NFL Nation: Nick Novak

SAN DIEGO -- A few thoughts on the San Diego Chargers' 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium.

What it means: San Diego’s five-game winning streak ended with Kansas City’s first victory at Qualcomm Stadium since 2007. The Chargers fell to 5-2 on the year, 1-1 in the AFC West. It’s the fifth time in seven meetings between these two teams that a game has been decided by a field goal. Kansas City kicker Cairo Santos made the game winner, a 48-yard field goal, with 21 seconds left. The Chiefs improved to 3-3.

Chiefs play keep away: The Chargers were No. 3 in the NFL in time of possession heading into Sunday’s game. However, with a steady diet of running back Jamaal Charles (95 yards on 22 carries), the Chiefs dominated time of possession, keeping the ball away from San Diego’s explosive offense. Kansas City finished with a 39:00-21:00 edge in time of possession.

Gates closing in on history: Heading into Sunday’s contest against Kansas City, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates needed 90 receiving yards to pass Lance Alworth’s franchise record of 9,584 receiving yards. Gates finished with six catches for 61 yards and now has 9,556 career receiving yards.

Stock watch: Nick Novak hit field goals from 48 and 24 yards in the fourth quarter, breaking the franchise record for consecutive field goals with 31. The previous record of 29 had been held by John Carney, set over the 1992-93 seasons.

Oliver slowed down: After two straight games with over 100 rushing yards, undrafted rookie free agent Branden Oliver finished with just 67 rushing yards on 15 carries.

Game ball: Run-blocking tight end John Phillips got his first career touchdown as a Charger in the opening quarter, a 1-yard catch on a play-action pass from Philip Rivers. Phillips rebounded from a season-ending knee injury that cut short his 2013 season and has been a key part in San Diego’s resurgent running game.

What’s next: The Chargers have a quick turnaround, traveling to Denver to face the Broncos at 8:25 p.m. ET Thursday.
SAN DIEGO -- Chargers coach Mike McCoy wouldn’t bite, when asked about his thoughts on kicker Nick Novak's current streak of 23 straight made field goals dating back to last season

Are you a little superstitious there, Mike?

“The only thing I’ll say about kickers is just keep it going,” McCoy said, with a wry smile. “Every time you turn on the TV and you start talking about that thing, the next thing you know, peww! [McCoy making a sound imitating a missed kick].”

Unlike his head coach, Novak said he doesn’t believe in luck or superstition when considering his performance on the field. The hard-working and meticulous Novak relies on diligent preparation for his consistent performance on game days.

“The big thing is trust what you do and be confident,” Novak said. “The guys that know what they’re doing are able to perform at a consistent level. I don’t believe in being streaky. It’s just being confident in what you’re doing, and knowing that the guys I work with like [long snapper] Mike [Windt] and (holder) Mike Scifres are confident in what they’re doing, and that gives me tons of confidence to go out there and do my job.”

Case in point: Novak finished 2-for-2 in field goals -- from 19 and 37 yards -- in his team’s 22-10 win against Buffalo last week at Ralph Wilson Stadium, known around the league as one of the toughest places to kick because of swirling winds that make it difficult to judge which way the ball will drift.

“I had a good warm-up and just tried to read the flags as best I could,” Novak said. “I went off feel. You just have to really trust your line and know that what you found out during warm-ups is going to work for you during the game.

“But it’s a constant process of going out there in between quarters, doing some dry runs and just staying on top of it.”

As usual, Novak was one of the first San Diego players on the field last week, getting an early look at which way the wind was blowing.

Novak’s current streak of 23 straight field goals is the second-longest streak in team history. Novak is six shy of matching the team record of 29 in a row set by John Carney during the 1992-93 seasons.

Novak hasn’t missed a field goal during the regular season since he had a 37-yarder blocked in a 27-17 loss at Oakland on Oct. 6 of last year.

