The Chargers are close to putting a cap on the preseason, and they couldn't be happier.
Well, if unsigned Pro Bowlers Marcus McNeill and Vincent Jackson were on the roster, maybe the picture would be even rosier. But it's clear the Chargers are excited where they've been this summer and where they believe they could be headed.
"Each time I get more excited about where this group can go," coach Norv Turner said.
And those comments come after a loss in New Orleans -- albeit a preseason one.
Everyone knows it's not the score that counts but the evaluation of one's team which is paramount in the summer. And the Chargers went into their final preseason exercise at San Francisco feeling good about themselves.
The Chargers went toe-to-toe in their battle with the defending Super Bowl champion Saints last week. Before both teams cleared the bench midway through the third quarter, the Chargers were giving the Saints everything they could handle.
"We're not ready to go, but that was a good example of what we can be," Turner said, noting the Chargers trailed by just three when quarterbacks Philip Rivers and Drew Brees were removed. "That was as close to a regular-season game as you can get through two and a half quarters, but I thought we were sharp."
Rivers nearly matched Brees in every passing category. What was clear was that neither team blinked.
"It's kind of hard to say 'it is over', but that is the beauty of preseason I guess," Rivers said about leaving the field trailing 17-14.
The Chargers seem to be ahead of the game as they aim for their fifth straight AFC West title. There are some new faces in some new spots and so far, new is good.
"We've got some highly motivated guys in all areas," Turner said. "I don't think there was anything vanilla about that (Saints) game. Both teams went after it pretty good. I thought the first half was back and forth like a regular season game with two good teams going at it."
A slight negative was the running of Ryan Mathews. After two preseason games of encouraging results, Mathews was badgered by a Saints defense which was determined it would stop the run. With numerous run blitzes and a concerted effort to rough up the rookie at every chance, Mathews was limited to a 3.3-yard average, gaining 43 yards on 13 carries.
But one has to look past the final numbers. While Mathews didn't produce jaw-dropping numbers he showed flashes of why the Chargers are so high on their first-round pick.
Mathews took a pitch to the left and looked to be cornered by Saints defenders on the third-and-1 play and headed for a significant loss. Instead the speedy Mathews got to the edge and wasn't tackled until he gained 16 yards.
"The linebacker had a great angle," Turner said. "I think the linebacker expected to make a tackle for a two or three-yard loss. Ryan turned those jets on and it turned into a (big) play."
Mathews is learning and that means taking some lumps along the way. But he remains determined and dedicated to being the best player he can be.
Copyright (C) 2010 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.