NFL Nation: Legedu Naanee

The Miami Dolphins released the best receiver in their training camp Sunday night, cutting six-time Pro Bowler Chad Johnson after he was charged with domestic abuse. He was on pace to be the No. 1 receiver in Miami's new West Coast offense.

So what's next for Miami’s passing game? That is the big question facing first-year Dolphins head coach Joe Philbin.

Here is a look at Miami’s remaining receivers:
It's not a star-studded group -- but it's what the Dolphins are left with after cutting Johnson. The Dolphins clearly didn’t feel the 34-year-old veteran was worth the headache and distraction he brought to the locker room.

But someone from this group must step up. Hartline, Naanee and Bess are the most proven; they will get the first chance. After that, younger receivers like Wallace, Pruitt and Gates have a chance to finally live up to their potential.

The Dolphins set an example of character over talent by cutting Johnson. But it’s a decision Miami also has to live with on the field.

Chargers dust off the Wildcat

August, 3, 2012
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SAN DIEGO -- Tim Tebow and the New York Jets are trying to give the Wildcat its sexy back.

Don’t look now; the San Diego Chargers -- who now have Wildcat original Ronnie Brown on their roster -- are perhaps going to do their part in resuscitating the once popular NFL trend.

However, unlike the Tebow-fest out east, the Wildcat will be utilized much more subtly out by the beach. Like most good Wildcat usage, the Chargers will likely use it in small doses.

During their walk-through practice Friday, the Chargers worked on some Wildcat as they have some this summer. With Brown on the roster, it only makes sense for the Chargers to use some of the formation. He excelled as a Wildcat back with Miami.

The Chargers have used the Wildcat as a small part of their offense in the past with Darren Sproles and Legedu Naanee as the featured back. San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said Friday that the team’s previous success makes trying the Wildcat again worthwhile.

“It will never be a big part of what we do,” Rivers said. “But if we make defenses have to prepare for it, it’ll serve our purpose.”

Camp Confidential: Miami Dolphins

July, 31, 2012
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DAVIE, Fla. -- Don't tell linebacker Karlos Dansby and defensive end Cameron Wake the Miami Dolphins aren't contenders in 2012.

"We can be great," Dansby said at the opening of training camp.

Added Wake, "We have the talent [to make a run]."

There is a feeling of newness in Miami. The Dolphins believe a revival is coming this year, sooner than most expect.

Dolphins rookie head coach Joe Philbin has instilled a calm, quiet confidence in this team, which finished 6-10 last season. The change also includes new offensive and defensive schemes. First-year defensive coordinator Kevin Coyle is switching Miami to a 4-3 defense, and new offensive coordinator Mike Sherman is implementing a West Coast offense.

Miami's practices are faster and better organized. Even owner Stephen Ross has been impressed with the way the new-look Dolphins have operated since the spring.

"[Changes] are pretty evident and you can feel it," Ross said. "People can talk the talk, but you can see that we’re walking the walk, and I think that’s what’s important. If fans feel that and see that, I think they’re going to be very excited about that."

There are plenty of new faces. With just three weeks of training camp, will Miami and its new coaching staff have enough time to sort everything out? It also adds an extra challenge that HBO's "Hard Knocks" is there to document Miami's every move until the start of the regular season.

Most outsiders project 2012 to be a rebuilding year for the Dolphins. But it's clear the Dolphins have higher expectations internally.

THREE HOT ISSUES

David Garrard
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireVeteran David Garrard looks to have the early lead to become the Dolphins' starting quarterback.
1. Which quarterback will prevail? Miami's quarterback competition among Matt Moore, David Garrard and rookie Ryan Tannehill is in full swing. Every play is watched closely by Dolphins coaches and the media.

But who is Miami’s best option? Grading the first several practices, I give the edge to Garrard.

The nine-year veteran, who missed all of 2011 with a back injury, looks the most poised and in control of the offense. Garrard played in a West Coast system before. He knows the reads, progressions and what's expected.

"I think my chances are pretty good," Garrard said of winning the starting job. "I don't think they would have me here or even say that it was open competition if my chances weren't good. I know I can still play. I've just got to continue to prove it on the field."

Moore is the incumbent, but you wouldn't know it from his early practices. Moore has not looked consistent dating to spring workouts. The tricky part is Moore has never been a great practice player. He performs best when the lights are on in an actual game. He proved that last year by going 6-3 in his final nine starts.

