San Diego Chargers: Super Bowl Contenders?

The San Diego Chargers faced big questions heading into the 2006 NFL season. How would their offense perform without Drew Brees, their star quarterback who was injured and then traded to New Orleans? Can the San Diego Chargers win games with Philip Rivers, a quarterback who has never before started an NFL game? To make matters worse, their first game of the season was on the road in Oakland before a nationwide audience for Monday Night Football. Nothing like a nice low-key game to get your first start as an NFL quarterback. Philip Rivers, welcome to the NFL. Have you met Warren Sapp and the Oakland Black Hole?

Fortunately, for Philip Rivers, Superman is one of his teammates. Not the one with the red cape, but the one with a helmet and shoulder pads that goes by the name of LaDainian Tomlinson. And unlike the Superman with the red cape, Tomlinson cannot be stopped by kryptonite, much less the Raiders defense. As usual, Tomlinson ran all over the Raiders to the tune of 131 yards and one touchdown. With Tomlinson moving the ball at will, the San Diego Chargers had the luxury of easing in Philip Rivers. The pressure was off Rivers, as much as it could be for a quarterback getting his first start on Monday Night Football. Even so, Rivers looked great in his first start. He was accurate and composed, throwing for 108 yards, one touchdown, and no interceptions. Rivers completed 8 of 11 passes and showed some nice touch. Not exactly Dan Marino numbers, but pretty impressive for a first start. Give a lot of credit to the offensive line of the San Diego Chargers because Rivers was never even sacked.

As for the defense of the San Diego Chargers, they made a statement in their first game of the NFL season. The Chargers had nine sacks and held the Raiders to only 129 total yards. San Diego steamrolled Oakland with a 27-0 win in week 1. Shawne Merriman led the way for the Chargers’ defense with three sacks and six tackles. Merriman, the second year defensive end, seems to be asserting himself as the new defensive leader of the Chargers. Granted, this was against the feeble offense of the Oakland Raiders and not the Indianapolis Colts, but still it was an impressive defensive performance.

The Chargers returned home in week 2 to face the Tennessee Titans. San Diego may have been impressive in week one, but they were dominant in week two. The Chargers destroyed the Titans with a 40-7 victory that improved their record to 2-0. LaDainian Tomlinson led the way once again with two rushing touchdowns and 122 total yards. With the accuracy shown by Philip Rivers in week one, the Chargers loosened the reins on their young quarterback in week two. Rivers completed 25 of 35 passes against the Titans and threw for 235 yards, one touchdown, and again, zero interceptions. Philip Rivers is beginning to make Chargers fans ask, “Drew Who?”. San Diego’s defense stepped up once again, allowing only 7 points and a paltry 55 rushing yards. The San Diego Chargers are showing that they are tough on both sides of the football and a force to be reckoned with in the AFC.

Two weeks are definitely not a season. The inexperience of Philip Rivers could still come to light. Opposing teams could figure out a way to contain Tomlinson, which would put more pressure on the arm of Philip Rivers. It is too early to say that the San Diego Chargers have answered those pre-season questions, but so far so good. Philip Rivers had two years to learn behind Drew Brees. Rivers seems to be gaining confidence, which is always a good thing for a young NFL quarterback. If Rivers maintains his poise, he has the talent to be a solid NFL quarterback and to have a strong 2006 season. With Antonio Gates and Keenan McCardell as targets, Rivers will have open receivers to get the ball to. The San Diego Chargers appear to have a formidable team with lots of weapons on both offense and defense. It may be early, but the Chargers have a legitimate shot at competing with the Colts, Steelers, Bengals, and Ravens to come out of the AFC. I would not be surprised if the San Diego Chargers were in Miami come February. After all, you can never count out Superman.

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