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Vincent Jackson #83 of the San Diego Chargers makes a catch in the air in front of Derrick Johnson #56 of the Kansas City Chiefs during the first quarter at Qualcomm Stadium on December 12, 2010 in San Diego, California.
One week ago, two Chargers linebackers sat in front of their lockers, peeling over the pages of an open blue binder playbook. Somewhere hidden on the white sheets of paper were the answers to an embarrassing defensive performance.
It was a full facility lockdown.
On Sunday, they shut them down. Shut them out.
The Chargers' physicality broke Charles and Jones, and their shards were collected into season-low yardage totals and poured into a 31-0 butchering. The redirection was the stuff of magicians considering the Chargers were Raiders road kill at the same Qualcomm Stadium just seven days earlier.
The Raiders rushed for 251 yards. The Chiefs: 48. Charles had 40. Jones got one.
“After last week we went back to work and put our hard hats on and got our lunch pails,” nose tackle Antonio Garay said. "We got the job done today.”
The Chargers locker room was ventilated with reasons for the emphatic defensive turnaround, which stands as the franchise's first shutout since beating the Raiders 27-0 on Sept. 11, 2006.
Defensive end Luis Castillo credited the gap control and block shedding. Cornerback Quentin Jammer favored how the players understood and executed their assignment. The coaches' game plan struck Garay. Coach Norv Turner liked the outside contain.
Safety Eric Weddle said “it helps getting our butts kicked the week before,” referring to the 28-13 beating he hopes becomes a blessing in disguise.
“The front seven did an outstanding job,” Weddle said. “And the eighth (man), whoever the safety was within a play, was in his gaps. We're trusting the defense. That's how you shut down runs. When you play gap sound, and you trust the teammates that they're going to get their job done, that they're going to turn it back to you, or they're going to spill it to the unblocked guy.”
The eye-opening dominance, hardly a one-sided effort with the Chargers offense manufacturing 207 rushing yards on 43 carries, gives the Chargers a closer view at what could potentially be their fifth consecutive AFC West championship.
If the Chargers (7-6) win their final three games and the Chiefs (8-5) lose just one, the two teams will have equal records with the Chargers winning the division on a tiebreaker.
Good thing for Kansas City Sunday's numbers don't have final say. It would already be done.
In four quarters, the Chiefs had the same number of total yards — 67 — than the Chargers had in their first drive.
They had more failed third-down conversions — 14 on 14 attempts — than their top wide receiver Dwayne Bowe had receiving yards: three. Bowe managed one catch on seven targets, an inefficiency cued by drops, defender deflections and the unseasoned play of quarterback Brodie Croyle.
Starter Matt Cassel, out due to a Wednesday appendectomy, had to watch from home as the Chargers offense went surgical.
By the end of the first half, quarterback Philip Rivers was gazing up at the stadium scoreboard, taken aback by his team's first down count.
Fourteen. Not bad. But the big zero from the defense's bounce-back had it beat.
"They were unbelievable today," Rivers said.