AFC West: Michael Spurlock

Wrap-up: Chargers 24, Raiders 21

December, 30, 2012
A look at two teams ending disappointing seasons:

What it means: The end for both teams. San Diego, which won three of its final four games, finished at 7-9. Oakland finished 4-12. Each team had much higher hopes to start the season. The Raiders are projected to have the No. 3 pick. The Chargers are not projected to have a top-10 pick.

Update: The Chargers are set to draft 11th.

Pryor shows promise: Oakland second-year quarterback Terrelle Pryor showed promise in his first NFL start. Pryor showed good accuracy and had good command of the offense. The game did not look too big for him, and he looked like he belongs behind center. Pryor led Oakland to three touchdowns. The Raiders went the past two games without reaching the end zone. There is hope for the future. I think Pryor can easily be Oakland’s backup next season.

Coaching finale: This was very, very likely the end of the Norv Turner-A.J. Smith era in San Diego. Even though the Chargers rallied late in the season (again), there likely will be a major change.

Spikes has angry exit: San Diego linebacker Takeo Spikes and Oakland running back Mike Goodson were ejected early in the game after fighting. Spikes, a 15-year veteran, could have played his final game.

Spurlock is a keeper: San Diego receiver Micheal Spurlock took the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. He had a punt return last week. Along with receiver Danario Alexander, the Chargers have two building blocks on offense.

Chargers’ ground issues continued: The Chargers didn’t score on the ground. They went 11 straight games without a rushing touchdown. The Raiders broke a nine-game ground drought Sunday.

What’s next: Coaching changes, in some form, and readiness to improve in 2013 are the recipe for both teams.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, Steelers 24

December, 9, 2012

A look at an impressive 34-24 win for the San Diego Chargers:

What it means: The Chargers finally played like a winning team Sunday. They had lost seven of eight games going into this game and looked incapable of winning. But they went on the road and hammered a team with designs for the playoff. San Diego is 5-8 and has faint playoff hopes. It was the first time San Diego has won at Pittsburgh in the regular season after going 0-14 there.

Doesn’t change much: The win very likely won’t change the fact that coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith will probably be fired after the season. There have been multiple reports that ownership will make a change. Turner was saved by the team’s strong play at the end of the previous season. That likely won’t work this year, but it's a nice win for Turner.

Rivers is sharp: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers had a good day. He threw three touchdown passes and did not commit a turnover despite playing without three starting offensive lineman and without center Nick Hardwick at times.

Yardage woes continued: The Chargers had 294 yards of offense, marking the fourth straight game they had fewer than 300. The last time that happened was 1999.

Running game still lacking: Last week, the Chargers ran the ball just 11 times. They went back to the run this week as they ran for 94 yards on 36 carries. Ryan Mathews had just 65 yards on 25 carries.

Alexander continues to shine: Receiver Danario Alexander, signed off the street earlier this season, had 88 yards on seven catches. Alexander has a chance to be a big part of the Chargers’ future. He has 33 catches for 555 yards in seven games. Newly signed Michael Spurlock had seven catches for 64 yards. Big-ticket free-agent pickup Robert Meachem? No catches. He hasn’t had a catch in the past three games and he has just 14 catches this season. And yes, his contract is guaranteed next season.

What’s next: The Chargers go home to face Carolina and former defensive coordinator Ron Rivera in Week 15.
There were no major surprises as the San Diego Chargers got down to the 75-man limit Monday. The 53-man cut-down day is Friday.

It was previously reported that receiver/returner Roscoe Parrish was cut. He was out played by Micheal Spurlock, who should make the team. The other interesting name cut was running back Michael Hayes. There was a thought early in the preseason that he could make the team.

The other players cut Monday were long snapper Nick Guess, tackle Phil Trautwein, defensive tackle Garrett Brown, tackle Michael Toudouze, receiver Jason Barnes, receiver Taylor Embree, receiver Phillip Payne, defensive tackle Eddie Brown and tight end Brad Taylor.

Rookie guard Johnnie Troutman was placed on Reserve Non-Football Injury list. Guard Brandyn Dombrowski was put on the Reserve Non-Football Illness list because of cyst on his foot.
It’s safe this week for Philip Rivers to knock off some late preseason rust in a final tune-up before the start of the regular season.

U-T San Diego is reporting that Chargers coach Norv Turner said Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates will play some Thursday night at San Francisco. Usually, starters play extensively in the third preseason and little if at all in the final preseason game.

However, Rivers and Gates were held out of Friday's Minnesota game. The Chargers were without three starting offensive linemen, so keeping Rivers out was the smart move. Getting him some work against the 49ers is also the smart move, because it would not be wise for Rivers to face Oakland on Sept. 10 without the benefit of playing for three-plus weeks.