Moore's best chance to win this job is to outperform Garrard in preseason games. Tannehill arrived to camp two days late and is a long shot to get in the race.

2. What is the plan at receiver? Miami has a hodgepodge group of mostly unproven receivers who need to settle in. Miami has 12 receivers on its roster and zero defined roles at the position. The Dolphins do not know their No. 1, No. 2 or No. 3 receiver after several practices.

Philbin, a former offensive coordinator of the Green Bay Packers, said he doesn't believe in putting numbers on his receivers. But Philbin does need receivers who can get open and make tough catches. There have been tons of drops dating to organized team activities. In the first two training camp practices alone, I counted five drops.

For what it's worth, Miami began camp with Chad Johnson and Legedu Naanee as its two starting receivers and Davone Bess in the slot. Brian Hartline, Roberto Wallace, Julius Pruitt and Clyde Gates also are in the mix.

But Johnson has been particularly impressive. This is the first time in a while that expectations are not high for the 34-year-old receiver. Johnson was a bust for the New England Patriots, catching just 15 passes last season. But he is making some eye-opening plays in Miami's training camp.

"He's very serious. I think he's very passionate about what he does," Philbin said. "He’s been impressive. We like his work ethic, the energy, the enthusiasm that he brings. He wants to do well. He certainly wants to let the quarterback know when he’s open."

If Johnson turns out to be a No. 1 receiver again -- or close to it -- that would take a lot of pressure off the rest of the group. It would at least give Miami's quarterback someone reliable to throw to.

3. Defense wants to be elite. There has been so much talk about Miami's quarterbacks and offense during the offseason that it's easy to forget about the defense. This is a physical group that wants to be elite. Miami finished No. 15 in total defense last year, but its ranking was a bit skewed because of the Dolphins' 0-7 start. Miami's defense played like a top-10 unit in the second half of last season.

Miami's run defense is one of the best in the league, although you wonder if the adjustment to the 4-3 defense will hurt continuity. Miami returns many of the same players in the front seven, but switching from a 3-4 to a 4-3 will force some players into different roles.

Miami's secondary is the biggest question defensively. The team has a pair of young corners in Vontae Davis and Sean Smith looking to make a jump, while the safety position is in flux. Reshad Jones and Chris Clemons began camp as the starting safeties, but versatile defensive back Jimmy Wilson also worked with the first team.

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

Joe Philbin
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireFirst-year coach Joe Philbin has seemed unfazed by several curveballs already thrown his way.
Philbin has his head on straight. He has a good demeanor for a rookie head coach, and you have the sense things won't be too big for him in his first year.

Philbin already faced several challenges. Miami agreed to do "Hard Knocks," which can be a coach's nightmare because it allows an outsider all-access. Philbin also has a three-way quarterback competition, and the front office added a colorful personality to the locker room in Johnson. But Philbin has taken each challenge in stride and even has a good sense of humor about things.

I have no idea if Philbin can match wits with Bill Belichick on Sundays or properly manage the final five minutes of a game. We will have those answers soon enough. But I like what I've seen from Philbin so far.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

I don't see this team scoring a lot, a huge problem.

Miami's plan is to run an up-tempo passing offense with questions at quarterback and unproven receivers. In theory, this is a strategy that is doomed to fail.

The Dolphins' offensive strength is their running backs. But a West Coast offense is, by nature, pass-heavy. If Philbin thinks he can run his Green Bay-style offense in Miami with Garrard or Moore at quarterback instead of Aaron Rodgers, he is sadly mistaken.

