Bolts’ boss Turner keeps focus on playoff opener
SAN DIEGO – The bandwagon is shifting into high gear and the San Diego Chargers’ championship-starved fans expect nothing less than a Super Bowl title.
The fans, many of whom were booing when the Bolts were stumbling in early October, now proclaim that the Chargers are two wins away from Miami and three from hoisting their first Lombardi Trophy.
That’s what 11 straight wins, a fourth AFC West title and a first-round bye as the No. 2 playoff seed will do.
Coach Norv Turner is having none of it, though, as the Chargers (13-3) head into what could be the first of two postseason bye weeks.
The Chargers have been popular preseason Super Bowl picks in recent years, only to fall short each time.
“I think everyone knows what we want to accomplish,” Turner said Monday. “That’s been from the start, but I’m not going to get ahead of myself and I’m not going to let my guys get ahead of themselves. We talked about it last night in the locker room: In this league, if you want to do something, you have to go earn it. That’s been a great lesson learned by a lot of people in our organization.”
The greatest lesson, of course, came the last time the Chargers had a first-round bye, following the 2006 season. They imploded in an embarrassing string of miscues in a divisional-round game and lost to the Patriots in what turned out to be coach Marty Schottenheimer’s last game.
The Chargers made it all the way to the AFC championship game in Turner’s first season before losing again to the Patriots. Last year, they beat Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in overtime in San Diego before being cold-cocked at Pittsburgh.
Fans now look at this Bolts squad as the one with the best chance to get to the Super Bowl since Bobby Ross’ team made it after the 1994 season, only to be routed by Steve Young and the San Francisco 49ers.
That Super Bowl also was played in Miami.
“There have been times obviously in the past where people pick you and it’s a foregone conclusion in someone’s mind,” Turner said. “It is not a foregone conclusion in anyone’s mind. We know that we’re going to play an awfully good football team and we’re going to have to play at our best to move to the next round of the playoffs.”
After the Chargers’ backups rallied to beat Washington 23-20 in Sunday’s regular-season finale, quarterback Philip Rivers said playoff experience is the big difference between this year’s team and the one that gagged against the Patriots three years ago.
“That’s one thing this team has,” the coach said. “We have a lot of guys who have not only played in the playoffs but have won games and won close games. We won the overtime game last year in the playoffs. We had a great win in Indy two years ago in the playoffs. They’ve experienced that and they’ve experienced the other side of it. I do know that our guys understand that it can end real fast if you don’t go out and do the things you’re capable of doing.”
The Chargers gave a quick hook to their starters on Sunday, and it was backup QB Billy Volek who brought back the Bolts from a fourth-quarter deficit, throwing a 2-yard touchdown pass to fullback Mike Tolbert with 35 seconds left.
It was Volek’s most extensive action since leading the game-winning drive in a divisional-round playoff game at Indy two years ago after Rivers got hurt, scoring the go-ahead TD on a 1-yard sneak.
The Chargers held out defensive end Jacques Cesaire, fullback Jacob Hester, wide receiver Vincent Jackson, outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, safety Eric Weddle and backup receiver Legedu Naanee.
Turner said he expects those six to practice at some level this week, then barring a setback, be able to participate fully next week.
Turner liked it that Volek ran the two-minute drill so well, something the Chargers have focused on in practice all year. Those situations could pay off in the playoffs, Turner said, something he learned as Jimmy Johnson’s offensive coordinator with Dallas in the early 1990s. That stint earned Turner two Super Bowl rings.
“We’re playing at a real high level,” Turner said. “I think there are a number of teams that are playing extremely well. We had an outstanding game with Dallas in early December and they’ve really taken off. You look at the teams in the AFC and they’re going that way,” he added, motioning up with his hand. “To me it’s not what you’ve done or how well you’ve played. You get a 3 1/2-hour game and you need to play better than the team you’re playing against.”
NOTES: Turner said LB James Holt, a standout on special teams, will have shoulder surgery and be sidelined.