Novak’s streak of 23 field goals in a row is tied for the second-most active streak in the NFL with Pittsburgh’s Shaun Suisham, and five behind Dallas Cowboys kicker Dan Bailey’s 28 straight, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Mike Vanderjagt holds the record for most consecutive field goals made at 42 while with the Indianapolis Colts during the 2002-04 seasons.

Nick Novak

videoSAN DIEGO -- The San Diego Chargers should have popped some bubbly in the locker room to celebrate the team’s first postseason berth since 2009, not fretted over the possibility being left out of the dance.

But at 8-7, the Chargers still need help to get into the playoffs because of games squandered against the Washington Redskins and Tennessee Titans earlier this season, along with winnable contests that slipped away against playoff-caliber teams like the Cincinnati Bengals and Miami Dolphins.

“That’s our own fault,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We should have clinched a spot today. But those are all what ifs. We didn’t."

The Chargers were not at their best in a 26-13 victory against their hated rivals, the Oakland Raiders. San Diego turned the ball over three times, leading to 10 points for the Raiders. They settled for four Nick Novak field goals instead of punching the ball into the end zone.

But San Diego persevered. Unlike earlier this season, the Chargers found a way to win instead of grabbing defeat from the jaws of victory.

The Chargers have now won three straight, and four of their last five games.

“We talked to the team and told them to keep on playing,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “It’s one play at a time. There are going to be some bad plays in games. That’s a good football team over there, a good defense and we just kept on fighting.”

Unlike last week, when Miami and Baltimore both found ways to win, the Chargers got some help on Sunday. Buffalo shut out the Dolphins 19-0, and New England throttled Baltimore 41-7, leaving all three teams competing for the final wild-card berth at 8-7 heading into the final week of the regular season.

The Chargers have to defeat Kansas City at home next week, along with Baltimore losing at Cincinnati and Miami losing at home to the New York Jets to grab the last AFC playoff spot.

“We all know what games affected us,” Rivers said. “And all three went our way today, including the one we had control of. So we’ll be in the same boat next week. We need all three to go our way. The only one we can control is the one here against the Chiefs.

“So whatever those teams do, we want to be 9-7. And if that’s our last game, that’s our last game. We can say we won four of the last five, won four in a row and finished the way teams with character finish. If we get a bonus game the next week we’ll be fired up about it.”

McCoy said the players watched part of the Miami-Buffalo game in the locker room before pre-game warm-ups. And scoring updates for the Baltimore-New England game were announced at Qualcomm Stadium, bringing cheers to the crowd.

“It definitely served as motivation,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “There were all types of stuff going through our head once we found out those guys lost. And Baltimore was losing throughout our game, so we just had to find a way to win.”

The Chargers will have to find a way to win one more next week to keep playing.

“This is what it’s all about,” McCoy said. “This is what we’re in the business for. And we tell the players all the time, ‘Big-time players make big-time plays in big games.’ And we’ve got a big game coming up. And we’ve got to play our best game of the year. It’s all or nothing.”

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 14

December, 9, 2013
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 37-14 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesEli Manning threw two more interceptions, bringing him closer to a new career high.
Penalties a killer: The Giants were flagged for seven penalties for 72 yards. The worst may have been Charles James' offside penalty that gave Nick Novak a second chance at a field goal (he missed from 41 yards but then made it from 36), but that was just one of four offside calls against the Giants. "There's no excuse for that," Giants coach Tom Coughlin said. "Watch the ball. That's what you do all day long. If you watch us practice, we put a ball on the end of a stick, and the player doesn't move until the ball moves. There's absolutely no excuse for jumping offsides." It's easy to use a word like "undisciplined" to describe a team that gets called for too many penalties, but I think sometimes a team that feels overmatched can start jumping early in an effort to tilt the advantage back in its favor. The Giants have certainly felt overmatched at times this season, and Sunday was a strong example of such a game.

