Loss exposes age and depth issues for San Diego Chargers

KANSAS CITY, Mo -- Every year, San Diego Chargers safety Eric Weddle states at the beginning of the season that his team has enough talent to win a Super Bowl.

“And everybody looks at me crazy, too,” Weddle joked.

Yes, the Chargers had a clear path to the postseason.

All they had to do was beat the Kansas City Chiefs -- a team playing with a backup quarterback and no realistic chance of making the playoffs.

But as Philip Rivers tells it, his team had been on life support for the last quarter of the season. The Chargers went into the final regular season game starting the team’s fifth different center, with an undrafted rookie free agent recently elevated from the practice squad making his first start at right guard.

The team’s top two playmakers on offense, running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) and receiver Keenan Allen (broken collarbone), watched from the sideline. Receiver Eddie Royal (concussion), safety Marcus Gilchrist (elbow) and cornerback Shareece Wright (concussion) sustained injuries that forced them to leave the field during the game.

“That’s what was in a lot of ways awesome about this stretch,” Rivers said. “You hate missing guys, but that’s what made it almost more special -- finding a way in San Francisco with all the moving parts, finding a way in Baltimore when we were shuffling centers.”

So should we really be surprised that the Chargers fell to the Chiefs 19-7 in a game that really wasn’t as close as the score indicates? Despite San Diego’s 9-7 record, this team still has several holes to fill in order to develop into a legitimate Super Bowl contender.

Rivers isn’t one to make excuses, but even Mr. December played through tender ribs and a bulging disc in his back, helping to mask injury and depth issues on the rest of the roster down the backstretch of the season.

Chargers general manager Tom Telesco will have another busy offseason addressing his team’s myriad needs.

The Chargers could use a durable, dependable, every-down back that can run between the tackles. They need more talent and experienced depth at interior offensive line.

Defensively, the Chargers have to secure more physical, athletic bodies at all three levels.

“We’ve been through that a lot over the years,” Weddle said. “Every team deals with it, so it’s not an excuse. You just hope one year we can somehow find a way to have the majority of your guys in there at key positions, so you can give yourself a fighting chance. Maybe it caught up to us.”

Of course, Father Time is not on the side of this veteran team. Rivers, Weddle, Antonio Gates, Dwight Freeney, Malcom Floyd and Jarret Johnson are closer to the end of their respective careers than the beginning. Telesco needs to quickly add young talent in order to take advantage of the short window that remains in the careers of some of the more talented players on the roster.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Chargers are tied with the Arizona Cardinals for the second-oldest roster in the NFL, with 11 players over 30 years old and an average age of 27.3.

“You just never know when it’s your last game, and when things are going to change,” Gates said. “I try to control what I control -- my attitude, my effort and my passion for the game. That’s all I can kind of worry about at this point.”

The Chargers expected to build on a surprising playoff run last season by reaching the postseason for a second straight year. Instead, the team’s season ended at Arrowhead Stadium.

The Chargers were swept by the Denver Broncos and the Chiefs, finishing 2-4 against the AFC West. San Diego finished 3-6 against teams with winning records. And this team, built with an offensive mindset, scored one lonely touchdown in the first quarter of team’s last four contests, leaving the defense to shoulder the load early in games.

“It’s very frustrating,” defensive lineman Corey Liuget said, when asked about his San Diego not taking care of business against Kansas City. “It’s sickening. We’ve got to regroup, and let the owner and the GM do what they need to do to get us a team back. We’ve got to get some guys in there to help us get on the road to winning, and pursuing a championship.”

Added Weddle: “The mentality, the focus is there. We just all need to get better, and to add some pieces. That’s what management is going to do. Hopefully, I’ll be around and we’ll get ready to roll. It’s just unfortunate we didn’t get it done today.”