In other AFC West news:
  • U-T San Diego confirmed receiver/kick returner Roscoe Parrish has been cut. It’s not a surprise Parrish was outplayed by fellow newcomer receiver/returner Michael Spurlock. He should make the team.
  • Kansas City cornerback Brandon Flowers is still not practicing because of a foot injury he suffered July 31. With the regular season starting in 13 days, it is safe to say Flowers is in jeopardy of missing the opener against the pass-happy Falcons.
  • Buffalo released quarterback Vince Young. While none of the backup quarterback situations in the AFC West are great, I don’t see any of the teams in the division running to sign Young.
  • Warring Raiders’ fans, you may not like this story.

A look at the Chargers 12-10 win at Minnesota on Friday night:

This was the Chargers’ third preseason game, which is supposed to be the game in which the starters play extensively. That wasn’t the case for the Chargers.

Because the offensive line was banged up, the Chargers held out quarterback Philip Rivers as a precaution. Tight end Antonio Gates, who has been dealing with injuries for the past four years, was also a healthy scratch. In all, the Chargers played without six offensive starters.

And it looked like it.

Backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst and his makeshift line had their issues against the Vikings’ front-line players.

Yes, the Chargers lost some valuable experience because of the injuries, but keeping Rivers out of harm’s way was the smart move, especially considering San Diego has already lost starting running back Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) and No. 3 receiver Vincent Brown (broken ankle).
  • U-T San Diego reports San Diego top pick Melvin Ingram has a bruised tight. Unless there is more to it, I’d think Ingram would have a good chance to play in Week 1 in 17 days.
  • Jackie Battle started at running back and perhaps he will be the first of a committee to play if Mathews isn’t ready to face Oakland in Week 1.
  • It looks like Nate Kaeding is going to hold off Nick Novak in the kicking competition unless the Chargers pull a surprise. Kaeding had field goals of 50 and 54 yards Friday night. If he is out of luck in San Diego, Novak is working to get a job somewhere as he nailed a 45-yarder with four seconds to go to give the Chargers the win.
  • San Diego’s defense is much improved and it is getting turnovers. The Chargers have 10 takeaways in three games.
  • Linebacker Larry English, the No. 16 overall pick in 2009, had his second and third sacks of the preseason.
  • Rookie offensive linemen, left tackle Mike Harris and center David Molk struggled pretty badly. If left tackle Jared Gaither and center Nick Hardwick aren’t back by week 1, the Chargers could have issues. The team is hopeful both will be back soon.
  • Receiver/returner Micheal Spurlock continues to look good and he is a good bet to make the 53-man roster.

A look at the Chargers’ 21-13 home win Thursday night:

As Philip Rivers’ said in a sideline interview with ESPN, the Chargers’ offense was good and bad. The good was a 23-yard dart Rivers hit tight end Antonio Gates with for a touchdown. Gates is healthy for the first time since 2007 and he has been outstanding in training camp. That was a good sign.

However, Rivers made a mistake later when Green Bay cornerback Tramon Williams jumped in front of a pass intended for new San Diego receiver Robert Meachem deep in Green Bay territory. It was probably just a matter of timing for Rivers and Meachem. However, Rivers threw 20 interceptions last season and he must improve in that area.
  • The San Diego first-team defense looked strong, which is a great sign. It did allow Green Bay to covert on third down on its first two attempts. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense last year. But overall, San Diego’s first unit looked terrific and aggressive on defense. Overall, the Chargers’ first-team offense and defenses looked further along than the Packers' did.
  • First-round pick Melvin Ingram played extensively. He looked fabulous. If San Diego wasn’t shaking with delight over the prospect of having Ingram before Thursday, it should be now. Boy, is he explosive. He forced Aaron Rodgers into throwing an interception and he was all over the place.
  • Undrafted free-agent quarterback Jarrett Lee looked really good for San Diego and outplayed Green Bay backup Graham Harrell much of the night. He made some big league throws. I’d be shocked if Lee doesn’t make the 53-man roster as the No. 3 quarterback behind Rivers and Charlie Whitehurst, who is still recovering from a knee injury.
  • Reserve receiver Vincent Brown worked hard for the final 7 yards of a 27-yard touchdown pass from Lee, and Brown had a good night overall. I think he will be a key contributor in the season.
  • Running back Ryan Mathews hurt his shoulder and was taken out. There is no word on the status. It is not a surprise that he was taken out after the injury even if it was minor. Update: the San Diego Union-Tribune reports Mathews suffered a broken clavicle. He will be out four to six weeks. I will have more this later.
  • Kicker Nick Novak missed a 35-yard field goal attempt, further making Nate Kaeding the favorite to win the kicking competition. Novak replaced Kaeding last season when Kaeding tore his ACL on the opening kickoff of the season.
  • Receiver/returner Michael Spurlock is making a big push to make the 53-man roster. He had two catches for 52 yards.
  • Undrafted free-agent left tackle Mike Harris started for the injured Jared Gaither. Harris had a nice night, which is commendable for an undrafted rookie who started his first preseason game at a premium position. Harris should easily make the team.
  • It was a cool scene to see some San Diego players greet replacement official Shannon Eastin prior to the game. She is the first woman to officiate an NFL game.