Most considered this a do-or-die year for Norv Turner and Philip Rivers. The two men are inextricably linked to the fading franchise that is the San Diego Chargers because of their unflinching belief in one another. You might expect such unity of purpose from a head coach and his starting quarter-back, but there have been enough questionable calls in their combined career to have called in a marriage-guidance counsellor.
Of course, in times of impending divorce, it's easy to forget that Tuner and Rivers both had many happy days together, perennially rallying from slow regular-season starts and coming on strong in the play-offs. Only to wind up a fag paper shy of greatness. Such was the depth of talent on their roster that most Bolts fans will wonder how they ended up without a ring, let alone a Super Bowl appearance.
Long story short: the Chargers are a side that total less than the sum of their parts. And now some of those parts have been traded to pastures greener (Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson). While the key components that stayed are rusting away - the chassis of a Ferrari with the reliability of a Reliant Robin.
It would be unfair to heap all the blame on Rivers' shoulders. But it's easier to do so. In any case, that's the lot of a QB. Especially when you consider that San Diego started 3-0 before blowing two very winnable games in which they had held a big lead. The most painful of those came against divisional rivals, the Denver Broncos, who rallied from 24-down at half-time to run out 35-24 victors and take the lead in the AFC West. The Broncos also hold a crucial tie-breaker advantage over the Chargers.
Rivers' offense was again bogged down in the mire last week when a rainy setting and some steely defence from the unheralded Cleveland Browns saw them come up empty in a drab 7-6 affair. Rivers finished with 18 of 34 completions for 154 yards and though his receivers didn't help him out, it remains a cold truth that the fiery talisman has cooled off substantially in the past 18 months. With too many passes overthrown, some little more than hopeful jump-balls, Rivers is committing exactly the sort of errors that you would expect from a QB desperate to perform in his make-or-break campaign.
If this match is starting to sound like it's all about the Chargers (or which Chargers will turn up) that's because it is. And with so much uncertainty reigning, Rivers will be relieved to see something more dependable on the other side of the pitch: the hapless Kansas City Chiefs. Rivers is gunning for his fifth straight win at home to the Chiefs and nothing his opponents have done this season will have given him grounds for pessimism. Even when their quarter-back Brady Quinn succumbed to a head injury early against the Raiders last Sunday, Matt Cassel stepped in and stepped up their offensive ineptitude. Cassel wound up with 218 yards, one TD and one interception. It's aggressively average stuff.
The Chiefs have now lost four straight. They won't enjoy much respite from the Bolts' D, who have proved one of the few rays of light in San Diego this term - largely thanks to new defensive coach John Pagano. Line-backers Shaun Phillips and Donald Butler will be arriving hard and fast as ever.
All of which means we just need a few old-school connections from Rivers for San Diego to snap their own losing streak and get back to 50-50 in the division. Faithful tight end, Antonio Gates, has been anything but this year (bar a standout performance in Week Six), but the veteran's efforts have been symptomatic of the Rivers decline. Gates still possesses guile and a safe pair of paws, while the law of averages states that wide men, Robert Meachem and Ronnie Brown, are due an impact game.
So expect the Chargers to play it safe and rebuild some much-needed confidence ahead of a crucial run-in to the regular season. Rivers has deceived, now it's time that he flattered again. His body may be ailing but there are still some signs of life. A squad this talented won't go quietly to the grave.
Back San Diego Chargers (-7.5 points) on the Match Point Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back San Diego Chargers (-4.5 points) on the First-Half Point Spread @ 1.910/11 or better Back Over 42.5 Total Points @ 1.910/11 or better