The San Diego Chargers last played 15 days ago while the Denver Broncos were focused on beating the New England Patriots (which they did) for the first seven days of that span.

That gives Chargers head coach Norv Turner and his staff a huge edge in the gameplanning department for Monday’s night game with the Denver Broncos. But will it pay off?

These aren’t the same Broncos who have been annihilated in their last three visits to Qualcomm Stadium — remember how uncompetitive Denver was with the AFC West title on the line in the final week of last season? — as new coach Josh McDaniels (aka The Young Punk) has pumped life into the Broncos.

No Jay Cutler, no problem. Somehow McDaniels has Kyle Orton looking like Johnny Unitas (minus the hightops and crewcut) and playing efficient mistake-free football (seven touchdowns, one interception through five games). Orton, a guy who struggled to beat out Rex Grossman when he was with the Chicago Bears, is completing 63 percent of his passes.

Even more shocking is that Brandon Marshall is now going along with the program after doing all he could to get traded during training camp. Funny how a 5-0 start can change the frustration level.

Marshall is definitely a player to watch during Monday’s game. His beat-down of Chargers cornerback Antonio Cromartie last season (he caught a team-record 18 passes in the game famous for Ed Hochuli’s blown call) was nearly as severe as Chris Brown’s (alleged) assault on Rihanna’s face.

Cromartie isn’t the only Chargers defensive player who needs to improve his play. Former sackmaster Shawne Merriman hasn’t reached the quarterback in so long that his mug might next be found on the side of a milk carton. Shaun Phillips continues to be an overrated one-trick pony and the defensive line is a mess without Jamal Williams.

Clinton Hart was released — as if that is going to solve all the problems — so Steve Gregory and rookie Kevin Ellison will share his safety position and team up with third-year pro Eric Weddle. 

The Chargers couldn’t stop the run or the pass against the Pittsburgh Steelers 15 nights ago and the Broncos have been performing well in both categories so it will definitely take a much improved defensive showing for the Chargers to improve their mark to 3-2.

Philip Rivers has enjoyed success against Denver — I’m sure he’ll miss the chance to exchange barbs with Cutler again — but the Chargers need to run the ball much better if they are to beat the Broncos. Think about this — the Chargers employ future Hall of Fame LaDainian Tomlinson and gave Darren Sproles a wheelbarrow full of money in the offseason, yet they rank LAST in the league in rushing.

If the Chargers lose this game, they fall 3 1/2 games behind the Broncos just six games into the season. So it clearly is a much bigger game for them than it is for Denver. The atmosphere is always raucous for nationally televised night games in Qualcomm Stadium, another advantage for the Chargers.

As for the Broncos, it’s hard to get that vision of The Young Punk (McDaniels) running all over the field after the Broncos beat the Patriots and celebrating like his team had just won the Super Bowl. McDaniels put a lot of effort into beating his mentor (Patriots coach Bill Belichick) and it will be interesting to see if his team’s intensity is at the same level against the Chargers.

This is certainly a must-win game for the Chargers if they really feel they are a championship-caliber squad. If Denver wins, we might just be seeing the changing of the guard in terms of which team will be ruling the division in upcoming years.

That Chargers’ championship window is closing mighty fast. Even faster if they lose Monday night.

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