Is this a shade of the 2008 season, when the Chargers won their last four games to go from 4-8 to 8-8, and in doing so, won the AFC West?
With a 34-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers Thursday night, the Chargers have won two straight -- with two games left -- and are, for the moment, tied with Kansas City in the win column in the division. The Chiefs, a 31-0 loser to the Chargers last week, play the Rams Sunday in St. Louis.
Playing without injured TE Antonio Gates, San Diego saw QBPhilip Rivers hit on 19 of 25 passes for 273 years, including three touchdown strikes to Vincent Jackson.
The 49ers, meanwhile, kicked a field goal and scored a touchdown in the first half, then ran back the second-half's opening kickoff -- and none of those plays stood. San Francisco took the field goal off the board to accept a penalty on the Chargers, saw an Alex Smith scramble -- initially ruled a touchdown -- overruled after a San Diego challenge, then had a long kickoff return called back by penalty.
San Francisco also lost its best defensive lineman, Justin Smith, in the second quarter when he shoved an official who was trying to break up a potential altercation between the two sides. Without him, the 49ers struggled to slow down Rivers and the San Diego offense.
Meanwhile, Smith couldn't get the ball to TE Vernon Davis at all, and the 49ers' offense was sputtering at best. Smith was sacked six times and intercepted once -- San Francisco's lone score didn't come until the final minutes when RB Brian Westbrook cross the goal line on a short run.
While the Chargers helped themselves out, the 49ers aren't completely finished in terms of the playoffs, although they're not far from it. San Francisco, now 5-9, would be eliminated from playoff contention if the Seahawks and the Rams both win Sunday.
Some thoughts on the game:
• San Francisco dressed in black, or at least two injured 49ers linebackers did -- LB Patrick Willisand LB Takeo Spikes, both victims of right hand injuries last week against Seattle, sported bulky black casts on their right hands. They didn't seem to be overly impaired, with Willis shooting through to tackle Jacob Hester on a screen pass for an eight-yard loss in the middle of the first quarter.
• Smith was ejected from the game when he reacted to being separated from a potential confrontation with some of the Chargers by an official, Garth DeFelice. When Smith reacted to DeFelice restraining him by shoving back, he drew a flag and the automatic ejection. Smith, whose streak of 153 consecutive starts is the longest by an NFL lineman, spent much of the rest of the quarter watching from the bench, but under rule had to leave the field.
• The game's first score turned out to be a leaping competition. Jackson out-jumped 49ers defender Nate Clements on a pass from Rivers that was good for 58 yards and a touchdown on the first San Diego possession of the game.
• Down 7-0, San Francisco coach Mike Singletary gave his critics more ammo when he went for a touchdown on fourth-and-goal from about six inches out, and a run by Anthony Dixon came up short when Brandon Siler of the Chargers broke through to nail him at the 3. That came at the end of strange series of plays. The 49ers initially got a field goal from Jeff Reed, but a penalty for leverage on the part of San Diego's Antonio Garay gave San Francisco a first down at the Chargers 10. Singletary opted to take the three points of the scoreboard, and it seemed to work out when Smith appeared to run for a TD on third down. But the Chargers challenged the play, Smith was ruled down inside the 1, then San Diego stuffed Dixon on fourth down.
• After that stand, San Diego marched 90 yards for a Nate Kaeding field goal. The Chargers thought they had a second Jackson TD reception on the drive, but he was pushed just enough by 49ers defender Dashon Goldson that his rear (right) foot landed on the line during the catch attempt, just barely.
• Garay, who briefly gave the 49ers life with his ill-advised penalty, redeemed himself later in the second quarter with a monster sack of Smith on third-and-short to snuff a 49ers drive.
• Jackson ultimately did get that second first-half TD, with Rivers coming across the middle for an 11-yard score and a 17-0 San Diego lead with 1:19 to play before halftime. Jackson beat Spikes to the goal line on the play. San Francisco's Ahmad Brooks had a shot at an interception earlier in the drive, but flat-out dropped a Rivers' pass.
• Return man Ted Ginn seemed to have given then 49ers a score when he ran the kickoff to open the third quarter back 85 yards for a touchdown. But another bonehead play, this one a facemask call against San Francisco's Moran Norris, brought the ball back.
• As it happened, the only score of the third quarter was a 1-yard touchdown plunge by RB Mike Tolbert after the Chargers had converted a fourth-and-1 play from the 3.
• Jackson got his third score from 21 yards out, although he had to wait a bit as the 49ers challenged the TD call, suggesting that he'd gone out of bounds on that play, too. But the call ultimately stood for a 31-0 lead.