Chargers weakened by injuries, struggling in close games**
A six-game losing streak can't tell the entire tale of why the Chargers have struggled this season, but it certainly speaks volumes.
"That's who we are right now," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "I think that we had our chance to have a different record and therefore be perceived to be better. We didn't make those plays, so we obviously aren't an 8-3 team, 7-4 team, 6-5 or wherever we could have been if we would have won them. We aren't. We aren't that team, but we're the same guys and we know what we're capable of."
The Broncos began their practice preparation for the Chargers.
Those losses, which came by a combined 51 points—including 21 total points over the first five losses—could have easily gone the other way. But they didn't. The team has struggled in many ways, and injuries have contributed to those woes, but San Diego couldn't make plays as time wound down to either seal a game or put the team over the top.
"Five games that we've lost we haven't executed at some point in time in a two-minute situation at the end of the game," said Chargers head coach Mike McCoy. "I always tell the players to look back further in the game and understand that there are some times in games where it's putting the game away by converting the third-down earlier and not putting your defense on the field for a two-minute situation, the offense finishing a drive with a touchdown instead of kicking a field goal at some point at time or defensively not giving up an explosive play. It's been tough with the number of close games that you lose.
The Chargers' skid ended Sunday with a 31-25 win in Jacksonville, but San Diego decided to make a coaching change Wednesday when they announced the firing of special teams coordinator Kevin Spencer. Assistant special teams coach Craig Aukerman will fill in during the interim period.
Injuries have also had their role in San Diego's problems, particularly on the offensive line. Left tackle King Dunlap, left guard Orlando Franklin and center Chris Watt—all starters on the offensive line to begin the season—missed significant parts of the season, and Watt has been placed on injured reserve. Leading receiver WR Keenan Allen was also placed on IR with a lacerated kidney.
"I'll give [T] Chris Hariston, [G] Kenny Wiggins and [C] Trevor [Robinson] a ton of credit for stepping up in situations and not knowing when they're playing going into games," McCoy said. "With the number of guys that have been rotating in and out, they've done an outstanding job in my opinion. There are some things that we wish we could do better as a football team, but I think that a number of players really have stepped up and done a nice job for us, the way that [T] Joe Barksdale has played all year, too, and when [G D.J.] Fluke [Fluker] has been healthy."
Ultimately, it all adds up to a disappointing season. However, San Diego refuses to let that air of disappointment leach into their mindset as they prepare for one of the AFC's top teams.
"We're playing a division game against a team that just beat an undefeated team and is one of the best in the league," Rivers said. "We could be 0-50 and I'd be fired up for this one."
- Ben Swanson
McCoy, Rivers praise Osweiler**
While San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers has a connection to quarterback Brock Osweiler through a college coordinator, Chargers head coach Mike McCoy had the opportunity to work with Osweiler during his rookie season.
McCoy was the offensive coordinator in 2012, the year the Broncos drafted Osweiler out of Arizona State and McCoy is still impressed by the work Osweiler has done this season.
"I think what you can see with what he's done the past couple of weeks is that he took advantage of his opportunities that he had of learning the NFL game," McCoy said. "He's very fortunate."
McCoy also recalled the conversations he and former Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase had with Osweiler about the importance learning under Peyton Manning.
"Adam and I sat down with him when we first got him and talked to him about the opportunity he has to learn from one of the all-time best," McCoy said. "When you take advantage of the opportunity to learn from a great one, spend your time in a system for a number of years and the more reps you get through training camps, offseason programs and preseason games–and then you get this opportunity, you're not rushed into it, but you're well-prepared and you're ready to go. I think he's done an outstanding job preparing and is very fortunate to have the coaches that he's had there and being able to learn from Peyton."
Rivers echoed McCoy's sentiments and praised Osweiler's leadership in the Broncos' 30-24 overtime win over the Patriots in Week 12.
"He hasn't gotten a ton of work other than the preseason," Rivers said. "He got in our game last year a little bit. We were able to watch the whole game on the plane coming back from Jacksonville on Sunday. Shoot, in that snowstorm, weather, against the undefeated Patriots and all of those circumstances he did a heck of a job leading them."
- Allie Raymond