Milestones, but nothing else matters in Broncos-Chargers
SAN DIEGO – The Denver Broncos and San Diego Chargers scoff at suggestions their season finale is meaningless.OK, there will be some statistical milestones at stake Saturday, such as the possibility of the Broncos having two 1,000-yard rushers and the Chargers posting consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time in 24 years.But this game means nothing in the playoff picture.The Broncos (12-3) have clinched the AFC West title and a first-round bye.The only bye for the Chargers (9-6), who won the division last year, was saying goodbye to their playoff chances last weekend, when they looked listless in losing 20-7 at Kansas City.The Broncos plan to hold out four injured starters: linebacker Al Wilson, defensive end Courtney Brown, cornerback Darrent Williams and running back Mike Anderson. They’ll otherwise begin tuning up for their playoff opener in two weeks.”I am not sure how anybody treats a regular-season game like an exhibition game,” Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. “The big difference is that when you play your last preseason game, there are 65 players on your team. You have a chance to play your second unit. When you go in with seven offensive linemen, if you want to use your second unit, there would only be two guys on that offensive line.”You have to put a product out on the field. When you have four starters out of the game as we do, you have to have everybody else playing. If you did play your second unit, who would play special teams?”Quarterback Jake Plummer put it best.”Just being a professional, you know you have to go out and play. You don’t want to look bad on Saturday. Every one of our guys is mature and knows that there isn’t really anything on the line except if we win we’ll have 13 wins. Any time you can do that is a big accomplishment. We will approach everything the same way we have since Week 1 as far as preparing and getting ready and hopefully getting a W.”The Broncos have the chance to make some history.If Tatum Bell gains 131 yards, he and Anderson will become only the fourth running back tandem to each hit 1,000 yards in the same year.With Anderson nursing a sore ankle, Bell will get his first career start.”I feel like it’s still out there for me to go and get,” Bell said. “I have to play my game and not try to do too much.”Kansas City’s Larry Johnson had 131 yards in the slop last Saturday, the first time in 17 games that the Chargers allowed a 100-yard rusher.”We are playing the best rush defense in the National Football League, so I hope we have that problem,” Shanahan said. “You always want your players to achieve goals, but I don’t think that is a game plan going in. We are just trying to play it as it comes on.”The Chargers’ defense could be missing some key pieces. Pro Bowl tackle Jamal Williams, end Igor Olshansky and free safety Bhawoh Jue are injured and might sit out. Strong safety Terrence Kiel was put on injured reserve Thursday with an ankle injury.A year ago, the Chargers rested some key starters in the finale as they prepared for their first playoff appearance in nine seasons. The best they can hope for now is to post consecutive 10-win seasons for the first time since 1980-81. But even that rings hollow because San Diego reached the AFC championship game both of those seasons, at the height of Air Coryell.The Chargers, 12-4 last year, were in the playoff picture until being done in by two losses sandwiched around their win at Indianapolis, which wrecked the Colts’ perfect season.Coach Marty Schottenheimer plans to play his starters, which means backup quarterback Philip Rivers won’t get in unless Drew Brees gets hurt.”The best way I could characterize it is that we will approach it like it’s the first game of the year,” Schottenheimer.The difference being, of course, that the Chargers will have Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates for this game. He missed the opener, a home loss to Dallas, while finishing a three-game suspension imposed by general manager A.J. Smith for missing a team-imposed deadline for ending his training camp holdout.When the teams played at Denver on Sept. 18, the Chargers blew a 14-3 halftime lead and lost 20-17.One guy whose engine never idles is rookie outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who has a team-high nine sacks and is one of six Chargers voted to the Pro Bowl.”Football is the love of my life. I would never say I don’t want to play,” Merriman said. “Somebody could say that this game is meaningless. Who is it meaningless to? I guess people who are watching the game? Or the people who are playing it? It’s definitely not meaningless to us.”LaDainian Tomlinson, bothered the last 3 1/2 games by a rib injury, will try to end a four-game slump in which he’s been kept out of the end zone and failed to crack 100 yards.With 19 touchdowns, Tomlinson still needs one to own the franchise single-season record outright. He’s tied with Chuck Muncie, who set the record in 1981.
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