Even with their 2011 playoff hopes scuttled by the six-game losing streak with which they entered Monday night's game at Jacksonville, a disastrous skid that could end the five-year tenure of Norv Turner as head coach, San Diego Chargers players still remembered that the calendar had flipped to December.
And the Chargers don't lose in December.
At least, not very much.
The 38-14 victory over the Jaguars, fashioned by
three touchdown passes from quarterback Philip Rivers, whose
disappointing season has mirrored that of the Chargers, nudged San
Diego's record to 23-2 after Dec. 1 since 2006. In four of the previous
five years, the Chargers were unbeaten in regular-season play after
December dawned, and it might take a similar stretch run for San Diego
to attempt to make up a two-game division deficit to the AFC West
front-runners Tebow-manic Denver and schizophrenic Oakland.
But the Chargers, despite the carnage of a season
that uncharacteristically began with a 4-1 start, understand the
importance of this time of year.
"It's December," wide receiver Vincent Jackson
tersely said after the game.
Around the league, even if the "it's December"
realization hasn't become a public rallying cry, the sense that the
season has entered the final turn is unmistakable. In both locker rooms
at Heinz Field on Sunday afternoon, for instance, the urgency was
palpable, from both the victorious Pittsburgh Steelers and the defeated
Cincinnati Bengals. One can only guess that the scene and the sentiment
was similar around the rest of the league.
There is, to be sure, something special about
playoff competition. That's true in just about every professional
sport. But the run-up to the playoffs, the inexorable pursuit of
momentum and meaning, tends to be compelling stuff, as well. Even for
franchises with losing records, eliminated from postseason contention
and seemingly playing out the string, December seems to hold a certain
"New owner, probably a new coach (for 2012), new
eyes on you," one prominent Jaguars veteran told The Sports Xchange on
Tuesday morning. "I know it's kind of (cliche), but we're all
auditioning in a sense. And playing better now (in December), even if
it doesn't make up for all the other (stuff) during the season, really
does allow you to go out with a little better feeling about yourself."
In the Steelers' locker room on Sunday, where the
aspirations and reasoning were far different from those in
Jacksonville, the pain still lingered notably when a reporter mentioned
the team's two losses to despised AFC North opponent Baltimore. But in
the eyes and words of the most veteran Pittsburgh players, and in the
message delivered by coach Mike Tomlin, there was the motivation that
the final quarter of the season typically carries.
"Now is the time," said defensive end Brett Keisel, "to be a close to perfect as you can be. It's what it's all
Even 100 yards down the cinder-block corridor,
where the summarily dispatched Bengals dressed slowly and quietly,
there was an acknowledgment that December is somehow disproportionately
weighted. Unlike most recent seasons, the Bengals are playing
meaningful games in December, and the advent of the stretch run didn't
exactly begin the way Cincinnati players had planned.
"The season starts running out on you," said
offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth. "And you don't want to feel like
you've left something behind."
Jackson, who scored a touchdown in Monday night's
win, and who has been a part of so many December surges by the Chargers
in the past, even reached for an automobile television commercial hook
to describe the feeling and fervor which overrides the final month of
"You always want to make it a December to
remember," he said.
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