I expect plenty of growing pains for Miami's offense and the team losing plenty of low-scoring games. The defense will keep the scoring down most weeks, which is good because Miami's offense won't be lighting it up.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • Speaking of Miami's running backs, the group looks solid. Starting tailback Reggie Bush looks in the best shape of his career and is coming off his first 1,000-yard rushing season. Bush said his goal is to lead the NFL in rushing. That seems like a long shot, but another 1,000-yard season would be great for Bush. Backups Daniel Thomas and rookie Lamar Miller also have run hard early in camp and have plenty of potential.
  • Dansby enters this season in tremendous shape. He checked in at a trim 247 pounds. Last year Dansby was a victim of the lockout. He began last season around 270 pounds and didn't get down to his usual playing weight until midseason. Not coincidentally, Dansby played his best football in the final eight games of 2011. "You live and you learn," Dansby said.
  • I like what I'm seeing in the daily corner-receiver battles between Smith and Johnson. Both are competitive and want to push each other. Smith, 25, has made it a point to line up against Johnson, a six-time Pro Bowler, every chance he gets. Sometimes Johnson wins and sometimes Smith wins, but both players are getting better.
  • I predict a breakout season for third-year defensive lineman Jared Odrick. He gathered some momentum at the end of last season and looks ready to put it all together this year. Odrick, a 2010 first-round pick, will be a full-time starter for the first time in his career. He has a good combination of size and quickness and has been tough to block in camp.
  • Miami's tight ends have yet to flash this offseason. The position was huge in Green Bay, where Jermichael Finley developed into a star under Philbin. Dolphins veteran Anthony Fasano and rookie third-round pick Michael Egnew are trying to fill that role. Fasano has the experience and Egnew has the edge in athleticism, but neither is making many plays.
  • It's early, but Hartline has fallen down the depth chart. Many projected Hartline to be the No. 1 receiver in Miami’s offense, but he missed most of the spring with a leg injury and began training camp on the second team. The injury is not helping him.
  • The Dolphins have worked rookie right tackle and second-round pick Jonathan Martin exclusively with the first team in training camp. He's a virtual lock to start in Week 1. Martin played in a pro-style offense at Stanford and was Andrew Luck's left tackle. Martin is switching to the right side this year to pair with left tackle Jake Long.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Earlier Tuesday, I included Carolina wide receiver Brandon LaFell on a list of breakout players for the NFC South.

I based that pick on a couple of things: First, the Panthers didn’t go out and bring in a veteran receiver after letting Legedu Naanee depart via free agency. Second, I’d heard from some people in the organization that LaFell had been having a nice offseason.

But I feel even better about putting LaFell on that list after watching him practice in Tuesday’s minicamp session and interviewing him afterward. LaFell seemed to get most of the work opposite No. 1 receiver Steve Smith with the first-team offense.

Then, I spoke to a third-year pro who sounded like he has every intention of winning a full-time starting job.

“My whole mind-set is to do everything I can so that they don’t have to make a decision for me to split time with anybody else,’’ said LaFell, who backed up Naanee at times last year and shared time with him at other times. “I want the No. 2 spot to be mine, so I’m doing everything I can to solidify that.’’

So what does LaFell have to do to solidify that spot?

“Keep making plays,’’ said LaFell, who finished last season with 36 catches for 613 yards and three touchdowns. “Know my assignment. Go up and get the ball. Catch every ball. Make every block and do everything I can.’’

So far, it sounds like the coaching staff is seeing all those things -- and more -- from LaFell.

“He looks much more comfortable,’’ coach Ron Rivera said. “In fact, you see him helping other guys. You see him working with the younger guys. You see him working very well with Steve and (tight end) Greg Olsen. I think his rapport with (quarterback) Cam (Newton) is developing very quickly. That’s what we need -- that other guy to step up and be that other guy that’s going to stress the defenses that we face. As he develops and becomes a better and better football player, we may see even more things from Steve.’’
Wide receivers Vincent Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Reggie Wayne, Robert Meachem, Eddie Royal, Laurent Robinson, Josh Morgan, Eric Weems and Harry Douglas have found new homes after hitting the NFL's free-agent market.

Franchise tags essentially removed from consideration Dwayne Bowe, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson.

Others, such as Marques Colston, re-signed before free agency.

Teams still searching for help at the position -- that would be pretty much everyone but Seattle in the NFC West -- are left with a picked-over group of free agents.

Jerome Simpson, Burress, Brandon Lloyd, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aromashodu, Roy Williams, Mario Manningham and Early Doucet are the only ones remaining to have played at least half of their team's offensive snaps during the 2011 season.

As the chart shows, Burress was particularly effective in the red zone for the New York Jets. He converted first downs 38 times in 45 receptions for the third-highest percentage among wide receivers with at least 40 receptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Burress is also up there in age. He's among 12 available wideouts already in their 30s: Hines Ward (36), Burress (34), T.J. Houshmandzadeh (34), Kevin Curtis (33), Patrick Crayton (32), Deion Branch (32), Rashied Davis (32), Donte Stallworth (31), Jerheme Urban (31), Bryant Johnson (31), Lloyd (30) and Williams (30).

