It's December in the NFL, and once again, the San Diego Chargers are one of the most well-oiled and dangerous teams in the league.
That might not mean much after the wreck the Chargers made of things in the middle part of their season. Still, what's going on now could be enough to save coach Norv Turner's job and reassure everyone that nothing's seriously wrong with quarterback Philip Rivers. Many Chargers fans might want to see Turner gone, but it can't be denied that Rivers' success has been intertwined with Turner's. Right now, both are dialed in.
That wasn't the case when San Diego was in the middle of a six-game losing streak. Rivers was a turnover machine and Turner seemed to have lost his grip on the team. Now, though, the Chargers (7-7) are back in the playoff picture after winning three straight.
Turner first cited the recent stability in the offensive line, which has had 13 different players take snaps this season. The improved play up front has been a huge difference-maker in the way Rivers has played, Turner said. Rivers, he said, is far more comfortable now than he was even a month ago and is again playing with his typical confidence.
Turner also said Malcom Floyd's return has been a boost. Floyd, who missed four games earlier this season with a hip injury, has 11 catches for 233 yards and two touchdowns in the past three games. In addition to his effectiveness as a receiver, Turner added that Floyd forces teams to defend the Chargers differently. While Floyd was out, defenses could afford to double-team receiver Vincent Jackson and tight end Antonio Gates. Not anymore. The Chargers, it must be noted, did not win without Floyd in the lineup.
Rivers joined Turner in crediting the improved play of the offensive line. He didn't single anyone out, but several people with the team said the November acquisition of tackle Jared Gaither has been a boon. Gaither, who was let go by both the Ravens and the Chiefs, was signed after tackles Marcus McNeill and Brandyn Dombrowski were lost for the season with injuries. The low-risk signing has yielded huge dividends. Gaither has three starts -- all victories. In that stretch, Rivers has been sacked just twice and tailback Ryan Mathews has averaged 103 yards per game.
Rivers, who has 17 interceptions and five lost fumbles this season, admitted that he was way too careless during the early part of the year, claiming that he personally lost games with his abundance of turnovers. However, he said, he's been much more himself lately. In the past three games, he's thrown seven TD passes and zero picks.
San Diego plays at Detroit this weekend. That game could determine not just the team's fate but Turner's and general manager A.J. Smith's as well. There is a level of confidence in the locker room that wasn't there earlier, along with a feeling that things are going to continue getting better. A victory could set the stage for a shot at a playoff berth in the season finale at Oakland.
A trip to the playoffs could be enough to save jobs and maybe a season. However, if the Chargers suffer yet another setback, this most recent run of success will become nothing more than a blip in a campaign that went too far awry.