Bolts or dolts? Chargers face huge challenge vs. Colts in bounce-back game Print
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Thursday, 08 November 2007 14:31
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 SAN DIEGO (AP) -One team knows it's elite and has the Super Bowl hardware to prove it.
The other guys, until they start playing a lot better, can only wish.
Sunday night's game between the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts and wannabe San Diego has lost some of luster because the Chargers haven't come anywhere close to playing up to their preseason billing.
Reigning NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson, the most brutally honest member of the Chargers' organization, put things into perspective heading into the season's second half.
``We're not an elite team at all,'' Tomlinson said in the wake of yet another stunning loss under Norv Turner, a 35-17 trampling by rookie Adrian Peterson and the Minnesota Vikings. ``We're a team that's in the middle of the pack and we're struggling trying to win games.''
It's a bounce-back game for both teams, but Peyton Manning and the Colts (7-1) are in much better shape than the bumbling Bolts (4-4). The Colts are coming off their earliest loss in three years, a 24-20 setback to the New England Patriots, the league's only undefeated team. The Chargers, once thought to be right up there with Indy and the Patriots as part of the AFC's Big Three, are fortunate to be tied for the lead of the mediocre AFC West.
The Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 last year before their playoff pratfall against New England. While maybe only the most myopic of fans expected 14 wins again, certainly few thought the Chargers would already have lost twice as many games under Turner as they did under Marty Schottenheimer before front-office friction got him fired.
The Chargers have broken down fundamentally several times this season, whether it's blocking, tackling, throwing the ball, running it, or all of the above.
``We've got to find a way to get back to playing successful football and playing the way we're able to play when we're good,'' Tomlinson said. ``We've got to start beating teams that are good and teams that are elite in this league. We've beaten teams that we should beat. That's the way I see it.''
Sunday would certainly be a start. After a shocking 1-3 beginning to the Turner era, the Chargers seemed to have righted their wrongs when they got back to .500. Of course, they did it by beating up on Denver, Oakland and Houston. Then came the Minnesota debacle, and the humiliated Chargers are talking again about having to bounce back.
``We won three, but the three games we won, we should have won them,'' Tomlinson said. ``We find ourselves back in the same position we were a few weeks ago.''
The Vikings were only 2-5 going into last weekend, yet Peterson left his cleat marks all over the Chargers in setting an NFL single-game record with 296 yards. While the defenders were missing tackles left and right, the offense was so out of sync against the blitzing Vikings that Tomlinson gained only 40 yards, All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates had just one catch and quarterback Philip Rivers threw 11 straight incompletions.
Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman not only said he was embarrassed, but added that the Chargers got their rear ends kicked.
While wearing their powder-blue alternate jerseys Sunday night, the Chargers will try not to play like powder puffs against the Colts, who led the Patriots by 10 points with less than 10 minutes left.
Turner brushed aside suggestions this is a measuring-stick game for the Chargers. He did say, though, that it will be tough.
``Obviously they played a four-point game with New England,'' Turner said. ``I don't think it's a mystery to anyone, they're the two best teams in the league right now. That's been declared by everyone, and we've got a real challenge.''
By comparison, Tom Brady and the Patriots blew out the Chargers 38-14 on Sept. 16.
Two seasons ago, the Chargers went to Indy and wrecked the Colts' 13-0 start.
The Colts play better defense than they did then, and here comes another tough running back. Joseph Addai will be a handful, especially after becoming the first Colts player to gain more than 100 yards both rushing and receiving in a game.
The Colts hope wide receiver Marvin Harrison and a handful of other players will be back after missing the Patriots game.
``They are a very difficult team to play,'' Tomlinson said. ``They present a lot of different challenges for us. Defensively, you know, they're fast. They do a lot of movement. They get to the ball well and they know what they're doing. That's the one thing. They know what they're doing and they do it well. They don't make many mistakes.''
Manning said the Colts need to can the talk and show that they can bounce back.
``I think San Diego's in a similar situation,'' he said. ``Anytime teams lose, players have a lot of pride and professionalism. That's your job to bounce back and try to find a way to get a win. That's why I think it will be a good ballgame.''
Manning is 3-1 against the Chargers dating to 1998, when he was the No. 1 overall draft pick and the Chargers were just starting the disastrous Ryan Leaf era.
While Leaf washed out of the NFL years ago, Manning will be making his 153rd start, and trying again for career victory No. 100. Manning has 289 touchdown passes for seventh on the career list, one behind Johnny Unitas, who ended his career with the Chargers. Manning broke Unitas' franchise record of 287 at Carolina two weeks ago.
 

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