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Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2007 | Imagine the Dan Fouts Chargers with a defense.

Imagine the Junior Seau Chargers with an offense.

The 2006 Bolts thought they had a Fouts-Seau kind of balance between offense and defense — the mix it takes to win a Super Bowl — when they finished the regular season with a 14-2 record and held home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

But now, from experience, they say they understand they were missing something, an element that they now possess. Maturity, they say, helped them survive a physical battle with the Chicago Bears in Sunday’s season opener with a 14-3 win.

“Most of that talk of maturity came from the players, and it came after the game,” said new Chargers head coach Norv Turner. “The discussion was coming from them, and that’s the most important thing. That’s what experience is. People say a guy that has played a long time is experienced, and hopefully that means he’s better. But I’ve been around experienced players that keep doing the same things over and over, and that’s not good.”

Football teams working to improve are constantly measuring themselves. The players find signs in wins that may or may not really mean anything, but what’s important is they think it does.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers pointed to the team’s two losses last year compared to coming from behind to beat Chicago as evidence the team has matured.

In a frustrating 16-13 loss at Baltimore, the Chargers’ offense didn’t score in the second half. The defense was keeping the game close until Baltimore scored on a six-play, 60-yard drive with 34 seconds to play.

“It’s a gratifying team win for the way we battled and leaned on each other,” Rivers said. “It was a very similar game to Baltimore last year, but we didn’t win that game.”

In the 30-27 loss at Kansas City last year, the Bolts scored only two field goals in the first half, and when the offense warmed up with 21 points in the second half, it wasn’t enough to come from behind and win.

“At Kansas City, we didn’t finish,” Rivers said. “I felt (Chicago) was that type of a game, and that’s why it was important for us to win and gain that kind of experience. Those kind of games give you continued maturity. We’re a better team at winning those types of games.”

Chargers tight end Antonio Gates said the Bolts were more physical and patient than they have been in the close games in the past.

“We talked about it today and laughed and joked about it,” Gates said. “It was one of those games you had to grind it out and stay patient. That’s what we tried to do. They made some defensive plays, but we knew we’d make some plays if we continued to pound them and press the envelope. Eventually, things opened up for us.”

The 1994 Chargers had a big-play offense that, when mixed with the Seau-led defense, was enough to reach the Super Bowl. But that offense couldn’t score points quickly, and the Bolts were routed by the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl.

This week the Chargers travel to New England to play a team with an offense capable of scoring quickly and a defense that plays physical football. The Chargers have to be able to show they can adjust from playing the defense-oriented, low-scoring Bears to the high-scoring, physical Patriots.

In early team meetings Monday, Turner plopped down a bigger-than-usual game plan for his quarterbacks.

“Billy Volek talked about how much volume there was compared to what he was used to,” Turner said of Rivers’ backup. “We’ve got to put together a game plan that in our minds prepares to go out and score 40 points. The game may dictate a different score, but we have to prepare. I wish I knew how the game would unfold.”

But a team with a Fouts-Seau mix can adjust to any game and opponent.

Tom Shanahan is voiceofsandiego.org‘s sports columnist. He is the media coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions. You can e-mail him at toms@sdhoc.com. Or send a letter to the editor.

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