Big wins leave Chargers wanting, needing more

LYLE FITZSIMMONS, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 3:21 PM ET

They might have had the most impressive victory of Week 15, but as it turned out, the San Diego Chargers' 34-7 Thursday-night throttling of the San Francisco 49ers did the team precious little good by the time Sunday rolled around.

Each of the teams that San Diego, now 8-6, is chasing to secure a spot in the upcoming AFC playoffs won in Week 15, leaving the Chargers in need of outside assistance if they're to continue a run of four consecutive AFC West division titles.

San Diego trails the first-place Kansas City Chiefs by a game in the West and will head to Cincinnati (Dec. 26) and Denver (Jan. 2) for road tests to end the season. The Chiefs, meanwhile, are home to Tennessee and Oakland and can guarantee a divisional crown with two victories.

If both teams end at 10-6, the Chargers win the tiebreaker based on would-be advantages in both divisional and conference records. If the teams wind up in a two-way tie at 9-7, San Diego also wins the tiebreaker with the same criteria.

However, if there's a three-way tie with Oakland at 9-7, the Raiders win the division.

In terms of a Wild Card berth, San Diego trails both the current placeholders -- the New York Jets and Baltimore -- by two games. One win apiece for the Jets and Ravens in their final two games would mathematically eliminate the Chargers from consideration.

The Jets finish at Chicago and home with Buffalo, while the Ravens are at Cleveland and home with Cincinnati. At this point, New York looks likely to win a tiebreaker with San Diego based on strength of schedule, but the Chargers would beat Baltimore based on conference record if the Ravens end the season with consecutive losses.

Pittsburgh is also 10-4 and could factor into the Wild Card if Baltimore wins the AFC North, but San Diego cannot pass the Steelers due to Pittsburgh's edge against common opponents.

"No help [Sunday], obviously," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "We can only worry about ourselves. We must get to 10-6 and see if it is enough."

The Chargers will not face colorful wide receiver Terrell Owens in the Week 16 matchup with the Bengals after he sustained a season-ending torn meniscus in his left knee during Cincinnati's 19-17 win over Cleveland last weekend.

The 37-year-old Owens ends the year with 72 receptions for 983 yards and nine touchdowns. He fell 17 yards short of becoming the third receiver in league history to have 10 or more 1,000-yard seasons. Only two receivers aged 36 or over, Jerry Rice and Jimmy Smith, have reached the 1,000-yard mark in a season.

Owens reached two of six incentives on a one-year contract, giving him $2.67 million for the season.

BRONCOS: Welcome to the Tim Tebow Era, Part II.

The former Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion at the University of Florida will make his second consecutive NFL start for the Denver Broncos this weekend against the Houston Texans, according to Eric Studesville, the team's interim head coach.

The 25th overall selection in last April's draft -- a choice made by since- departed head coach Josh McDaniels -- Tebow completed 8-of-16 passes for 138 yards and a touchdown in his starting debut last Sunday in a 39-23 loss to the Oakland Raiders. He also rushed eight times for 78 yards and scored on a 40- yard run.

Start No. 2 comes in front of the home fans at Invesco Field at Mile High, where the Broncos have not played since a Nov. 28 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Three subsequent road games ended in losses to Kansas City, Arizona and Oakland in which the team was outscored, 92-42.

Studesville said the decision to start Tebow was compounded by the questionable health of incumbent Kyle Orton, who couldn't throw last week because of sore ribs and hasn't significantly improved since.

"We just thought that prolonging this thing into the week was just not the best thing for our preparation in practice," Studesville said of Orton's injury.

Denver had 33 total running plays and 16 passes against the Raiders last week, its fewest pass attempts this season. Orton's low was 29 attempts in the first game against Oakland in October, and he threw 40 or more passes five times.

Studesville and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy went exclusively with running plays in the final minute of the first half against Oakland, and again when the Broncos were deep in their own territory.

Houston enters the game with the league's worst pass defense, allowing 275.1 yards per week through the air.

"A lot of things that go into those situations that put caution in the air, not the quarterback," Studesville said. "We're finding more and more out about what [Tebow] does. That game [Sunday] gave us a lot of information and a lot of things that we can work with and go from and build on as coaches to give him.

"We've seen it out here [in practice], but it's different when everything is full speed on Sunday afternoon. And the things that he is good at, we're going to continue to do, and the things that he's not good at, just like any other player, we are not going to do those things."