Of them, Lloyd has visited the San Francisco 49ers.

Nine more are 29 years old: Greg Camarillo, Keary Colbert, Mark Clayton, Jerricho Cotchery, Roscoe Parrish, Michael Clayton, Courtney Roby, Michael Spurlock and Braylon Edwards.

Still interested?

OK, let's check out 18 others, all younger than 29: David Anderson, Legedu Naanee, Devin Aroshamodu, Donnie Avery, Anthony Gonzalez, Maurice Stovall, Derek Hagan, Mike Sims-Walker, Ted Ginn Jr., Andre Caldwell, Steve Smith, Doucet, Brett Swain, Chaz Schilens, Simpson, Manningham, Devin Thomas and Kevin Ogletree.

Schilens visited Arizona and San Francisco. Manningham visited the 49ers and the St. Louis Rams.

I've also broken down the available wideouts by drafted round:
  • First: Williams, Burress, Ginn, Stallworth, both Claytons, Johnson, Gonzalez and Edwards
  • Second: Avery, Thomas, Simpson, Smith, Parrish, Branch, Colbert
  • Third: Roby, Doucet, Hagan, Stovall, Manningham, Caldwell, Curtis, Sims-Walker, Ward
  • Fourth: Cotchery, Lloyd
  • Fifth: Legedu Naanee
  • Sixth: none
  • Seventh: Houshmandzadeh, Crayton, Schilens, Aromashodu, Anderson, Swain
  • Undrafted: Davis, Urban, Camarillo, Spurlock, Ogletree

Only a handful of the available receivers project as starters. None would qualify as an outright game-breaker.

The Rams in particular need playmakers, but in looking at what is available, how many would qualify as dramatically better than what they already have? Austin Pettis, Brandon Gibson, Danario Alexander, Dominique Curry, Greg Salas and restricted free agent Danny Amendola are their current wideouts.

Wrap-up: Titans 30, Panthers 3

November, 13, 2011
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Thoughts on Carolina’s 30-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday at Bank of America Stadium:

What it means: A few weeks ago, when the Panthers defeated the Washington Redskins, it looked like this young team had a great opportunity to turn the corner. Home games with the Vikings and Titans were coming up and they looked winnable. Instead, the Panthers lost them both. They’re 2-7 and the early hope that rookie quarterback Cam Newton brought is fading a bit. Earlier in the season, it looked like the Carolina offense could score against anyone. The Panthers couldn’t even get into the end zone against the Titans.

Slump busters: There will be a lot of stories about how Tennessee running back Chris Johnson snapped out of a season-long funk as he rushed for 130 yards and a touchdown. I wouldn’t go declaring that Johnson’s slump is over. I’d make the case that he was simply going up a defense that can’t stop the run.

Nobody’s coming to the rescue: Perhaps the most discouraging thing about the rest of the Carolina’s season is that it’s highly unlikely the defense is going to show any signs of improvement. Season-ending injuries to linebackers Jon Beason and Thomas Davis and defensive tackle Ron Edwards were beyond devastating. The Panthers simply didn’t have much depth behind him. The defensive problems can’t be fixed until next year, when some of the injured players return and the Panthers have a full offseason to reload their defense.

This is never a good sign: Legedu Naanee led the Panthers with eight catches for 75 yards. Naanee’s not a threat. Steve Smith, who is a huge threat, was held to five catches for 33 yards. He’s been outstanding all season, but Smith didn’t have a catch go for more than 15 yards on Sunday.

What’s next: The Panthers travel to Detroit next Sunday to play the Lions at Ford Field.

Three things: Panthers-Giants

August, 13, 2011
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Three things to watch for in Carolina’s preseason opener against the New York Giants on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. ET.

Cam Newton vs. Jimmy Clausen. These two young quarterbacks are competing for the starting job. All indications are Clausen, a second-round pick a year ago, isn’t going down without a good fight. He’s had a good camp and will get the start against the Giants. But Clausen’s time at the top of the depth chart might be short. The Panthers used the No. 1 overall draft pick on Newton and he’s shown some early signs he can be special. This will be Newton’s first live test against another team. If he can show he’s grasping the offense and not make a lot of mistakes, he could move closer to securing the starting job.

