The San Diego Chargers’ victory on Christmas Day guaranteed a first-round playoff bye. With nothing much to play for or prove in Sunday’s regular-season finale against the Washington Redskins at Qualcomm Stadium, the only real question for the AFC West champions is how much time their starters will log.
San Diego goes for its 11th straight victory as it faces a Redskins team that will most likely be playing its last game under coach Jim Zorn.
With their fourth consecutive AFC West crown wrapped up five days earlier, the Chargers (12-3) locked up the No. 2 seed in the conference and earned a first-round bye with a 42-17 victory at Tennessee on Dec. 25.
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"It was nice to get the two seed and keep the streak going in December and positioning ourselves going into the postseason,” Philip Rivers said after the Chargers won their 18th straight game in December, tying the 1970-74 Miami Dolphins for most consecutive wins in one month. "It says a lot about our guys and (coach) Norv (Turner).”
Although his team’s next meaningful game isn’t for two weeks, Turner said Monday that the team will prepare for Sunday’s game as it would for any other regular-season matchup. Turner, though, also added that some players nursing injuries could see limited action.
"Our players know we’re going to go play. They want to play,” he said.
While Rivers and the other four Chargers Pro Bowl selections (tight end Antonio Gates, guard Kris Dielman, kicker Nate Kaeding and special teamer Kassim Osgood) will unlikely see much playing time, LaDainian Tomlinson wants to carry the ball. Even though a groin injury in last season’s regular-season finale against Denver limited his playing time in the opening-round playoff victory over Indianapolis and sidelined him for the Pittsburgh loss.
"With us having the bye I think it would be good for us to get out and play," said Tomlinson, who has 729 rushing yards and will most likely not reach 1,000 for the first time in his nine-year career. "We will have a whole week to rest next week."
So will the Redskins (4-11), but for a much different reason. Washington’s season of player discontent and rumors of coaching change ends Sunday.
Considering the rumors of his firing have been swirling since early in the season, it is highly unlikely Zorn will be back for a third season on Washington’s sidelines.
"I just don’t want to moan and groan about it all. I don’t want to create a situation where people look at me and feel sorry for me. Because some of this, I’m responsible for,” said Zorn, 12-19 as Redskins coach. "I’m the head football coach, and we’ve got four games under our belt. That’s not good, regardless of what the situation is.”
Sunday’s 17-0 loss to Dallas dropped Washington to 0-6 versus the NFC East – the first time the Redskins have gone winless in division play since Turner’s first year leading the team in 1994.
Another sign that Zorn won’t return was the report earlier this week that Redskins secondary coach Jerry Gray had interviewed for the head coaching job with Redskins owner Dan Snyder, satisfying the NFL’s Rooney Rule for interviewing minority candidates for open head coaching positions.
The Redskins received some rare positive news this week when rookie outside linebacker Brian Orakpo was the team’s lone Pro Bowl selection. Veteran inside linebacker London Fletcher was not selected, despite being tied for second in the NFL with 134 tackles. Fletcher, though, is a first alternate for the team for the first time in his career – behind New Orleans’ Jonathan Vilma and Patrick Willis of San Francisco. If either drops out, or if Vilma and the Saints reach the Super Bowl, Fletcher would play in the Jan. 31 game in Miami.
"I sent (Saints defensive coordinator) Gregg Williams a text saying ‘I’m a huge, huge New Orleans fan. Congratulations, Vilma. Go Saints,”’ Fletcher said.
The omission of Vincent Jackson from the AFC’s Pro Bowl roster was also surprising considering the Chargers wide receiver leads one of the league’s hottest teams in receiving yards (1,167) and touchdowns with nine. Jackson, who also is best in the AFC with 17.2 yards per reception, has more goals in mind than a trip to Miami for the Pro Bowl. He wants to be playing in the Super Bowl the following Sunday.
"There are probably about three more games on our schedule,” said Jackson, referring to a Chargers run to the Super Bowl. "Just doing what we’ve been doing, consistency, preparing in the meeting rooms and just leaving nothing to chance.”
Rivers, who has thrown for a career-high 4,155 yards this season, needs a TD pass to extend his career-best streak to 13.
The Chargers have won two straight over Washington, including a 30-3 victory on Sept. 9, 2001, in the teams’ last meeting in San Diego.