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Chargers yap, dance and trash-talk their way to AFC title game

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers likes to yap.

Shawne Merriman likes to dance.

Igor Olshansky gave the undefeated New England Patriots some billboard material, as if they needed any outside help in advance of the AFC championship game.

Have the San Diego Chargers simply regained their swagger, or have they become cocky trash-talkers?

Well, maybe ask Olshansky.

"Who? New England?" the defensive end said after the Chargers upset the Indianapolis Colts 28-24 on Sunday. "Seriously, I mean, they're more worried than we are, I promise you. Believe me. They know what's up.

"The way that we're playing now, nothing can stop us," he added.

Coach Norv Turner had words with Olshansky about his choice of words.

"I addressed that on Monday and I think in a weak moment Igor misspoke. I think our guys have handled this deal really well and we're just getting ready to play," Turner said.

Then there's Rivers, whose mouth seems to be making as much news as his injured right knee.

San Diego's quarterback has been caught on camera this year yapping at fans and opposing players.

On Sunday, Rivers had two exchanges with fans. When he was walking to the locker room for treatment, he could be seen telling someone, "I'll be back." Then, when Peyton Manning's final pass of the game fell incomplete, Rivers turned and was talking to fans behind the bench.

During a Christmas Eve win over division rival Denver, cameras caught the quarterback and teammates Shaun Phillips and Matt Wilhelm having an animated conversation with Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.

Rivers tried to downplay that exchange, but some Broncos were infuriated.

During a home victory over Baltimore on Nov. 25 -- which started the Chargers' current eight-game winning streak -- Rivers yelled "shut up" to fans who booed on two straight plays.

Rivers has become a flashpoint, particularly on talk radio.

"I'm aware of it," Rivers said. "I really don't get too caught up in it. It's kind of surprising, really, to be honest with you. But, again, I'm out there having a good time as I did in the backyard since I was 5 years old. I'm not saying anything out of line. There's no profanity being used. I know what I'm about. My teammates know, my family knows, everything else, I can't worry about.

"When it stops being fun, that's when I'll stop playing," said Rivers, who compared his talking to ribbing a buddy while playing in the backyard.

Some callers have even compared Rivers to Ryan Leaf, the bad-boy quarterback who had a turbulent run with the Chargers from 1998-2000.

"Again, it's kind of unbelievable, to be honest with you," Rivers said. "I'm not going to sit here and turn and put down Ryan Leaf. But sometimes you wonder what gives people the authority to make some comparisons. Obviously I have an opinion about it.

"Since the Denver week, when things, to me, got blown out of proportion, I haven't changed since then. If you followed me around since I was 5 years old, you'd see the same thing every Saturday afternoon in the backyard, you saw it for 51 games at NC State and you'll probably catch something this weekend. Do I mean any harm about it? No. Again, I'm just going to have fun."

Rivers sat out practice Wednesday to rest his knee but hopes to return by Friday.

"It's feeling pretty good. It's feeling better. I'm treating it like crazy. Obviously the goal is to be ready to play on Sunday, and I'm optimistic I'll be able to do that," he said.

"Philip gets a lot of exposure, but he doesn't talk nearly as much as they show him talking," Turner said. "Personally, he doesn't need to be turning around talking to some guy that has had 12 beers in the stands. He doesn't need to do that."

Turner said he and the fans like the energy and enthusiasm of players jumping around. "So I think obviously some things get blown out of proportion, but for the most part our guys handle it well," he said.

Merriman, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker, doesn't think his team has a trash-talking reputation.

"I think probably most of it is just the fun of the game and somehow they just catch us doing it even though we might be kidding around or talking to some people that we actually know. I think it probably all started from the Denver game and got bigger from there."

How about Rivers?

"Oh, he talks," Merriman said. "I don't think he's talking trash to the opposing team, I think he's just so emotionally fired up about the game that there's no telling what he might say."

Opposing fans usually don't like Merriman's sack celebration. Nicknamed "Lights Out" for his punishing hits, he pretends to flip a switch tattooed on one forearm, then does a spasmodic dance.

After New England upset the Chargers in the playoffs in San Diego last season, a handful of Patriots mocked Merriman's dance at midfield, enraging LaDainian Tomlinson.

Asked if the Chargers' newfound reputation stemmed from his celebration, Merriman said:

"Yeah, blame it on me. Why not, right? I don't think so. I wouldn't take the entire blame for the entire team. I don't think we do anything disrespectful at all. I think that all the teams we've seen this year respect us and we respect them. It's nothing over the top and we haven't gotten any flags for anything so I don't think we do anything disrespectful."

Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press

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