San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looks to the sideline for direction in the first quarter against the New England Patriots on September 18, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
To begin the season, the Chargers were 2-5 in 2010, 2-3 in 2009, 4-8 in 2008 and 1-3 in 2007. What opening record would qualify as a slow start in 2011? In this edition of Laz Says, NBC 7 San Diego Sports Director Jim Laslavic met with NBCSanDiego Chargers writer Michael Gehlken and shared his take on the team entering Week 3.
Gehlken: The Chargers are one of three 1-1 teams in the AFC West — the Raiders and Broncos are the others. The Chiefs are in the early cellar at 0-2. Do you see any team challenging the Chargers in their bid for a sixth AFC West title in eight years, or is it as good as theirs?
One reason is they can move the ball so well on the ground, and they're having success passing the ball, too. They've had success stopping the Chargers' run in the past, and that'll still be the case this year. But I can't believe the league had them play a Monday night game in Denver and then flew them across the country to play Buffalo. I mean, that's tough scheduling. I can understand why they may have run out of gas in the fourth quarter of that game. But for Buffalo to score five straight touchdowns in the second half, that was incredible.
I feel good about the Chargers' chances, obviously, in the AFC West.
I don't think anyone on defense played especially well against the Patriots, and I think Takeo Spikes needs to take some responsibility for the way things went. I don't have the game film so I don't break it down, but I have a feeling he was a little off the mark. He had 11 tackles in Week 1. He had seven in Week 2, and that was partly due to what the Patriots were doing. They were having some success passing the ball downfield.
I think you have to work young players into the lineup. That's why I'm excited about having Butler out there: fresh legs and fresh attitude. I'm not worried about Donald Butler's position.
Look at the teams that lost in Week 1 and we were surprised. Pittsburgh — that was a surprise when they played as poorly as they did in their loss to Baltimore. The Saints lost in Week 1. These teams came back and played well in Week 2. I expect the Chargers, after their Week 2 loss, to play well in Week 3, 4 and 5 and go into the bye with a good record, and there's no excuse. If there's trouble over the next three weeks, I'll be concerned. But this is the kind of Chargers team I expected.
An amazing stat going into that Patriots game is there were only 10 active Chargers who played in that AFC Championship game. Realize that in a very short period of time, A.J. Smith has reworked and retooled this lineup, which is what good teams have to do. To stay good, you can't stand pat. You have to keep trying to improve.
Lombardi used to say, "You never stay the same. You either get better or you get worse." I think the Chargers are getting better. I think they'll prove that over the next few weeks.
The Chargers don't seem to quit. We've seen it a few years now after slow start to seasons and games, and it's continued against the Vikings and Patriots. Who deserves credit for that? Is that Philip RIvers? Norv Turner? The locker room A.J. Smith has assembled?
I think you look at the GM. He's accumulated some good players over the years, and I think A.J. has a knack for finding guys who are going to work hard and try to improve as the season goes along, for the sake of their own career but also for the sake of the team. You get enough guys who are working hard and working together, and you're going to be OK.
I certainly think the combination of Norv and Philip — earlier this day, I was trying to figure this out. Philip has four interceptions so far. What's the over/under for the rest of the season? He's not going to finish with more than a dozen interceptions this season. Amazing. If there was a betting line on that, I'd say he might not have eight interceptions the rest of the year. He might — I mean, the schedule gets real tough after the bye. But realistically, Philip isn't going to be tossing the ball to the other team because he hasn't. It's just not something that he does.
So who do you give the credit to? I give it to the GM for working in new people, finding players like Takeo Spikes and Bob Sanders to help this team. He's tried to retool that defensive line over the last couple years, and look what he's done. It didn't help to lose Luis Castillo, a solid veteran player who will get you a lot of good plays, but fortunately, they have people they can plug in.
You mentioned earlier the schedule before the bye. It starts Sunday against the Chiefs. Then the Chargers host the Dolphins and face the Broncos in Denver. Prediction time: What happens Sunday, and what's the team record after these three games?
I will be amazed if the record isn't 4-1. I will be amazed and disappointed — and probably concerned. That's why a lot of people yell and scream after the team plays poorly. I don't think they played all that poorly against New England. The turnovers were unfortunate. Mike Tolbert has to get his head down and go straight ahead instead of backing up and trying to do like Barry Sanders. And on the goal-line play, well, he needs better blocking.
Kansas City and Miami at home, at Denver — that's three wins, or we'll be convening in a few weeks, and then you'll sense real concern in my voice.
The reason is, look at the schedule after the bye. They've got some tough road trips, and they've got some good teams they have to play. So yeah, you're right. A slow start would be 3-2.