The wide receivers. David Gettis has been lost for the season with a knee injury and Steve Smith will miss at least this game with an injured finger. Smith should be back soon and he’ll be the No. 1 receiver. But the Panthers have to figure out who the other starter will be and who will be the third receiver -- a role that will actually matter in Carolina’s new offense. The Panthers brought in veteran Legedu Naanee and he’s a known commodity to offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski from their time together in San Diego. Naanee is a candidate to be one of the top three receivers. But this game is more of an opportunity for second-year pros Brandon LaFell and Armanti Edwards to step forward and enter the mix for a starting job. LaFell got mixed reviews as a rookie, but the front office thinks he has a lot of potential. Edwards wasn’t allowed to do much as a rookie because former coach John Fox never wanted to draft him. Edwards will get his chance this year.

Ron Rivera and his coaching staff. His reputation as an assistant was stellar, and hiring Chudzinski to run the offense and Sean McDermott as defensive coordinator earned Rivera praise from around the league. But what’s Rivera going to be like as a head coach and what are his offensive and defensive schemes going to look like? We’ll start finding out tonight.

Third-round thoughts

April, 29, 2011
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Random thoughts on third round in the AFC West:

Interesting pick by the Chargers at No. 82 to take San Diego State receiver Vincent Brown. He has the look of a strong possession receiver. He has great hands and he is polished. With several potential free agents, including Legedu Naanee, not expected back, taking the hometown kid was a strong call.

I really like what the Chiefs are doing. They followed up the Justin Houston pick at No. 70 (in a pick acquired from Cleveland on Thursday night), by taking Miami defensive end Allen Bailey at No. 86. This is a strong value pick. Bailey needs to be coached and he needs to find consistency, but he could potentially help at defensive tackle as well. The Chiefs are putting together a nice draft.

Denver thinks No. 67 pick, linebacker Nate Irving of North Carolina State, is versatile and could play several spots, Irving survived a terrible car accident in 2009. He recovered fully and is projected as a potential starter. He should help on special teams.

With the pick the Chargers received as part of the Antonio Cromartie trade, the Chargers took USC cornerback Shareece Wright at No. 89. The Chargers took cornerback/safety Marcus Gilchrist at No. 50.

At No. 92, Oakland took LSU tackle Joe Barksdale. He joins center Stefen Wisniewski (No. 48) as Oakland achieved its goal of adding beef to the offensive line. It did come at a cost.

Oakland traded its second-round pick next year in a package that brought Barksdale to Oakland. Uniquely, the trade was made several picks before the pick. Usually, when teams trade a future pick it is because it wants a specific player on the clock.

Chargers' Antonio Gates is active

November, 28, 2010
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INDIANAPOLIS -- San Diego tight end Antonio Gates is active and is expected to start Sunday night against the Colts.

Gates has been dealing with a foot injury that kept him out of the past two games. He had played in 94 straight games.

Receivers Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are also active. They have been dealing with hamstring injuries. They are expected to play a lot along with Vincent Jackson, who is making his season debut after holding out and serving three games on a roster-exemption list.

Rookie tailback Ryan Mathews will miss his second straight game with an ankle injury. His backup Mike Tolbert will start. He had 111 yards against Denver last week. Starting guard Louis Vasquez is out with a neck injury. He will be replaced by Tyronne Green.
Want another reason why the rest of the AFC West should worry about the San Diego Chargers, who have won three straight games and appear to be embarking on another late-season playoff run?

[+] EnlargeVincent Jackson
AP Photo/Denis PoroyVincent Jackson's return this Sunday is great news for San Diego's depleted wide receiver corp.
The return of Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson. As expected, the Chargers officially activated Jackson to the roster Tuesday as the Chargers prepare for a pivotal game at Indianapolis on Sunday night. He has been on the roster-exemption list for the past three games after ending his holdout.

There has been speculation that San Diego would be reluctant to play Jackson because of hard feelings over his holdout and the fact that he will likely walk as a free agent after the season. Also, there has been speculation that Jackson may not be motivated to play at a high level because of his own hard feelings.

