Chargers Close Door On Solid Season, Set Sights On AFC West In 2014

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DENVER, CO - JANUARY 12: Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers reacts in the second half against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 12, 2014 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers reacts in the second half against the Denver Broncos during the AFC Divisional Playoff Game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High (Credit, Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

By Dave Thomas

While their record may not show it, the San Diego Chargers turned in a rather solid season when you take a look back at the 2013-14 campaign.

With their 24-17 loss in Denver on Sunday in the AFC divisional round of the playoffs, the Chargers headed back to Southern California for a long off-season and some retrospect.

As most NFL folks will tell you, reaching the final eight of the playoffs is nothing to sneeze about. This especially rings true when you consider that the Bolts had gone three straight years missing the playoffs, not to mention winning four of five games this December just to reach the post-season.

Season of Missed Opportunities

When you look back at the 2013 season, San Diego (10-8) certainly had its chances to compete for the AFC West title with both Denver and Kansas City.

Yes, the Chiefs stormed out to a 9-0 record before losing a pair of games to Denver, while the aforementioned Broncos proved the cream of the crop in the division featuring four old-time AFL rivals. That said, San Diego could very easily have won a few more games here and there to have at least challenged both the Chiefs and Broncos for division supremacy.

As it would turn out, heartbreaking losses to several teams that did not even qualify for the playoffs (Houston, Tennessee, Washington) and one that did (Miami), meant four setbacks that could have been victories. If the Chargers win those games, they’re right there battling Denver and New England for the top spot in the AFC.

Some Strong Efforts

On the plus side, several Chargers turned in some of their best performances in 2013.

In looking at the offensive side of the ball, here were some highlights over the last four months (regular season):

  • Philip Rivers – Passed for 4,478 yards (third highest in career), 32 touchdowns and a QB passer rating of 105.5
  • Ryan Mathews – Rushed for career-high 1,255 yards, six touchdowns and 78.4 yards rushing per game
  • Keenan Allen – Caught 71 balls, eight touchdowns, finished with 1,046 yards receiving (led all NFL rookies in catches and yards; set Charger rookie records for most catches and yards

In looking at the defensive side of the ball:

  • Eric Weddle – Finished with 115 total tackles and two interceptions
  • Donald Butler – had 84 total tackles and one interception

What the Future Holds

While no one is ready to concede the 2014 AFC West crown to San Diego anytime soon, the pieces to the puzzle are slowly falling into place for this team to make a solid run at both Denver and Kansas City next season for AFC West supremacy.

Among the questions the Chargers should be addressing in the off-season:

Is Mathews now the established go-to guy in the backfield? 

It was about a year ago that Mathews and his tendencies to cough up the ball, especially in key situations, had many Charger fans (not to mention management and some teammates) wondering if he would ever truly produce. While this was a solid season for Mathews from a numbers standpoint, he needs to still work on conditioning to avoid injuries that seem to crop up with him all too often.

Can the Chargers continue to play Russian roulette with Rivers

Although he has proven to be one of the most durable QB’s in the game, Rivers is certainly not the most durable runner at the position when it comes to escaping the rush. If he gets hit the wrong way and doesn’t immediately get back up and/or is out for a sizable amount of time, do you really want to hang the responsibility of winning a game or games on backup Charlie Whitehurst? Whitehurst has not thrown/completed a regular season pass the last two seasons. Also given the fact that Rivers has a decade of wear and tear on him, it certainly would not hurt to be looking around at the NFL Draft or through free agency to bring in someone to start grooming to one day take over for Rivers.

Is the secondary still a problem? 

Although Quentin Jammer and Antoine Cason took their “talents” elsewhere before the start of this season, it is no secret that many opponents still feel like they can throw almost at will on the Chargers. When you take Pro-Bowler Weddle out of the conversation, San Diego’s secondary is not exactly stellar. It certainly can’t hurt for the Bolts to look and see who might be out there during the off-season in order to strengthen that part of the team by next September.

Lastly, as a Charger fan, what are the positives and negatives you take away from the 2013 team?

For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.

Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on aExaminer.com.

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