Chargers on top

ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

Tucked away in the bottom left corner of the United States, the San Diego Chargers were easy to either forget or dismiss as the blueprint for NFL ineptitude.

If there was a bad bounce to be had, the Lightning Bolts were sure to become the Lightning Dolts of four-down football.

Yesterday, at a cold and rainy Qualcomm Stadium here is San Diego, the Chargers closed the door on nearly a decade of misery with a 20-17 win over the Denver Broncos.

At 9-3 and in clear command of the AFC West, the Chargers have forced the powers of their contentious conference to at least pay notice as to what's happening way out here.

This team may not yet possess the flash of the Indianapolis Colts, the balance of the Pittsburgh Steelers or the dominant power of the New England Patriots, but it has won six in a row and is busting with confidence.

"I don't know where we fit in ... until we play those guys we can't really say," veteran Chargers defensive tackle Jamal Williams said. "All I care is that I play for the San Diego Chargers and we are 9-3 right here.

TURN OUR WAY

"We had our rough days, I was here when we were 1-15. It's jut nice to see things turn our way."

Things pretty much bounced, slipped and fell the Chargers' way yesterday in a game they could have -- and perhaps should have -- lost.

Though they never trailed, the Chargers needed an interception in their end zone in the final four minutes to finally knock the buck out of the Broncos.

"There were lots of opportunities for us to break," said Chargers safety Jerry Wilson, who snagged that crucial interception with 3:48 remaining. "It just shows how determined we are and that your are not going to break our will. That's something we didn't have last year."

Wilson's pick was the fourth off Denver quarterback Jake Plummer on a dreadful day for the Broncos offence.

"Any time you turn the football over four times and have as many penalties as we did on the road, it's hard to win football games," coach Mike Shanahan said of his reeling Broncos, who at 7-5 are in danger of slipping out of the wild-card race as well.

A sellout crowd of 65,395, the first full house of the season, enjoyed the moment, one in a season as surprising as yesterday's miserable, un-California -like weather.

A year ago, this was a team that finished 4-12 for a share of the NFL's worst record. It had a quarterback in Drew Brees who was on such shaky ground that the team drafted Philip Rivers in the first round this year.

But when Brees and the defence improved, the Chargers took advantage of a soft early schedule to turn fragile into potential.

Yesterday, they did it with a defence that mercilessly harassed Plummer and stuffed the respected Broncos run game by holding Reuben Droughns to just 38 yards on 14 carries.

They did it with just enough offence on a day when gripping the football, much less moving it downfield, was a dodgy prospect. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson busted out for 113 yards and his team's two touchdowns but did so with little fanfare.

Though he has been a star in his own right, Tomlinson seems as pleased as any that the team has become not just the talk of the town, but of the football world.

AS A TEAM

"I think we've been showing people that we are a good football team," Tomlinson said. "I don't know where we stand, but I do know we are doing it as a team."

Reflecting their head coach Marty Schottenheimer, no one is getting carried away with predictions. But the coach, clearly pleased at dismissing a tough divisional foe, offered a hint.

"My assessment is we're a pretty good football team, the operative word being team. They've developed a dynamic amongst themselves. They enjoy working together, they enjoy playing together."

Of course it's always more enjoyable when they win together.


Videos

Photos