My expectations? San Diego, which has been depleted by injuries, will use Jackson often and he will be a professional and play with his usual strong work ethic. The word is Jackson has looked very good in recent practices. Tuesday, San Diego coach Norv Turner told reporters he expects Jackson to be a solid contributor.

Jackson’s pending return was not lost on his teammates Monday night after San Diego evened its record at 5-5 with a 35-14 win over Denver.

“We get Vincent back this week,” safety Eric Weddle said without prompting. “That’s only going to make us better.”

There’s no reason to think Jackson won’t start right away. His replacement as the No. 1 receiver, Malcom Floyd, aggravated a hamstring injury Monday night and could miss more time. No. 2 receiver Legedu Naanee still is being hampered by a hamstring injury that kept him out of several games and No. 4 receiver Patrick Crayton, who has been starting in Naanee’s place, has a wrist injury that could cost him a significant amount of time. Buster Davis, the team’s No. 3 receiver, was put on the injured reserve last month.

Tight end Antonio Gates has missed two games with a foot injury and there’s no guarantee he will return against the Colts, although the team is hopeful. The team is also hopeful rookie tailback Ryan Mathews will return from an ankle injury at Indianapolis, although expect backup Mike Tolbert to play significantly. He had 11 rushing yards against Denver.

The Chargers have survived the onslaught of injuries because of the special play of quarterback Philip Rivers. He has to be thrilled about the notion of getting Jackson back. Rivers and Jackson have been one of the NFL’s best long-play combinations. Rivers’ stance during Jackson’s holdout was always this: “I wish Vincent was here. We’d be a better team with him.” Now, the surging Chargers will get Rivers’ wish.

To make room for Jackson, San Diego cut kicker Kris Brown. He was on the roster while Nate Kaeding was dealing with a groin injury.
Philip RiversStephen Dunn/Getty ImagesSan Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has thrown for 3,177 yards through 10 games.
SAN DIEGO -- Showing he is more than just a pretty arm, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers bolted for a key first down in the third quarter of the Chargers’ runaway victory over the back-in-the dumps Denver Broncos in a chilly Monday night game.

The man is almost on pace to throw for more yards than anyone in the history of man, but he showed he can do it all even though San Diego tight end Antonio Gates jokes that Rivers looks like he is runs “with boots on.” After the 9-yard chug on third-and-8, on cue, the astute San Diego crowd erupted into an “MVP” chant.

It has a point. Who‘s been better in 2010?

“I agree 100 percent with them,” San Diego right tackle Jeromey Clary said. “Philip is playing at a special level right now.”

Playing with a depleted offense, Rivers has thrown for 3,177 yards in 10 games. He didn’t have to show off in San Diego’s easy 35-14 win over Denver. He threw for just 233 yards because the game dictated it. But he made every yard count. Rivers completed 15 of 24 passes. Four of his completions went for touchdowns. It was Rivers’ second straight game with four touchdown passes.

Again, find a player having a better season.

The biggest knock on Rivers’ MVP candidacy was that he plays for a loser. Not anymore. San Diego is now 5-5 after rolling off three straight wins. The Chargers are tied with Oakland for second place in the AFC West, a game behind Kansas City at 6-4. After hammering the Chiefs last week, Denver reverted to its porous ways. It is 3-7 and virtually out of the playoff race, even in the muddled AFC West.

San Diego, however, is very much alive. After a tough Sunday night game at Indianapolis in Week 12, San Diego has back-to-back home games against Oakland and Kansas City. If the Chargers are going to win the AFC West for the fifth straight season, it will be because of how they play in December.

That bodes well. Rivers has never lost a December game since becoming San Diego’s starter in 2006. The Chargers are used to getting hot late. In 2007, San Diego won its final six games. In 2008, it won its final four games, and last season, it won its final 11 games.

Monday night, San Diego, which went on a 35-0 run after Denver scored on it first possession, played well in all three phases. Yes, even its season-long albatross, special teams, pitched in with a fake punt pass from punter Mike Scifres to running back Mike Tolbert that turned the momentum of the game early. If San Diego can keep its balance, it will be dangerous.

And if not, Rivers will probably carry the team, anyway.

“He’s a top quarterback in the league,” Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “He’s a guy you have to account for. Look, he just threw another four touchdown passes.”

