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News » San Diego Chargers Inside Slant 2008-12-03

San Diego Chargers Inside Slant 2008-12-03

San Diego Chargers Inside Slant 2008-12-03
The feeling might be the woeful Chargers want nothing to do with another game so soon after their fifth loss in five outings.

That would be an incorrect assumption, as the Chargers are eager to welcome the Oakland Raiders to Qualcomm Stadium on Thursday night.

"Man, words can't even explain (it)," tight end Antonio Gates said. "It's been rough these last couple of weeks, particularly last week."

Last Sunday brought with it the team's eighth loss in 12 games, all but eliminating any hopes for a playoff berth. The reeling Chargers trail the AFC West-leading Denver Broncos by three games with four to play.

If the fat lady isn't singing, she is at least clearing her throat. The truth is the underachieving Chargers are closer to the cellar than the penthouse in the woeful AFC West.

But nothing gets the Chargers' attention like a visit by the Raiders -- even in the worst of times.

"Just being a short week, we're going to have to zero in on some things, little detail things that we need to do to try to focus on getting a win against the Oakland Raiders," Gates said.

The man responsible for the roster and coaching staff is being a realist. Chargers general manager A.J. Smith told the North County Times recently that the playoffs are a pipe dream.

"I've thought about that, and the way I'm looking at it right now is yes, there's a glimmer of hope, but to me, it looks very, very dim," Smith said. "The reason I say that is Denver has met the challenge. After a heartbreaking loss (to Oakland) at home, they went on the road against a terrific team in the Jets and got it done.

"So because of that and the statement they made, I just believe it's probably going to happen for them. I'd be very, very shocked to see a total collapse by the Denver Broncos.

"They've earned their position right now."

So have the Chargers with a second-half slide few saw coming.

"That's a frustrating fact," Gates said. "The reality is that it is a fact. If we lose this game and (the Broncos) win, we're definitely out the playoffs.

"But it's been a learning experience. Basically because it lets you know talent alone doesn't get the job done in this league. ... Playing together, working together is what wins in this league."

The Chargers have had their share of bad luck as well -- losing four games in the final 24 seconds. But nearly every team could play the woe-is-me card, and Gates won't go there.

"Well, you can make the case for things not going our way, but I'm a firm believer that you are what you are," he said. "We are a 4-8 team. That's the facts. Facts are facts in this league. You can't judge off of nothing else.

"There are situations that have occurred where plays are made in the last seconds of games that we felt we should have won. We had some unfortunate calls in the last second of games that we felt we should have won. But it is what it is."

What it is is a dreadful picture in San Diego, where the players are grumbling and the fans are turning away from the team and its coach, Norv Turner.

For the second consecutive week, the Chargers have had to request an extension to sell enough tickets to lift the local TV blackout. It seems the Chargers fever that gripped the region before the season has dissipated faster than one's 401(k) plan.

"We have to find a way to get it turned around, and that's what championship teams do," said Gates, who has only eight catches and no touchdowns in the past three games. "They deal with adversity. They accept constructive criticism when things aren't going their way, and they just find a way to turn things around."

What won't switch, according to Smith, is the head coach. Smith's fingerprints were all over the firing of Marty Schottenheimer after a 14-2 season; they are all over the hiring of Turner, who has clinched his sixth non-winning season in 11 seasons as a head coach.

Turner, whose career mark is 73-95-1, was recently given a vote of confidence by Smith.

"That coaching thing has already been addressed," Smith said.

So the Chargers set their sights on the Raiders, knowing their coach is coming back. The same can't be said for a number of players, which gives Thursday's game more of a sense of urgency than one might expect from a battle between two NFL doormats.

Still, the Chargers look at the AFC West standings and start scratching their noggins.

"When you played a year ago in the (AFC) championship game, it's hard and I don't know that it sinks in in terms of where we are because our guys perceive ourselves as a good football team," Turner said. "Obviously, we haven't been able to play at that level."

What happened? Is it coaching? Personnel? Flawed evaluations? All of the above?

That answer is tougher to find than Chargers and Raiders fans sharing a hug.

"We have the guys, we have the experience, we have the leadership, we have the unselfishness on this team that somehow it's just not necessarily falling the way we want it to fall," Gates said.

The thud being heard is the Chargers returning to earth in the cruelest of ways. A win Thursday over the Raiders would help heal the wounds of an unsightly 2008, but the scab would remain.

"It's amazing, man, it really is," Gates said of the lost season. "We in this locker room collectively, we all agree, we all understand that we aren't playing Chargers football."

SERIES HISTORY: 98th regular-season meeting. Raiders lead the series 54-41-2. In their only meeting in the postseason, the Chargers fell to the Raiders 34-27 in the 1980 AFC Championship Game. The Chargers have beaten the Raiders 10 straight times. During that span, the Chargers' average margin of victory has been just shy of 15 points per game.

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 3, 2008

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