AFC West: Panthers-Chargers

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

 
 AP Photo
 Carolina's Dante Rosario makes a leaping catch in front of San Diego's Eric Weddle Sunday in the Chargers' 26-24 win.

SAN DIEGO -- Eric Weddle calls himself a "short-lived" type of guy. He had better hope his San Diego Chargers' Super Bowl aspirations don't fit the same description.

The second-year safety expects to be haunted by one image he witnessed up close and personal in Qualcomm Stadium Sunday: Carolina Panthers tight end Dante Rosario catching a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jake Delhomme on the final play of the Panthers' shocking 26-24 victory.

Weddle was in the vicinity of the play. But he has to let the memory of the play go.

"It can't stick," Weddle said. "I'm a short-lived type of guy"

Weddle and his teammates have to erase the sting of this stunner, or they might not fulfill that Super Bowl run so many have forecast for them.

This loss was significant to San Diego for many reasons.

The banged-up Chargers failed to do what their coach, Norv Turner, has been pounding into their heads all offseason: Start fast.

The Chargers were 1-3 and then 5-5 last season before catching fire and advancing to the AFC title game after an 11-5 regular-season finish. Turner and his team have said the difference between almost reaching the Super Bowl last season and getting there this season could be to play well at the start of the season.

That didn't happen. San Diego is now 0-1, along with Kansas City. The Chargers now get to watch Denver visit Oakland for the right to first place in the AFC West Monday.

The Chargers almost salvaged this season opener. They rallied from a 19-10 deficit with two touchdowns in the final 6:45 of the game. But a furious Carolina rally down the field in the final 2:27 ruined San Diego 's comeback.

Now they have to listen to all the talk about a slow start. Again

"We know it and that's why it is so frustrating," San Diego defensive lineman Luis Castillo said. "We don't want to be fighting just get to .500 in the eighth, ninth games of the season. We know that."

The Chargers also know that injuries are going to be an issue.

San Diego's impressive ride through the playoffs ultimately was decided by poor health. Quarterback Philip Rivers, running back LaDainian Tomlinson, tight end Antonio Gates and center Nick Hardwick all were injured entering the championship game in New England .

Gates' and Hardwick's injuries extended into this season as they both missed the preseason. Hardwick, who has a foot injury, didn't play against the Panthers Sunday. He was joined on the sideline by fellow Pro Bowl offensive lineman left tackle Marcus McNeill, who sat out with a neck stinger.

Gates played for the first time since having offseason surgery on his left big toe. He joined the running wounded list headed by linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Merriman made league-wide headlines late last month when he decided to try and play this season -- despite the recommendation by four specialists that he have season-ending surgery on his left knee. Merriman said he was going to fight it out like Gates because this is a Super Bowl-quality team.

Gates and Merriman both might have trouble playing effectively for a 16-game season if today was any indication. Merriman had to leave the field because of a knee brace issue late in the first half. He said that his biggest problem was adjusting to the brace. But he did say he was sore and he is interested to see how he feels Monday morning.

"Right now, my adrenaline is still going," Merriman said. "But I don't think I was slowed down much by the knee."

Gates was a bit more ominous. He said besides that the toe injury, he was also hampered by a hip injury sustained Sunday. It bothered him as the game progressed.

Gates made a rare mistake as he fumbled a short pass from Rivers. The ball was picked up by Carolina left cornerback Chris Gamble who ran 31 yards for the touchdown to give Carolina a 16-10 lead late in the third quarter. Gates redeemed himself with a 24-yard touchdown reception on a broken play to pull San Diego within two points at 19-17 with 6:45 to go.

After the game, Gates still was harping on the fumble that led to seven quick Carolina points. Gates didn't blame the fumble on his injuries but he said he had a lack of focus and he was rusty from not playing in the preseason.


The Pro Bowl tight end did say he didn't think he was physically ready to help the team win and he said he might have to "make the decision" later in the season if he doesn't rebound. Gates has said often this summer that one day the toe feels good and the next day he is hampered.

"The judgment part of it is what makes it tough; whether I'm helping the team or hurting the team," Gates said. "That's something we'll have to build on going through the season. I have to make the right judgment on whether I'm beneficial for the team or not."

A last-second loss. A slow start to the season. Injury-affected superstars.