Because he threw for just 233 yards, Rivers fell off pace to set the NFL single-season record for yardage in a season. Barely. He is on pace to throw for 5,083 yards. Miami’s Dan Marino set the mark in 1984 with 5,084 yards. Yes, Rivers is only a yard off the pace.

“We’re not focused on it as a team and I don’t think he is, either,” Clary said. “If Philip breaks Dan Marino’s record and we are sitting at home in January, it doesn’t matter. The playoffs are what matters.”

[+] EnlargeDenver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orgon
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesKyle Orton's rough night included getting sacked five times and intercepted once.
Meanwhile, Denver's Kyle Orton was on pace to throw for 4,988 yards entering the game. That would be the third-highest total in NFL history. Orton, who had a rough night, passed for just 217 yards. He is now on pace for 4,836 yards, still a stellar season.

But Monday night was about Rivers and the Chargers.

“It was awesome to hear the fans chant,” San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s deserved. What Philip is doing this season, with all the issues we’ve had with injuries, is amazing.”

Gates was out for the second straight game with a foot injury and there is no guarantee he will be back in Week 12. Starting receiver Legedu Naanee has been out for a month with a hamstring injury. Starting receiver Malcom Floyd came back Monday night after a long layoff with a hamstring injury. Patrick Crayton, the team’s No.4 receiver who has been starting lately because of injuries, suffered a wrist injury Monday night. He is unsure when he will be back. Starting tailback Ryan Mathews was out Monday with an ankle injury. In his place, Tolbert rambled for 111 yards on 25 carries.

There is relief coming for San Diego’s offense. Vincent Jackson is eligible to play at Indianapolis after holding out and then serving three games on the roster exemption list. Expect Jackson to be used often down the stretch. Jackson and Rivers have a strong chemistry, especially in the deep game. Thus, Rivers should be even better with Jackson on the field -- if that’s possible.

“The thing about Philip is his impact on games,” Gates said. “He didn’t have the big yards, but he made an impact in every phase of the offense … Nobody does what Philip does.”

If late-season wins continue to pile up for San Diego, expect the “MVP” chants to increase in both noise level and validity.
SAN DIEGO -- Breaking down San Diego's 35-14 win against Denver:

What it means: The San Diego Chargers are in the playoff conversation. San Diego has won three straight games and looks like a playoff team. The Chargers are 5-5 and a game behind first-place Kansas City in the division. The Chargers host both Oakland (5-5) and Kansas City in the coming weeks. Denver crashed back to earth after beating up Kansas City 49-29 last week. Denver is 3-7 and likely out of the AFC West chase.

Tomorrow’s talker: In the battle between two quarterbacks on pace for big yardage (Philip Rivers entered the game on pace for an NFL-record 5,233 yards and Kyle Orton was on pace for 4,988 yards), Rivers was the star. San Diego fans chanted “MVP” for the player who could be on his way to securing the hardware. Rivers had another big night even without tight end Antonio Gates, receiver Legedu Naanee and running back Ryan Mathews.

Trending: The one thing Denver had going for it was a fast start. Denver ripped down the field for 69 yards on six plays to take a 7-0 lead on the opening drive. The Broncos have scored 28 points in the past two first quarters after scoring a total of seven points in the first quarter of their first eight games. Denver coach Josh McDaniels has scripted plays to start the game the past two weeks after not scripting plays to start the season.

What’s next: San Diego plays a big game at Indianapolis on Sunday night in which Vincent Jackson is set to make his season debut after holding out and then serving three games on a roster exemption list. Denver hosts St. Louis.

Antonio Gates is out

November, 22, 2010
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SAN DIEGO -- San Diego superstar tight end Antonio Gates will not play Monday night against Denver. It was determined he was unable to play effectively because of a foot injury.

It is the second straight game Gates will miss after playing in 94 straight games.

Mike Tolbert is expected to start at running back for San Diego. As expected, rookie running back Ryan Mathews is out with an ankle injury. He didn’t practice all week. Both Tolbert and Mathews have 382 rushing yards.

Receiver Legedu Naanee remains out with a hamstring injury. Patrick Crayton takes his place. Current No. 1 receiver Malcom Floyd is returning after missing several games with a hamstring injury.

Because of the injuries at tight end and running back, San Diego has signed Korry Sperry (tight end) and Curtis Brinkley (running back) off the practice squad. Both players are active Monday night. Backup tight end Kris Wilson is also inactive, so expect to see a lot of Randy McMichael in both phases of the offense.

