In typical Norv Turner fashion, the Chargers waited until December to put to bed any doubt about their postseason credentials.
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In Thursday night’s 34-7 shelling of the 49ers, Philip Rivers and the Chargers dominated in every facet of the game. What’s more impressive is that San Diego was such a superior squad on short rest, having routed the Chiefs 31-0 just four days earlier.
Rivers bolstered his already impressive statistics for the season, finishing the game 19 of 25 for 273 yards and three touchdowns. He cracked the 4,000-yard passing milestone for the third consecutive season, matching Chargers legend Dan Fouts’ team record.
Since Turner took over the Chargers in 2007, San Diego has made a habit of starting poorly in the beginning of the season, only to get hot in December and make the playoffs.
Now with Vincent Jackson back on the field and playing at a high level — he finished the game with five receptions for 112 yards and three touchdowns — the Chargers (8-6) are downright scary and look like a legitimate playoff threat.
The 49ers (5-9), on the other hand, look nothing like a team worthy of postseason consideration. The offense generated less than 200 net yards and the defense was physically manhandled.
San Francisco coach Mike Singletary still believes in the team’s playoff hopes because if the 49ers get some help and win their final two games, they could still win the NFC West at 7-9.
"This team has had its highs and lows, but if we are fortunate enough to go to the playoffs, I believe we deserve to go," he said.
On Thursday night, the Chargers wasted little time getting started, putting seven points on the board on their first drive, a four play, 74-yard drive that took just over two minutes.
When San Diego needed to run some clock, it did so with ease behind running backs Mike Tolbert and Ryan Mathews. In fact, the Chargers had the ball for more than 37 minutes.
The potent San Diego offense isn’t all there is to fear about this team, either. The defense is playing lights out too, having tied a team record with seven consecutive shutout quarters before giving up a touchdown in the fourth quarter Thursday night.
“It’s pretty remarkable what they’ve done,” Turner said in his postgame press conference.
The biggest play for the Chargers defense came on a 4th-and-inches stop on the goal line. San Diego had stifled San Francisco in the red zone to hold them to a field goal, but a penalty on the field goal try by Chargers defensive tackle Antonio Garay gave the 49ers a fresh set of downs.
The hapless 49ers couldn’t capitalize, as Anthony Dixon wound up getting stuffed by Chargers linebacker Brandon Siler for a loss on fourth down.
“It was the turning point of the game. It gave us all the momentum,” Chargers free safety Eric Weddle said after the game.
If cornerback Antoine Cason has his way, the Chargers defense will continue to dominate all the way to the playoffs.
Next week, Cason and his teammate, fellow cornerback Quentin Jammer will have their hands full when they visit the Cincinnati Bengals. But Cason didn’t seem fazed when asked about the prospect of squaring off against Bengals wide receivers Terrell Owens and Chad Ochocinco.
“We’re up for it. And they have a tough-ass test as well. They have to prepare for it,” Cason said in the locker room after the game.
With Rivers, who is making a late charge in the MVP discussion, leading the offense and a defense that boasts the swagger one expects from a championship-caliber team, the Chargers look poised to make another late run to the postseason.
It wouldn’t be the first time Turner’s Chargers got a jump start late in the season. In his first year as Chargers head coach the team started 1-4 but rallied to an 11-5 finish to claim the AFC West title.
With the 2-11 Bengals and the 3-10 Broncos left on the schedule, San Diego could be peaking at the perfect time. Right before they storm into the playoffs for another season.