The San Diego Chargers survived a week of turmoil with the wildfires of Southern California and still managed a win. Their schedule gets more difficult as they work their way into the second half of the season.
Time to step up a class, Chargers.
The Chargers are back above .500 thanks to a three-game winning run which has helped ease a 1-3 start. But those wins came at the expense of sub .500 teams.
Now they head out on the road for four of the next six weeks. And the two Sundays of home games are against the Colts and the Ravens.
"We've come a long way from 1-3, and we have to make sure we keep it all in perspective and realize we still have a long way to go" quarterback Philip Rivers
The Chargers got healthy by walloping the Broncos, Raiders and Texans to the tune of 104-27.
Next up is a trek to Minnesota, preceding dates with the Colts, Jaguars and Ravens.
"We have to continue to play football the way we've been playing the last two weeks," running back LaDainian Tomlinson
said. "I really think no matter how good the opponent we're playing, if we play the way we know we can play, then we're going to play with anybody."
Tomlinson, too, is trying to stay even-keel.
"We're in the middle of the season," he said. "Right now, we're 4-3 and one game above .500. That's where we are."
Where they want to go is to the playoffs. The next two months will determine if they reach that goal.
"November and December, that's when everything seems to shake down," Rivers said. "And everybody kind of sees who's going to be left battling at the end and who's not."
The Chargers, owners of a share of the AFC West lead, are confident. But they are also aware some of their bigger challenges lie ahead.
QB Philip Rivers was asked to do very little in Sunday's 35-10 win over the Texans — and he still did a lot. He completed just seven passes — of 11 attempts — but he threw for three touchdowns. Rivers didn't turn the ball over, which was big when jumping to a 35-3 halftime lead.
RB LaDainian Tomlinson also wasn't asked to do much heavy lifting. He did look crisp hitting the hole and appears set to make a great stretch run. He averaged 5.3 yards a carry on 17 rushes. He fell short of 100 yards and didn't reach the end zone but he ran with ease.
TE Antonio Gates snagged two more TD catches. One came on a nifty grab when Rivers threw an absolute duck to a wide open Gates. On the other he showed his athleticism when avoiding one tackler and stretching out for the score before being brought down. Gates is having a career year and that is saying something for this All-Pro.
WR Chris Chambers showed why he is going to be such a good fit. He had a scoring catch and was among the reasons Gates was able to get open for his touchdown grabs. Chambers had two catches for 35 yards. But it's easy to see the transition for him will be smooth with the similarities between his old offense in Miami and the Chargers' offense.
WR Vincent Jackson is no longer the No. 1 wide out with Chambers aboard, but going without a catch in his first game with Chambers was a surprise. Jackson was blanked, which was a bit odd. Although when you only throw the ball 11 times that doesn't leave many crumbs.
C Cory Withrow didn't stick out, which means he did a good job. Withrow had his first Chargers start in place of Pro Bowler Nick Hardwick (foot). Hardwick figures to miss two more games, so it's imperative Withrow doesn't let the level of play drop off drastically at such a critical position.
WR Craig Davis didn't play with a sprained ankle. Fair or not, his reputation at LSU was of a player who declined to play through various bumps and bruises. He's expected to try and practice this week.
RG Mike Goff held up well despite ligament surgery in his hand during the bye week. His veteran presence is key up front.
DT Jamal Williams is expected to go this week after missing Sunday's game after two minor knee surgeries. Williams is a big cog in the run defense and that is going to be critical this week when the team goes against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings.
CB Antonio Cromartie had a breakout game as he scored touchdowns on an interception return and while recovering a botched punt snap in the end zone. Cromartie has copious speed and skills and is making a case to get a look as a returner and possibly on offense.
OLB Shaun Phillips was chased from the game with a groin injury and the view for him this week isn't stellar. Phillips' forte is his speed and burst off the line so a groin injury could severely hamper his game.
OLB Shawne Merriman had a solid overall game. He had seven tackles, a quarterback hit and two passes defensed. No sacks, but good stuff here.
ILB Matt Wilhelm continues to play well (eight tackles) stuffing the run and being around the ball. Wilhelm has rebounded well from an early-season calf injury.
ILB Stephen Cooper also deserves praise for his play inside. He had seven tackles and teamed with Wilhelm to clog the middle.
DT Ryon Bingham, in his first NFL start, did well. He had seven tackles but more important kept the linemen off Cooper and Wilhelm. Bingham likely goes back to being Jamal Williams' backup this week.
S Eric Weddle, playing in the dime package, was a big contributor with four tackles, a quarterback hit, an interception and a pass defensed — he added a special teams tackle, too.