For Chargers to win crown, Rivers needs to calm down

ON THE RAVENS

The Kickoff

December 19, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The major weakness in the San Diego Chargers became even more glaring Sunday night.

A lot of the experts have already penciled the Chargers into the Super Bowl if they have home-field advantage in the playoffs, but there are still a lot of reservations about San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, a first-year starter. Rivers completed eight of 23 passes for 97 yards with two interceptions in the Chargers' 20-9 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

Every player has a bad game, but Rivers had a meltdown. He threw his helmet off twice in frustration while running to the sideline. Teammates had to calm him down during an outburst as he sat on the bench. He rallied with a big throw late in the game, but he cast even more doubts on himself before the postseason.

You don't see great quarterbacks losing it on the sideline. Can you imagine what Rivers might be like if the Ravens start smacking him around and guys like Bart Scott and Terrell Suggs get into his ear with a little trash-talking? There are no clear-cut favorites heading into the postseason. The NFL has become a league of a few good teams and a bunch of average-to-poor ones. The top contenders in the AFC have major strengths and weaknesses. The Ravens have a good defense, but an offense that continues to struggle. The Indianapolis Colts will always be among the favorites because of their offense and quarterback Peyton Manning.

New England has struggled, but it's hard to bet against Patriots coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady in a big game. Cincinnati finally has some balance, but you never know when the Bengals will fold. As for Denver, the Broncos have an unproven rookie quarterback in Jay Cutler.

The road to the Super Bowl in the AFC is wide-open, even though it currently runs through San Diego.

Boller in demand

Ravens backup quarterback Kyle Boller will probably be in the NFL for quite a few years. Boller's contract with the Ravens pays him $1.6 million this year, and only $797,5000 next season. That's not bad money to pay a backup.

If the Ravens don't re-sign him, Boller will get other offers. He is young (25), has a strong arm and is a good, stopgap quarterback for several games. He can be effective as a starter for longer stretches if given a good supporting cast. He is also likable and makes friends easily in the locker room. It's unlikely, though, that any team will ever try to build its franchise around him again.

On the subject of negotiations, with the development of young players like guard Jason Brown and guard-center Chris Chester, it's highly likely that starting center Mike Flynn or starting right guard Keydrick Vincent will be asked to take a pay cut next season and possibly a backup role.

Also, the Ravens have had initial talks with outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who becomes a free agent after this season.

LT MVP

Ravens fans want to nominate quarterback Steve McNair as a possible Most Valuable Player candidate, but my vote goes to San Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson. Besides setting numerous records this season and being the focal point of the Chargers' offense, the guy is fun to watch.

There are just certain guys you love to watch going to work on Sundays. For years, it was Ray Lewis, Brett Favre and Jerry Rice. Now, it's guys like Manning, Brady and Tomlinson. They're worth the price of admission. McNair is still one of the ultimate professionals in the NFL, but Tomlinson can take your breath away with some of those runs.

Coach Ogden

Instead of Ravens coach Brian Billick making quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel the offensive coordinator next season, he might want to give the title to left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Ogden, an 11-year veteran, is at the point in his career where he badly wants to win another title. He has seen enough bad play-calling here in Baltimore, so he is not going to risk its happening again with this team. He constantly adds his input, sometimes with great animation. At one point during Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns, he ran down Neuheisel on the sideline and asked him to speak with the offense.

Ogden was clearly irritated by several of the plays that were called by Billick, and apparently let him know it. Sometimes, it's a good thing that the players run the show.

Guaranteed

Fullback Ovie Mughelli guaranteed that he would have a better game against the Browns on Sunday, and he delivered. Mughelli caught a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter and had a couple of outstanding lead blocks for running back Jamal Lewis. As the season has progressed, Mughelli has played well. The Ravens have gained more confidence in him because he is getting more touches of the ball.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at baltimoresun. com/ravenscentral

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