From a monumental standpoint, consider it this way: The Chargers face the challenge of knocking off the undefeated Patriots Sunday with the equivalents of Tom Brady, Laurence Maroney, and Randy Moss hampered by injuries.
While LaDainian Tomlinson, who’s battling a hyper-extended knee injury, is expected to play in Sunday’s AFC Championship game, the statuses of quarterback Philip Rivers (sprained knee ligament) and tight end Antonio Gates (dislocated toe) are still up in the air. The trio of superstars only highlights the growing injury report for the Chargers.
Nose tackle Jamal Williams: ankle injury.
Defensive end Luis Castillo: Bruised ribs.
Cornerback Antonio Cromartie: Knee.
Don’t expect any of those six to be sitting on the bench come Sunday. But their injuries should still present San Diego with plenty of nail-biting moments of anxiety as it prepares for its first AFC title game in 13 years.
“You have to be concerned,” head coach Norv Turner said. “We've got guys who aren't going to practice all week that are going to play.”
Gates and Tomlinson are indeed the premium players involved and having either at less than 100 percent would be a blow to the double-digit underdogs. And while Billy Volek engineered a crucial touchdown drive in Indy last Sunday, Philip Rivers has been the architect of the Chargers offense this postseason. No, really.
Nobody has passed for more postseason yards than Rivers (556). Only Eli Manning (surprise, again) has as many touchdowns (four). No other quarterback has more than seven pass completions of more than 20 yards. Rivers has 12 of them and is averaging a playoff high 11.3 yards per pass.
It is the best back-to-back playoff performance in Chargers postseason history. Stan Humphries has been humbled.
There’s a growing consensus that Rivers needs to be humbled in some way, too. Here’s what Denver’s Champ Bailey had to say about the young quarterback a couple of days after the Chargers beat the Broncos last month:
“I don't really care for the guy, first of all,” Bailey told the Rocky Mountain News. “He's not a respectable guy right now, because you talk too much trash and do this and that, but you're really not a great player in this league right now. You're surrounded by great players, but you're not a great player.
“I think he needs to understand where he stands in this league -- on his team first and foremost. They've got a lot of classy guys on that team. He kind of represents the classless guy on that team. He's definitely lost my respect.”
Yesterday, ESPN’s Sean Salisbury went on the Stephen A. Smith show and said of Rivers: “Maybe he can talk his knee into his playing next week because he sure talks a lot about everything else.”
- Despite the Patriots being the overwhelming favorite this Sunday, the San Diego Tribune’s Kevin Acee points out the following that reminds how good the Chargers have been on their own winning streak: “The overwhelming love for the Patriots also discounts that since Nov. 25 (eight games for the Chargers, seven for New England) the Chargers have allowed 6½ fewer points a game and scored 1½ fewer points a game than New England while facing about the same level of competition. The Chargers' opponents during their winning streak had a combined winning percentage of .458, while the Patriots' opponents had a similarly unimpressive .486 winning percentage.”
- CNBC’s Darren Rovell predicts Super Bowl ticket prices for all four possible remaining matchups. Patriots-Packers would be the priciest, he says, followed by Patriots-Giants.
- We’re not that big into the sports action figure thing because, well, we’re not 12, but doesn’t it strike you as just a little odd that this version of Tomlinson has him sitting on the bench?
- San Diego fans are gobbling up tickets to Sunday’s game at the rate of 0.5 percent.
- Priceless trash talk with Philip Rivers.
- Anyone still whining about missing the marquee matchup? The San Diego Tribune’s Nick Canepa suggests you deal with it:
The Chargers are Baja West Coast. Their quarterback, Philip Rivers, gets in arguments with fans. Their players dance (even their coach, weakly). They're demonstrative, although they weren't the ones doing the rumba on the San Diego logo after last January's playoff game here. I believe they were the Boston tea throwers.
But America saw Cain vs. Abel in Colts-Patriots. Indy coach Tony Dungy is a prince. There may be a day when white smoke comes out of the Sistine Chapel for him at The Vatican. Quarterback Peyton Manning has been on television more than Dick Clark. They're good. They're Midwest genteel.
Meanwhile, there's Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots. Belichick is as good a coach as we've seen, but he's evil. He makes Al Davis look like Barney Fife. He's a captured cheater.
- It’s obvious why San Diego is in the AFC title game this season and Wade Philips has been bounced from the playoffs. It’s the Curse of Flutie.