, and he didn't play in Friday's game, which was a big one in the Chargers' eyes. For Cesaire not to go says it all, as he has one of the higher pain thresholds on the team. Look for him to be down again this week to rest his elbow.

--OLB Shaun Phillips finally got past a sore ankle, getting out of the boot last week for the first time leading up to the game. Then he took a wicked hit on his hip against the Titans and was limping around again. It is not considered serious, but he could be used very little Sunday.

--FS Eric Weddle is nursing a sore knee, and it revolted a bit on Friday. Weddle left the game and then returned, but there is little doubt it is still bothering him. He will be used sparingly this week, if at all.

--OLB Shawne Merriman could be among those sitting out Sunday as he tries to get his foot injury rested for the playoffs. Merriman has been bothered by a soft tissue problem in the foot for most of the year and has dramatically altered the number of snaps he takes in a game.

--DB Steve Gregory suffered a stinger Friday, and initially there was a little concern. But he has bounced back, and he should be fine for Sunday.


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