Chargers run wild: The Chargers rushed for 144 yards on 40 carries. Ryan Mathews had 103 yards and Danny Woodhead added 42. Justin Tuck grumbled that the total had more to do with San Diego's number of rushing attempts than anything special they did against the Giants' defense. But the 144 was the second-highest single-game rushing yardage total against the Giants this season (Carolina had 194 in Week 3), and Mathews found holes all day. The Chargers ended up possessing the ball for 36:56, which was the second-highest time-of-possession total against the Giants this season, just behind Dallas' 37:10 in the opener.

Third-down woes: The Chargers entered the game with a third-down conversion rate of 46.4 percent, which was second-best in the league to Denver, and they improved it, going 10-for-15 on third down Sunday. The Giants have struggled with third-down defense all season, and rank in the bottom third of the league in that department. But this was especially bad. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was 7-for-10 for 128 yards and two touchdowns on third down, and that was another huge reason for the time-of-possession edge.

Eli's rough year rolls on: Hakeem Nicks was able to make some plays down the field for a change, and ended up with 135 yards on five catches. But quarterback Eli Manning struggled again, missing some key throws and once again unable to get the offense into a rhythm. The Giants struggled to protect him early in the game, and he took two more sacks to raise his career-high total to 33 for the season. He also threw his 19th and 20th interceptions of the season, putting him five short of his career high in that department with three games to play. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Myers for the third game in a row, but Nicks doesn't have a touchdown all season and Victor Cruz hasn't caught one since September.
SAN DIEGO -- At 4-4 overall at the midpoint, the San Diego Chargers are about where they should be heading into the season's backstretch.

Quarterback Philip Rivers' bounce-back season has been one of the main storylines for this team, along with the return of a competitive spirit established by first-year head coach Mike McCoy.

Still, the Chargers face a daunting schedule if they want to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2009. San Diego still has five AFC West division contests left -- two each against division leaders Kansas City and Denver.

LANDOVER, Md. -- Quotes from the locker room after the San Diego Chargers 30-24 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins.

Goal line play-calling questioned: San Diego coach Mike McCoy answered several questions on his team’s inability to get in the end zone from a yard out with 21 seconds left to win the game in regulation

McCoy said even though his team was unsuccessful, and had to settle for a Nick Novak 19-yard field goal to push the game into overtime, he stands by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s play calling in that crucial part of the game.

“I’m not questioning what we did,” McCoy said. “We’re not questioning that. This is a team game. It’s the San Diego Chargers organization, and I’m not questioning any of the calls. We did what we thought was best to win the football game. And we’re moving on.”

So will the Chargers try something different on the goal line next time?

“We’re going to do what we think is best to win the football game,” McCoy said. “We’re not trying to second guess ourselves. In this business, would’ve, should’ve, could’ve. If one of those three plays work, there’s no questions asked. If they don’t work, the questions come out, and they won’t stop. So it’s part of the game.”

McCoy said he never considered going for it on fourth down.

Washington’s Young surprises Chargers: San Diego’s defense was prepared for running back Alfred Morris to get a lot of touches, so it’s no surprise he ran for 121 yards. However, Darrel Young getting the ball at the goal line and scoring three touchdowns -- including the game winner -- was unexpected, according to Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.

Young had just two carries for 19 yards heading into Sunday’s contest.

“They’ve haven’t done that all year,” Johnson said. “They’ve had 12 goal line plays this year, and eight of them were the same play, which was not that one.

“The first one, it bellied back my way, and it kind of shocked me because he hadn’t had that many carries this year. And then we got down there again, and we kind of played it a little better. But it was just so tight, and he’s a big strong guy. So he fell forward and made a play.

“And then the last one, he went the other way, so I’ll have to look at it. But he’s a big, strong guy and we have to play better on the goal line.”

Defense can’t get off the field: In the last two games, the Chargers had allowed opponents to convert just 5 of 21 (23.8 percent) times on third down. But against Washington, San Diego’s defense allowed the Redskins to convert 12 of 17 times (71 percent).