CHIEFS: Less than two weeks after surgery, Matt Cassel came to the rescue.

The Kansas City Chiefs' quarterback returned to the field after a one-week absence and buoyed the AFC West leaders' playoff prospects in a 27-13 defeat of the St. Louis Rams at the Edward Jones Dome.

Cassel had missed the previous week's game, a 31-0 loss to the second-place San Diego Chargers in Southern California, after undergoing an appendectomy four days earlier.

"I felt 100 percent," he said. "Otherwise I wouldn't have been out there."

The USC product completed 15-of-29 passes for 184 yards, a touchdown and an interception in his return, one week after understudy Brodie Croyle went just 7-for-17 for 40 yards against the Chargers.

Croyle is 0-10 as an NFL starter.

"{Cassel] was going to be throwing up blood or he was going to be playing football," Chiefs offensive lineman Brian Waters said. "That's the kind of guy he is."

The Chiefs lead the Chargers by one game with two left on the 2010 schedule. Kansas City is home with Tennessee and Oakland. San Diego visits Cincinnati and Denver.

"You've got to be a pro about it. You've got to take advantage of your situation," linebacker Derrick Johnson said. "We still control our destiny, meaning we should stay in our lane and worry about what we have to worry about and win the game we have to win.

"We all know our situation regardless of win or lose by any other division opponent. If we win, we don't have to worry about that. There's not going to be any kind of Wild Card team coming out of our division. We need to win our division."

If Kansas City and San Diego wind up dually tied at 10-6 or 9-7, the Chargers win a pair of tiebreakers based on what would be superior division or conference records.

However, if there's a three-way tie with Oakland at 9-7, the Raiders win the division.

San Diego has won the West four straight times. Kansas City's last division title came in 2003 under then-head coach Dick Vermeil. The Chiefs last made the playoffs in 2006 under Herman Edwards.

"We're laying the foundation," Kansas City head coach Todd Haley said. "We're still in that process of trying to become a good team. The Kansas City Chiefs are not there, obviously, but we are going in the right direction and we're seeing some reward, which is some wins and reward for the hard work and sacrifice that the guys are putting in.

"But we're making progress. That's the key for us, and that's been our goal, is to just get a little better every day -- every Wednesday, every Thursday, every Friday and then every Sunday -- and we've done that for the most part, and that's why I think we're sitting where we're sitting."

RAIDERS: After 15 weeks, it's down to a four-step process for the Oakland Raiders.

If each of four scenarios play out over the next two weekends, the Raiders become AFC West champions for the first time since 2002. But if they go anything less than 4-for-4, the playoff drought for the Silver and Black extends to eight seasons for the first time in franchise history.

The four mandatory things in question include:

Oakland beats visiting Indianapolis this Sunday. Oakland wins at Kansas City on Jan. 2. Kansas City loses to visiting Tennessee this Sunday. San Diego loses either at Cincinnati on Sunday or at Denver on Jan. 2.

Completion of the four steps would put the Raiders in a three-way tie with Kansas City and San Diego or a two-way tie with the Chiefs atop the division, giving the Raiders the championship based on what would be a 6-0 record in the West.

Oakland is just 2-7 in non-division games through 15 weeks.

"It doesn't mean anything if we are at home watching Kansas City in the playoffs," defensive tackle Tommy Kelly said of the Raiders' success within the division. "It's something nice to say, but at the end of the day it doesn't mean anything. You don't even get a T-shirt."

Only one other time in franchise history -- from its 1960 debut through the 1966 season -- has Oakland failed to reach the postseason for seven consecutive years. That drought ended with a 1967 AFL Championship and an appearance in Super Bowl II in January 1968.

The current skid began after the Raiders were beaten, 48-21, by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl XXXVII in January of 2003. In the seven subsequent seasons under five head coaches, Oakland went a combined 29-83, losing 11 or more games each year and bottoming out at 2-14 in 2006.

The Raiders were 4-12 in Bill Callahan's final season in 2003 and just 9-23 in two seasons under current San Diego head coach Norv Turner from 2004-05. The aforementioned 2-14 came with Art Shell in 2006, and Oakland was 5-15 with upstart Lane Kiffin before he exited four games into 2008.

The Raiders are 16-26 overall since Tom Cable succeeded Kiffin.

"It's a lot more fun," Cable said of the team's improvement. "Football is football. I love football. I love coaching. That part of it is never an issue for me. It's just more exciting. You get up and come to work and you're excited about getting into a new plan."


Photos