For Denver, cornerback Andre Goodman (hip) is out as is linebacker Robert Ayers (foot). Ayers may be getting close to playing. Denver running back Laurence Maroney is inactive for the second straight game. He was acquired from New England in September for a fourth-round pick.

Because of a recent San Diego State game, there are big patches of rough grass at heading toward the East end zone.
  • Meanwhile, in other AFC West-related news, Oakland coach Tom Cable confirmed that starting defensive end Trevor Scott did tear the ACL in his knee and he is out for the season, as expected. He was hurt on a special teams play Sunday in a 35-3 loss at Pittsburgh.
  • The Buffalo Bills are unsure if linebacker Shawne Merriman will play the rest of the season because of an injury. Sound familiar, Chargers’ fans? Buffalo claimed him off waivers last month. He was cut in San Diego because he couldn’t stay healthy. Merriman is a free agent at the end of the season.

Midseason Stock Watch: Chargers

November, 10, 2010
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2:04
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Power Rankings: Preseason: No. 8. This week: No. 16.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesA depleted receiving corps hasn't hurt Philip Rivers' production this season.
2010 schedule/results

Where they stand: The San Diego Chargers are 4-5 and that is a disappointment. But the Chargers can’t feel badly about where they are as they head into their bye week. It is, at least, familiar. San Diego has won two straight games after starting 2-5 overall and 0-4 on the road. The Chargers have become famous for starting slow and finishing red hot under coach Norv Turner. In 2007, San Diego won its final six games. In 2008, it won its final four games, and last season, it won its final 11 games. Each season ended with San Diego winning the AFC West title. So the Chargers should be optimistic, even though they trail 5-3 Kansas City and 5-4 Oakland. The Chargers have lost to both the Chiefs and Raiders.

Falling: Special teams. I hate to be redundant, but I’m sure the San Diego special-teams unit hates it even more. This is quite likely the worst special-teams performance of all time. San Diego finds new ways to bungle on special teams every week. It has betrayed the Chargers in many different ways. The punting game is the center of San Diego’s special-teams woes as it has had four punts blocked. There’s been a fifth, but since it traveled 1 yard it doesn’t officially count as a block. There have been five other blocked punts in the NFL this season.

Rising: Passing game. You have to wonder how dangerous the San Diego passing game is going to be in a few weeks when Vincent Jackson is eligible to play and the two starters who replaced him -- Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee -- return from hamstring injuries that have kept them out in recent weeks. Quarterback Philip Rivers has been operating without his top four receivers (including Buster Davis, who is on injured reserve) for the past two games. In Week 9 at Houston, Rivers was also playing without top target Antonio Gates. Still, Rivers threw for 295 yards and four touchdowns. Rivers is playing at an incredibly high level. He has thrown for 2,944 yards and is on pace to set the all-time single-season passing yardage record.

Midseason MVP: Rivers. If the Chargers would have a slightly better record, he’d be the runaway leader in the MVP chase.

Outlook: The Chargers have to leapfrog two teams, but they are not in terrible shape. If the Chargers continue their late-season trend and get rolling, they could be the team to beat. This team is very talented. The key is to stop killing itself on special teams. If that is finally addressed after the bye, San Diego will be a factor. The Chargers have home games against Oakland and Kansas City and two games against cellar-dwelling Denver. San Diego shouldn’t be counted out yet.

Receiver-needy Chargers add veteran

November, 4, 2010
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The San Diego Chargers gave themselves some much-needed help at receiver in the form of receiver Kelley Washington.

He is expected to be in uniform Sunday at Houston. He is a big receiver at 6-foot-3, 217 pounds. He has played eight NFL season and had 34 catches for 431 yards for Baltimore last season. He can also help on special teams.

Prior to signing Washington, San Diego had just three healthy receivers – Patrick Cratyon, Gary Banks and Seji Ajirotutu. Starters Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee are not expected to play at Houston because of hamstring injuries. Pro Bowl receiver Vincent Jackson won’t be eligible to play until Week 12 after ending his holdout last week.

Also, star tight end Antonio Gates is dealing with foot injuries and will be severely hampered if he plays at Houston. So, the Washington signing makes sense.

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