Washington finished with four drives of nine plays or more and 500 yards of total offense. Despite that, the Chargers still had a chance to escape with a victory.

"It’s one thing if a team just blows you out," Johnson said. "You’re like, 'All right, on to next week.' But God dang, we came back strong and made a bunch of plays on offense with two unbelievable drives. And then to still lose is frustrating."
SAN DIEGO -- Observed in the locker room after the San Diego Chargers 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Novak on the money: San Diego kicker Nick Novak finished 4-for-4 on field goals, including a season-long 50-yarder with 1:22 remaining to seal the win. Novak said he received an extra boost trying to match kicks with one of the best clutch kickers in the game in Indianapolis' Adam Vinatieri, who finished 3-for-3.

“I’m a big Rocky fan,” Novak said. “So I just try to keep that eye of the tiger, keep that focus mentality where I come through for the team and do my job. Vinatieri was doing the same thing. Even going against a guy like Vinatieri, I try to lift my game and match him kick for kick. He’s a competitor, and I love that.”

Mathews hits century mark: For the first time since a Dec. 11, 2011, contest against Buffalo when he rushed for 114 yards, San Diego running back Ryan Mathews topped the 100-yard mark in a regular-season game. Mathews finished with 102 yards on 22 carries. He said breaking the 100-yard mark still means something.

“You want to reach that peak as often as you can,” Mathews said. “I just have to give all the credit to my O-line. They did a great job tonight, just pushing guys out of the way and opening up those holes.”

San Diego coach Mike McCoy said his team went into Monday’s contest against Indianapolis focused on running the football after finishing with just 36 rushing yards against Oakland last week.

“Everyone took it to heart how we ran the football last week, which was poor, to say the least,” McCoy said. “I think we averaged 1.7 [yards] a rush last week. It’s unacceptable. The coaches answered the challenge. And we put it out there that we’ve got to run the football better.”

Another turning point? San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers felt Monday night’s game could be a turning point for this team, putting them back into playoff contention, or in evaluation mode for next year.

But San Diego players said the same thing after a big win over Dallas two weeks ago, but then lost to an undermanned Oakland team a week later. So what makes this game different?

“It definitely can, but now we’ve got to see where it turns,” Rivers said. “We started in the right direction, and we’ve got to make it turn that way. This was a big team win. I had the feeling that this was kind of an old-school NFL win, in the sense that we played great defense and we didn’t turn the ball over. We weren’t anything great offensively, but we didn’t turn it over. And we got points at the end of those drives.”

Rapid Reaction: Chargers 33, Eagles 30

September, 15, 2013

PHILADELPHIA -- Quick thoughts after the San Diego Chargers' 33-30 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday:

What it means: There won’t be a million stories explaining the phenomenon that is Chip Kelly’s offense, at least not this week. After setting land-speed records in Washington on Monday night, the Eagles had trouble getting into gear against the Chargers. They ultimately put enough points on the board to win most games, but they cost themselves several touchdowns with mistakes in the first half. Given a chance to take the lead in the fourth quarter, the Eagles stalled in the red zone. They kicked a field goal to tie the score, but left the Chargers nearly two minutes to drive for Nick Novak's game-winning 46-yard kick.

Stock watch: It was probably inevitable after the avalanche of praise the first-year coach received last week that Kelly's stock would fall. He was trying to become the first Eagles coach to win the first two games of his tenure since Nick Skorich in 1961. Kelly was never going to go undefeated in the NFL, but Eagles fans were hoping to ride the Chip-mania wave at least a little bit longer.

Defensive regression: The Eagles' defense looked much more like the work in progress that it is. Philip Rivers picked apart a secondary that was suspect before injuries weakened it even further. Cornerback Cary Williams, who had a sack and an interception at Washington, was called for three pass-interference penalties (one was declined). When the Chargers took the field with 1:51 left in a tie game, the Eagles were helpless to stop the winning drive.

