Quarterback Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers looks on during warm ups prior to facing the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on October 9, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. The Chargers defeated the Broncos 29-24.
Relegated to mere afterthoughts in the Tim Tebow saga even though they won, the San Diego Chargers issued no apologies for the way they've earned a 4-1 start, their best in five seasons under Norv Turner.
The Chargers eased into their bye week on Monday, a day after escaping from Denver with a 29-24 win over the Broncos, who fell a desperation pass short of a big upset behind Tebow.
While the Broncos sort out their quarterback controversy, the Chargers continue to catch grief from many fans who expect a lot more from an offense that's supposed to be high-octane.
None of their wins have been overly convincing, coming against teams that are a combined 4-15. Philip Rivers had two more turnovers and their offense continues to bog down inside the opponents' 20-yard line. They scored just one touchdown on five trips inside the 20 at Denver, with Nick Novak kicking field goals the other four times. Novak had a 5-for-5 day.
"It hasn't been an easy 4-1 and I think that keeps you ... real critical of yourself and of different areas and allows you to know you've got areas to improve in because it hasn't just been a smooth few weeks," Rivers said Monday. "We've had to fight wins out and we haven't played necessarily great, but we've played good enough and certainly we know we can improve and get better, and we know we have to as the year progresses."
The Chargers keep reminding the fans that 4-1 is far better than the 2-3 record they had at this point in each of the last three seasons.
Still, they know they have things to work on before getting four days off to relax and, in some cases, rehab.
When they return, they have road games against the New York Jets and defending AFC West champion Kansas City. Then comes the marquee game of the season, at home against the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, followed by a home game against the rival Oakland Raiders, who swept the Chargers last year.
The immediate concern is why the Chargers stumble in the red zone.
"There's a fine line between scoring touchdowns and field goals down in the red zone," Rivers said. "It's not like we've got to reinvent what we do down there. We've just got to clean up some little things and I think offensively the next couple of days gives you a chance to work on that."
Some people think the Bolts bog down because they've been without star tight end Antonio Gates for the last three games because of painful plantar fasciitis in his right foot.
Turner said there's a chance Gates will return in time for the Jets game.
"I think he's making progress to get back and I do believe from his mindset and from where he's at, he has a chance to get back for the Jets game," Turner said. "But again, to me, that's a day-by-day thing to see how he progresses."
Turner expects running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews to be ready to go in two weeks after they were hurt at Denver. Mathews, who hurt a calf and a wrist, ran 24 times for a career-best 125 yards. Tolbert, who was held out after two hard hits, including one when his helmet came off, had five carries for 24 yards. With only three backs active, the Chargers had to lean on fullback Jacob Hester, who responded with 47 yards on 11 carries.
Turner said the Bolts will probably dress four running backs from now on.
Tolbert said he wasn't diagnosed with a concussion.
"They just pretty much kept me out for precautionary reasons because we were up in the game," Tolbert said. "I felt like I could have come back, but the way things are these days, you've got to be safe. It was nothing compared to what happened last year against Cincinnati. I was a little banged up, a little dizzy, but that's part of the game. If you're not feeling banged up and dizzy after every game, then something's not right."
Tolbert sprained his neck and shoulder on a scary hit at Cincinnati late last season in a loss that eliminated the Chargers from playoff contention.