Like eggnog in the supermarket and Santas at the mall, the Chargers seem to only show up in December. Over the past five seasons, the team has a 22-2 record in the final month of the calendar, with both losses coming in 2010. That includes two wins in the past seven days, the latest being a 37-10 drubbing of the Bills in which QB Philip Rivers played his best game of the season.
The Chargers now find themselves at 6-7, two games behind the Broncos for first in the division and on life support in terms of the wild-card race. Facing the Ravens Sunday night, the team is clearly in must-win mode if it wants any hope of keeping its playoff chances alive.
"Obviously, we know all of the math," head coach Norv Turner said after the Buffalo game. "There's nothing we can do about that. It's get ready to play a game. You can talk about if (the Broncos lost) but none of that matters. We got Baltimore coming in and we have to find a way to beat them."
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It's no coincidence that the Chargers' recent surge has coincided with the two best games of the season for Rivers. After a six-game stretch that saw him throw 11 interceptions, Rivers hasn't been picked off in three consecutive games. In the past two, he has posted passer ratings of more than 120 and completed more than 70 percent of his throws.
Similar to fellow QBs Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Eli Manning, Rivers is the heartbeat of his team; as he goes, so do the Chargers. When he is playing well, the rest of the offense tends to follow. RB Ryan Mathews has 100-plus rushing yards in three consecutive games and the offensive line has given up five sacks total over the past four games, a radical change from the six they allowed in Week 10. Rivers is the key to all of it, being one of the few quarterbacks around the league that defenses not only game-plan for, but fear.
However, the recent success isn't entirely a credit to Rivers and the Chargers' offense. Facing the Jaguars and Bills the past two weeks, the Bolts have had the luxury of facing two of the most injury-ravaged teams in the league. In fact, in the current issue of Pro Football Weekly, Buffalo places first and Jacksonville second in a ranking of all 32 NFL teams from most injured to least affected by injury this season. (To be fair, the Chargers rank fourth on the list.) Rivers has torched backup corners and safeties, not All-Pros like Ed Reed.
With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Chargers will need to beat not only an elite opponent, but a (somewhat) healthy one. The Chargers have yet to beat a team this season that had a winning record when the game was played. Even with their recent turnaround and history of December success, expecting San Diego to continue its playoff push might be too much to ask for this holiday season.
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