Bad timing: The Eagles’ improved special teams had been an overlooked story with so much attention focused on Kelly’s offense. But the kicking game failed the Eagles at the worst time, allowing a long kickoff return to set up the Chargers’ go-ahead touchdown. Kicker Alex Henery, who missed a field goal earlier in the game, couldn’t handle a fumble on the play and the Chargers recovered.

What’s next: The Eagles get little rest before welcoming longtime coach Andy Reid back to Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday night. The game becomes doubly important because the Eagles’ next matchup after that is in Denver on Sept. 29. A loss to Reid could put the Eagles in jeopardy of starting 1-3 after winning their first game.
Rookie kickers have made 86.7 percent of field goal attempts over the past five seasons. Veteran kickers have made 83 percent over the same period.

That is something to keep in mind when wondering what veteran kicker the San Francisco 49ers might pursue after releasing David Akers this week.

While the 49ers likely will sign a veteran, they should consider using one of their league-high 12 draft choices -- a total expected to rise when the NFL distributes compensatory selections -- for the best rookie kicker they can find.

Those percentages for rookies versus veterans say as much.

Of course, field goal percentages aren't everything because all attempts aren't created equal, even when from the same distance. It's also possible an aversion to trusting rookie kickers has removed from the pool all but the exceptional ones, distorting comparisons to a broader field of veteran kickers.

But that 86.7 percent success rate should get the 49ers' attention as they seek low-cost alternatives to an acclaimed veteran such as Akers, whose 69 percent success rate ranked 34th out of 36 qualifying kickers last season.

Minnesota's Blair Walsh (92.1 percent), Baltimore's Justin Tucker (90.9) and St. Louis' Greg Zuerlein (74.2) combined to make 86.3 percent as the only rookies to attempt field goals last season.

Filtering for venue and distance, I noticed that rookies made 29 of 42 (69 percent) field goal tries since 2008 when kicking outdoors on natural grass from longer than 40 yards. Veterans made 621 of 913 (68 percent).

The results cited here are far from conclusive, which is the point. A rookie kicker might not be a bad option for the 49ers.

Phil Dawson, Rob Bironas, Nate Kaeding, Lawrence Tynes, Nick Folk, Josh Brown, Mike Nugent, Jason Hanson, Ryan Longwell, Shayne Graham, Olindo Mare and Nick Novak are among the veterans without contracts for 2013. Check out our Free Agent Tracker Insider for ranks of kickers Insider and all free agents.

Wrap-up: Browns 7, Chargers 6

October, 28, 2012

A look at a bad day in bad weather for the nose-diving Chargers:

What it means: This was the Chargers' third straight loss. While blowing double-digit leads in the past two games to New Orleans and Denver hurt the Chargers enormously, this defeat offers its own pain. This was a winnable game against a poor team. Yet the Chargers -- who perhaps still haven’t gotten over seeing Denver score 35 unanswered points in the second half in Week 6 -- were completely flat Sunday. Yes, they can dig out of it, but this team is so down right now, a revival may be difficult.

Game-winning drive stalled: On their final drive of the game, the Chargers moved the ball well into Cleveland territory with their sights on winning the game on Nick Novak’s third field goal. However, the Chargers’ hopes ended following four straight incomplete passes by Philip Rivers.

Mathews fails again: In the end, San Diego running back Ryan Mathews had a nice day as he had 95 yards rushing on 24 carries. However, Mathews’ fumbling problem caught up to him again early in the game. Mathews has to find a way to stop fumbling. It is hurting his team. Mathews wasn’t the only Charger to fail, though. Robert Meachem dropped a potential touchdown and Atari Bigby dropped a potential interception return for a score. This was a team failure.