It's as bad as it gets for San Diego is what was supposed to be the start to a super season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- When the San Diego Chargers arrived for training camp this year, it was met with instant Super Bowl talk.

It was understandable since the team won 14 games in 2006 and advanced to the AFC title game last season. The talk was legitimate.

Yet, Chargers coach Norv Turner warned his team. All the Super Bowl talk would be moot if the team started slowly. San Diego started 1-3 last season and looked very average before it caught on fire in October.

Every key San Diego player mentioned how the team could start slow this season. They learned from last season.

Start fast. That was the mantra.

Well, Sunday, against the very game Carolina Panthers, the Chargers started slow. But they finished fast. But it wasn't enough.

On the game's final play, Panthers quarterback Jake Delhomme hit Dante Rosario to give the Panthers the 26-24 win.

San Diego scored two touchdowns in the final 6:45 to take the win after falling behind 19-10 in the fourth quarter,

Still, the Chargers couldn't finish and are now 0-1, realizing their worst fears.

Gates, Merriman are back on field

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
6:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Tight end Antonio Gates and linebacker Shawne Merriman are back on the field. Both ended the first half in the locker room. Gates has a hip contusion and Merriman left for undisclosed reasons. He has an existing left knee issue.

Defensive tackle Jamal Williams also missed two series for an undisclosed reason. He is also back.

San Diego's defense is tightening. Carolina ran and threw all over San Diego in the first half, but San Diego's defense made several key plays to hold the Panthers to three field goals.

Gates, Merriman not playing

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
5:32
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Antonio Gates' surgically repaired left big toe looks to be holding up in the Pro Bowl tight end's first game after surgery. However, he is now dealing with a hip contusion.

It was announced in the press box that Gates will return.

This is just developing now. The Chargers are on defense and linebacker Shawne Merriman headed to the locker room with 2 minutes to play in the second quarter. There is no word whether it is related to his injured left knee.

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- The word around the league prior to Sunday's San Diego-Carolina game was that the Panthers would have a chance against the injury-laden Chargers -- if the Panthers could survive on offense without Steve Smith.

Early in the second quarter, the Carolina offense is doing more than surviving. It is dominating.

Still, Carolina has little to show for it, as it trails 7-3. The Panthers have 100 yards passing and 50 yards on the ground in the first quarter. San Diego could do little to stop the Panthers.

However, San Diego did stop Carolina when it counted the most. Carolina had a fourth and goal situation from inside San Diego's 1-yard line. Jake Delhomme threw behind fullback Brad Hoover in the end zone.

Early in the second quarter, the Panthers ended another long drive with a 44-yard field goal by John Kasay to take a 3-0 and get something for their early domination of the Chargers.

Gates and Merriman are moving well

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
3:43
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Game time is approaching and the stadium is filling on a postcard day from one of the world's nicest cities.

While the Chargers are going to be without injured offensive linemen Nick Hardwick and Marcus McNeill, they will have tight end Antonio Gates and linebacker Shawne Merriman. Both players are in uniform and are stretching.

Gates has been moving very fluidly. This will be his first game action since having offseason surgery on his left big toe. Gates has said he is unaware how the toe will react on game day.

Merriman is also moving well despite a left knee issue. Merriman is ignoring medical advice to have season-ending surgery. Merriman is playing because he says his team is ready to win a Super Bowl.

Appreciative Chargers fans have been giving him ovations over the past hour

One last thought: If Carolina had suspended receiver Steve Smith, it could be a different game because of San Diego's injuries.

Carolina-San Diego inactive list

September, 7, 2008
9/07/08
3:19
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

San Diego -- Here are the inactive lists for both Carolina and San Diego.

Carolina: Matt Moore, Ryne Robinson, C.J. Wilson, James Anderson, Donte Curry, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Hilee Taylor and Frank Omiyale.

San Diego: Charlie Whitehurst, DeJuan Tribble, Anthony Waters, Nick Hardwick, Marcus McNeill, Buster Davis, Kris Wilson and Brandon McKinney.

No major surprises here. As expected, the Chargers will be without two standout offensive linemen: center Nick Hardwick (foot) and left tackle Marcus McNeill (neck). Jeremy Newbery will play center and L.J. Shelton will play for McNeill and try to keep Panthers sack master Julius Peppers away from San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers.

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