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What S.D. must do to stay a contender

Coach Norv Turner believes the Chargers remain on the right track. Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Understandably, when a team is shocked in the playoff, there is rampant hysteria.

That, predictably, is the case in San Diego. Fans are wondering if the Chargers need big changes to finally get over the hump. Sunday's 17-14 loss to the Jets is particularly stinging because San Diego was 13-3 and finished the regular season with 11 straight wins. It is the third time in six years San Diego has ended the season with a home playoff loss.

Still, San Diego coach Norv Turner believes the team is not in the midst of a downward spiral. He believes the team is still on the rise.

“The biggest thing for me is when you step away from it, and it’s hard to do that after this short period of time, but we have got an outstanding football team and we have got good players and great character players and people that you want to be around on a daily basis and guys that will get this thing done,” Turner said. "They will get this thing done. There’s no question in my mind. One of the things I look at, we played Indianapolis two years ago. We went to Indianapolis. They were 12-4, two seed. We beat them and ended their season. They came in here last year, [nine] game winning streak, the hottest team in football. If they got past us they were the team to go to the Super Bowl, and we beat them and ended their season. They’re getting ready to play in the championship game. There are things that you have to overcome in this league. I think our team understands those things and like I said, we have the type of guys that will do that. I think the future for this football team is outstanding. That’s our intention and that’s our goal. I believe this team is capable of coming back and putting ourselves in position to make a run at it over the next period of time.”

I agree with Turner. The Chargers will be fine. All they need to do is stay the course. This is not an instance where a team needs to be blown up.

Still, there are some things, like for every team that needs to be addressed.

So, as the Chargers enter the offseason earlier than expected, let’s look at three things that give San Diego hope for the future and three areas that need to be addressed for the Chargers -- who have won four straight AFC West championships -- to stay a top contender.

Areas of strength:

Quarterback: This is a quarterback's league. Elite quarterbacks go a long way. Rivers, 28, is an elite quarterback. Sure, he made a bad mistake in the loss against the Jets that cost San Diego. But he is the future of the team. Rivers and Turner are a great tandem. Rivers has gotten better each year in three seasons under Turner. There is no reason to think that will change. As long as Rivers is playing well, the Chargers will be a force.

Receivers: Rivers has plenty to work with. The San Diego passing game is varied and dangerous. Using many big and fast options, the Chargers are going to continue to win a lot of games going to the air. With top receiver Vincent Jackson, tight end Antonio Gates and promising youngsters Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, San Diego is in fine shape in this area.

Depth: San Diego didn’t get enough credit for winning with adversity in 2009. The team had many early-season injuries. Young players stepped up. This team isn’t in danger of seeing its window of opportunity close because of the solid combination of established veterans and young talent on the roster.

Needs to Be Addressed

Free agency: The Chargers are going to be one of the most closely watched teams in free agency this year. They have many key players who could be either unrestricted or restricted free agents, depending on whether it will be a capped or uncapped season in 2010. Among the players San Diego has to address are Jackson, left tackle Marcus McNeill, linebacker Shawne Merriman and running back Darren Sproles. San Diego has to try to keep most of these players. I think the priority list has to be Jackson, McNeill, Merriman and Sproles. Yet, all four players are very important. San Diego is usually not a major player in free agency, so keeping its own talent is vital.

The run game: As dangerous and talented as the San Diego passing game is, it needs to make the run game better. San Diego was ranked 31st in the NFL in rushing in the regular season. The run game gave little help against the Jets. San Diego needs to find a big, strong primary runner. As painful as it is to come to grips with, LaDainian Tomlinson’s days as a primary back are over. Sproles is a nice change-of-pace guy. San Diego has to find a solid primary back either in the draft or in free agency.

Add a defensive star: The San Diego defense is solid, but it is not special. There is talent on all three layers of the unit. But the team needs a star. Defensive tackle Jamal Williams will try to come back from missing all but one game and Merriman is still trying to get his pass-rush ability back after a major knee injury. San Diego needs a difference maker. It would be best suited to find that player on the defensive front. San Diego needs to set the tone better than it did in 2009. It may be difficult to add a star. The Chargers don’t pick until No. 28 in the first round and most of its free agency attention has to be focused on its current roster.