What’s next: The Chargers will try to bounce back at home Thursday against Kansas City. I envision many empty seats at Qualcomm Stadium.
Click here for the complete list of San Diego Chargers' roster moves.

Most significant move: The Chargers cut former starting fullback (and special-teams ace) Jacob Hester and fellow running back Edwin Baker, a seventh-round pick. The Chargers will go with the likes of Ronnie Brown, Le’Ron McClain, Jackie Battle and Curtis Brinkley early in the season if starter Ryan Mathews (broken clavicle) can’t play in the first couple of games. It was a no-brainer that the team kept kicker Nate Kaeding over Nick Novak. Kaeding, who was replaced by Novak after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in Week 1 last year, was better than Novak in camp and in the preseason.

Onward and upward: The Chargers cut undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee. The team was high on him, but once again, the team is going with just two quarterbacks: starter Philip Rivers and backup Charlie Whitehurst. Lee is a likely candidate for the practice squad. I can see receiver Mike Willie being put on the practice squad as well. He has potential, but he lacked consistency. I could see Baker as a practice-squad candidate as well. I’d think Hester will get looks elsewhere because of his special-teams availability. Longtime defensive tackle Jacques Cesaire could potentially get looks as the season progresses; there is always a need around the league for a veteran big man. If the Chargers get in a bind, I could see them turning the popular Cesaire, who was a locker-room favorite.

What’s next: Because of injuries, expect the Chargers to look for help at cornerback, tackle, safety and perhaps receiver and running back. Because left tackle Jared Gaither and several cornerbacks are hurt, San Diego could be on the lookout for players who could actually be active in Week 1 at Oakland. One player I fully expect San Diego to target is cornerback Drayton Florence. He’d fit right in as a nickel. Denver cut Florence on Friday. He is a former Charger and San Diego tried to sign him before he went to Denver.

Observation deck: Chargers-49ers

August, 31, 2012

A look at the Chargers’ 35-3 road loss Thursday night:

After being held out last week because of injuries on his offensive line, the Chargers gave quarterback Philip Rivers some late-preseason work. The interception bug hit him again.

Rivers’ night ended with poor red-zone decisions on a ball that was intercepted. Rivers threw four interceptions this summer after being picked off 20 times last season. Thursday’s interception was just a pass Rivers should not have thrown.

It is a worry? Kind of, yes.

Look, preseason mistakes are just that, and Rivers is a fine player. He has thrown the ball well in the preseason. He completed 8 of 10 passes Thursday and he was 24-of-30 this preseason (yes, only two passes Rivers threw in the preseason were not caught). But he has to get out of this interception rut when the season starts.

Rookie defensive lineman Kendall Reyes looked good once again. I expect him to make an instant impact.

Nose tackle Cam Thomas looked good and should play a lot as well.

Watch for the Chargers to look for cornerback help on the waiver wire. They are banged up and their reserves were not good Thursday. The 49ers passed all over the Chargers.

Last year, while with the Chargers, quarterback Scott Tolzien performed well against the 49ers. So well, in fact, the 49ers claimed him when the Chargers cut him. Thursday night, Tolzein might have lost his roster spot when Josh Johnson had a great game for the 49ers. Would the Chargers be tempted to sign Tolzien either as a replacement for Jarrett Lee or as a practice-squader regardless if Lee is kept on the 53-man roster?

Linebacker Bront Bird finished strong and has a chance to make the team when the 53-man roster is finalized Friday.

Unless there is a shocking change of heart, kicker Nate Kaeding makes the team and Nick Novak gets cut.

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 sack 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.
SAN DIEGO -- With the outside perception of the San Diego Chargers taking a major tumble, the team, which for so long was built from the inside, changed philosophy in 2012 in a last attempt to keep that proverbial Super Bowl window from slamming shut and causing major upheaval in the organization.

