Chargers coach Norv Turner, a step away from the Big Show, has gone from Nervous Norv to Funny Norv at press briefings. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)
CHARGERS at PATS
• Time: 3 p.m. • Last meeting: Patriots won 38-14 at New England on Sept. 16. • Key stat: Patriots have scored at least 20 points in 23 straight games. • Fantasy factor: Chargers receiver Chris Chambers has emerged as major force in postseason with nine catches, 20.9-yard average and one TD. Patriots QB Tom Brady almost unstoppable in home playoff games, with 7-0 record, 11 TD passes vs. two INT and 93.0 passer rating. • The buzz: Chargers have depth, but quarterback Philip Rivers and running back LaDainian Tomlinson have sore knees. If they can t go full speed, it s hard to see Chargers staying with Patriots. Chargers chances of pulling off upset may hinge on creating a highscoring shootout against a vulnerable defense.
Chris Park / AP Enlarge
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - He's not the Norv Turner of the 1990s.
Definitely not the Norv of those two dreadful years in Oakland.
Finally, Norval Eugene Turner has gone from a guy who couldn't get his teams into the playoffs to being one step from the Super Bowl.
Granted, it's going to be one gnarly, enormous step his banged up, underdog San Diego Chargers will have to take in today's AFC championship game to get past the record-setting New England Patriots and their quest to go 19-0.
But he's here, having taken the Chargers at least as far as only two other coaches have in the Super Bowl era, Don Coryell and Bobby Ross. He's doing some un-Norvlike things.
He did a quick salsa on the sideline in the closing minute of San Diego's wild-card win over Tennessee, mimicking Luis Castillo's sack dance. He was animated on the sideline during last week's upset of the defending Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, loudly complaining about questionable calls.
He's gone from being Nervous Norv at news conferences to Funny Norv.
So much has changed since the Chargers were 1-3 - a shocking start during which they were overpowered 38-14 by the Patriots. Turner was considered Public Enemy No. 1.
They turned it around by winning 12 of 14, including eight straight.
"I hope it's focus, but we've got into a rhythm where we're preparing well, our guys are working and we're playing with confidence," Turner said. "So you have to go in with confidence."
They also go in with some serious injuries.
Quarterback Philip Rivers is doubtful with a sprained right knee and Pro Bowl tight end Antonio Gates is still limited by an injured left big toe.
Two-time NFL rushing champion LaDainain Tomlinson expects to play after missing much of the Colts game with a hyperextended left knee.
"There's a lot of concern because we're not as healthy as I'd like to be," Turner said.
"It's a great opportunity for us, and I hope we can be at our best because obviously to be competitive in this game and have a chance to win, we're going to have to be at our best."
If Rivers can't go, the Chargers (13-5) will ask Billy Volek to do what no other QB has done this year, beat the Patriots (17-0). Although Volek scored the winning touchdown at Indy in relief of Rivers, he has made only 10 career starts.
Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, the NFL MVP, is 13-2 in the postseason alone, including three Super Bowl victories.
The Patriots don't expect much of a difference whether it's Rivers or Volek,
"You're not looking at Tom Brady and Vince Young different," linebacker Mike Vrabel said. "More similar than dissimilar."
The Chargers fired Marty Schottenheimer a month after their playoff flop against New England last season. Their choice of Turner seemed a safe, uninspiring pick.
Hall of Famer Dan Fouts, who twice got the Chargers within a victory of the Super Bowl only to fall short, has been watching his old team with more than the usual interest.
He and Turner were teammates at Oregon in the early 1970s and remain close.
"Well, you know, I'm not an I-told-you-so guy, but I was very optimistic when he got the job, especially with the talent that he finally had to work with as a head coach, knowing him and what a solid guy he is," Fouts said. "But I'm a little biased too. Obviously, I'm very happy for him."
Fouts knows as well as anyone how hard it's going to be for the Chargers to contain Brady, all of his receivers and the defense.
"The thing about Norv is he'll come up with something," Fouts said. The ex-QB pointed to two big screen passes the Chargers completed against the Colts, a 56-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Darren Sproles, and a 27-yarder from Volek to Legedu Naanee on the winning drive.
"It's going to be a hell of challenge, no doubt about that, because of how good the Patriots are," Fouts said.
"I suspect the Chargers will go in loose and let things go. That's the type of plan I see Norv running."
Until the late-season surge, Turner seemed to be a perfect example of a great coordinator who couldn't handle the tasks of being a head coach.
"There's a lot more to Norv," Fouts said. "He may appear to be low key, but his message isn't, his discipline isn't, his teaching isn't. He's very exact."
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