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Week 13 in the NFL

Chargers take a road test

Today's game at Kansas City gives team a chance to get away from restless San Diego fans

December 02, 2007|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

Bring on the boos. Cue the catcalls. Even the chants of "Mar-ty! Mar-ty!" are fair game.

The San Diego Chargers welcome them all.

That's because they aren't playing at home today but at Arrowhead Stadium, where Kansas City fans are even more frustrated with their Chiefs (4-7) than San Diegans are with their Chargers (6-5).

Like Norv Turner's Chargers, Herm Edwards' Chiefs have had a hard time living up to the winning ways -- at least in the regular season -- of former coach Marty Schottenheimer's teams. Three of Kansas City's four consecutive defeats have come at home, including last Sunday's three-point loss to the despised Oakland Raiders.

Meanwhile, the Chargers haven't won consecutive games since late October. Still, they have a one-game lead over Denver in the AFC West, a division they almost certainly must win to reach the postseason.

In San Diego, fans are agitated. They were spoiled by a 14-2 record last season and expected more out of a Chargers team loaded with Pro Bowl players, among them LaDainian Tomlinson, the 2006 most valuable player, and linebacker Shawne Merriman, a defensive-player-of-the-year candidate.

Only two plays into their first possession against Baltimore last Sunday, after a Tomlinson run was stuffed for no gain, the Chargers heard boos from the home crowd. As quarterback Philip Rivers walked off the field after that opening three-and-out, TV cameras caught him yelling what appeared to be "Shut up!" to the crowd. Asked about it last week, the plain-speaking, likable Rivers didn't deny saying it.

"It's an emotional game," he told reporters. "To be honest with you, I love the fans. I mean, I really do. It was early in the game, it was the first series, you're coming off a completion and it wasn't necessarily for me, it was kind of like for our team, like saying, 'Hey, relax, relax a little bit.'

"But we understand some of their frustration in a sense that we were 5-5 and expectations were so high. It was nothing more than that. Shoot, we've all told our sibling or brother to shut up before, and then you love them five minutes later, so I hope that's the case."

Rivers wound up throwing three touchdown passes without an interception in a 32-14 rout. It was reminiscent of the way the Chargers won games last season, when Schottenheimer was coach.

The quarterback isn't the only Chargers player who understands expectations are high.

"The fact that we won 35 games in the last three years, which is probably more than they won in the last 10 years here, people are used to things being a certain way," said Roman Oben, a reserve tackle. "We led the league in scoring last year."

And there are other factors.

"If you look at season tickets, the cost has gone up from $68 to $92 a ticket," Oben said. "So each year it's like, 'If I'm going to spend this money that I can't afford to tailgate and buy $8 beers, I'd better get a product on the field.' That's how fans are always going to look at it."

It's no different than in other NFL cities, said Oben, who in the last 12 years has played for the New York Giants, Cleveland, Tampa Bay and, since 2004, the Chargers.

"I've played in places where fans expect a lot," he said. "In New York, you get booed every time you punt the ball. I don't care if you're up by 30 points. If it's fourth and two and you punt, you should have gone for it. They're going to boo. You expect that."

San Diego players are hoping to hear some boos in Kansas City, where the Chiefs are clinging to fragile hopes they can be the third team in the Super Bowl era -- joining the 1995 Chargers and 1996 Jacksonville Jaguars -- to reach the postseason after losing seven of their first 11.

Today, the burden of proof belongs to the Chargers. They are 1-4 on the road, worse than any other division leader, and they have lost their last two games at Arrowhead Stadium.

"We still can achieve what we want to achieve this year," said Oben, a starter on the Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning team in 2002. "Everything starts in this locker room."

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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