After two playoff-less seasons and a reprieve from ownership, San Diego general manager A.J. Smith made an uncharacteristically heavy play in free agency. Taking advantage of one of the deepest classes in history, the Chargers nabbed more than a dozen free agents to infuse new life into a roster that was still talented but no longer arguably the stoutest in the NFL.

“I love what they have done around here,” said safety Eric Weddle, one of the Chargers' homegrown mainstays. “We hit the lowest of the lows the past two years by not making the playoffs. Getting new blood in here has helped.”

Among the veterans San Diego brought in were running backs Le'Ron McClain and Ronnie Brown, receivers Robert Meachem and Eddie Royal, linebacker Jarret Johnson and defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin.

“The thing about the new guys is they all love football,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “They love it. We need guys like that here. … It gives us a new start. Those guys won’t worry about the past. They weren’t here for the slow starts or the six-game losing streak last year. It’s all a new start.”

If this cleansing of the roster doesn’t work, the next restructuring will likely occur up top with the firing of coach Norv Turner and possibly Smith. Yet, in a season of new beginnings, spirits are high.

“I think we can be special,” Weddle said. “There’s still a lot of talent here, with a bunch of new talent. … People may not be expecting much from us this year because we haven’t done anything, so that’s fair. But it’s kind of nice to be under the radar for once.”


[+] EnlargeRyan Mathews
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireThe Chargers aim to lean even more heavily on running back Ryan Mathews this season.
1. Ryan Mathews' workload: Outside of Rivers, there is likely not a more important player in this camp than Mathews. The Chargers all know if Mathews flourishes in his third NFL season, the team will have a strong chance to be successful. Mathews, the No. 12 overall pick in 2010, had a solid second season as he ran for 1,091 yards and averaged a terrific 4.9 yards per carry. This year, the Chargers want to see Mathews become consistent and stay healthy. He will likely be given the chance to to carry the ball 25 times a game, catch several balls out of the backfield and be a factor on third down and in short yardage. This camp is designed to get him prepared for a heavy workload. From what I saw and heard, it seems like Mathews might be up to the task.

“He’s working hard,” Rivers said. “Ryan knows what is expected of him.”

2. Sparking the defense: While the offense in San Diego needs some tweaks, the bigger fixes are necessary on defense, where former linebackers coach John Pagano is in charge of fixing a unit that fell apart last season. He replaces Greg Manusky, who was fired after one season on the job. The biggest issue -- it is a major point of emphasis in camp -- is getting off the field on third down. San Diego was last in the NFL in third-down defense in 2011. It gave up a first down on 49.2 percent of all third downs -- according to ESPN Stats & Information, the worst percentage in the NFL since the 1995 Cleveland Browns. The Chargers have added several pieces to the defense and it has a chance to be much more active -- particularly on passing downs, when No. 1 pick Melvin Ingram will be given a chance to make an instant impact as a pass-rusher.

3. Protect the quarterback: The San Diego offensive line was in shambles for much of last season, and it was a big reason why Rivers struggled for the first 10 games. Mainly due to poor health, San Diego used 13 offensive linemen last season -- literally taking players off the street at one point in November. With Jared Gaither, claimed off waivers from Kansas City, solidifying the left tackle spot, the unit improved dramatically late in the season. Gaither was re-signed and is being counted on to protect Rivers’ blind side. The steady Tyronne Green takes over for the departed Kris Dielman. Green has fared well when he's had to play. If this unit remains in good health, it should protect Rivers well. If not, trouble could persist. So far, the unit looks good in camp.


The passing game looks to be top-notch. After a sloppy start to last season, Rivers finished 2011 strong. He has looked good in camp, and has an interesting group of receivers. Yes, standout Vincent Jackson is gone, but the Chargers have an ensemble group that includes Malcom Floyd, free-agent signees Meachem (New Orleans) and Royal (Denver) and second-year player Vincent Brown. Together, this group should offer Rivers plenty of help.

“We like what we have there,” Turner said. “We like all the pieces. We think we can get some things done in the passing game.”

If the Rivers-led passing attack is back at an elite level, the Chargers will be a threat to win every game. When Rivers is on, San Diego has a chance to score every time the offense hits the field.


The Chargers must prove they are totally past their doldrums. The team feels good about itself, but it does every summer. We will not know if San Diego is out of its funk until it’s out.

Yes, the depth looks good, but will it be enough if injuries pile up for a fourth consecutive year? Yes, cutting down on turnovers is a point of emphasis in camp, but once the season starts, will the hard work pay off or will the killer interceptions and fumbles continue?

It has gotten to the point where we can’t trust this team until it shows it is has indeed rebounded.


    [+] EnlargeEddie Royal
    AP Photo/Lenny IgnelziReceiver Eddie Royal, an offseason pickup, appears to have clicked with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
  • Tight end Antonio Gates is turning heads on a daily basis. After dealing with foot-related injuries for four years, Gates is finally completely healthy. He’s slimmed down and he is making a lot of plays. If his health remains, the 32-year-old should make a huge impact.
  • Denver might have lost interest in Royal, but there is a place for him San Diego. Expect Royal to get a lot of work. He has impressed the coaching staff this summer and I expect him to be as favorite a target for Rivers during the season as he has been this summer.
  • The Chargers love what they see in Johnson. He is tough, smart and excellent against the run. They think he can bump the defense up a notch.
  • Linebacker Donald Butler looks good after a strong 2011 season, which was essentially his rookie season because he was injured in 2010. He is just another fascinating young defensive piece on this team.
  • Undrafted rookie quarterback Jarrett Lee looks like a keeper. He got extra work because of a knee injury to Charlie Whitehurst. I could see Lee making this roster. The Chargers were burned last year when they tried to sneak undrafted rookie quarterback Scott Tolzien onto the practice squad; he was claimed by San Francisco. If Lee continues to impress, I think the Chargers will find room for him on the 53-man roster. They need to develop a young quarterback at some point and Lee might be it.

  • The Nate Kaeding-Nick Novak battle at kicker will go down to the wire. If Kaeding stays healthy and kicks well in the preseason, he should win the job.
  • The Chargers love the skill level of Meachem. Perhaps he was lost in the shuffle of the dynamic offensive weaponry in New Orleans. He’ll get his shot in San Diego.
  • The Chargers are pumped about McClain, a free-agent pickup from Kansas City. He will play a lot and should be in the mix for some carries. They like the veteran stability he brings to the offense.
  • Center David Molk, a seventh-round pick, is getting some second-team reps. He may have a future.
  • The Chargers are very happy with pre-camp signings Franklin and running back/special-teamer Jackie Battle. Though they both signed late, I see them both being contributors.
  • Keep an eye on ex-Chief Demorrio Williams. The linebacker has been a camp stud, boasting terrific speed. The Chargers like him in coverage.
  • The Chargers will keep their eyes open for help at certain positions, including cornerback and offensive line, as the summer progresses.
  • Third-round pick Brandon Taylor, a safety, might not make an instant impact, but Taylor has impressed and will get some valuable time behind veteran pickup Atari Bigby, who himself has been outstanding this summer.

  • Brown has been getting looks as the third-down back and will be an occasional Wildcat threat.
  • Running back Curtis Brinkley flashed talent at times last season, but because of the logjam at running back, he is a long shot to make the team.

  • Rookie tight end Ladarius Green has nice receiving skills. I can see him making an impact behind Gates and Dante Rosario (a very nice backup). Green, a fourth-round pick, needs to learn to block at an NFL level, but he has terrific hands and natural size.
  • Undrafted rookie tackle Mike Harris has taken advantage of an early camp injury to Gaither, getting some reps with the first team. The UCLA product has a chance to make the team. Rivers has joked that Harris has gotten more first-team reps than any undrafted rookie tackle in the history of the NFL.


Roster Advisor


Sunday, 12/28