Had two plays gone differently in their first two games, the San Diego Chargers might be undefeated and alone atop the AFC West.
Instead, they need a victory over the team led by the most prolific passer in NFL history to avoid falling to 0-3.
After being on the wrong end of an officiating blunder that cost them a win, the Chargers will try to bounce back Monday night when they host Brett Favre and the New York Jets.
Oddsmakers from SBG Global have made Chargers –9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 53% of bets for this game have been placed on Chargers –9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).
San Diego (0-2) lost on the final play of their home opener against Carolina, falling 26-24 on Jake Delhomme's touchdown pass as time expired. That was a heartbreaking defeat, but it didn't compare to what happened last Sunday in the Chargers' first road game.
San Diego and Denver played a back-and-forth game that saw the Chargers come back from 18 points down in the second quarter to take a seven-point lead with 4:22 left to play. Jay Cutler led the Broncos down the field after that, but on a second-and-goal play, the ball clearly slipped out of Cutler's hand, bouncing off the grass and into linebacker Tim Dobbins' arms.
Referee Ed Hochuli, however, had blown his whistle inadvertently, ruling it an incomplete pass. Despite the error, instant replay rules don't allow a change of possession in such situations.
Instead of the Chargers having a chance to run out the clock, Cutler threw a touchdown pass two plays later and Denver converted a bold 2-point conversion attempt to win 39-38.
"It was clearly a fumble,'' Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "Ed came over, the official, and said he blew it. And that's not acceptable to me. This is a high-level performance game and that's not acceptable to have a game decided on that play."
Turner's team has to put the stunning defeats behind it quickly. Since the NFL went to a 16-game schedule in 1978, 234 teams have started a season with two losses, and only 27 have made the playoffs.
Since 1990, three teams have made the playoffs after starting 0-3 - none since Buffalo in 1998.
If the Chargers want to avoid falling into that hole, they'll need to shore up a defense that's ranked 30th in the NFL. San Diego has allowed an average of 437.0 yards of offense in its first two games, and after ranking fifth in scoring defense last season at 17.8 points per game, is giving up 32.5 this year.
Linebacker Shawne Merriman is out for the season after having knee surgery last week, but he isn't the Chargers' only banged-up Pro Bowler. Star tailback LaDainian Tomlinson has been hobbled by a toe injury and hasn't scored a touchdown in two games. He ran for just 26 yards on 10 carries against Denver.
Tomlinson said Wednesday that his toe isn't as sore as it has been, but he didn't sound overly confident.
``Well, with another day of rest and treatment, it's feeling a little better today, so hopefully, I'm just going to play it by ear this week, see how it feels later in the week,'' he said. ``I'm hoping that it's going to make big progress this week and by Monday night hopefully I'll be as close to 100 percent as possible.''
While Tomlinson has struggled through two weeks, quarterback Phillip Rivers hasn't. He's thrown for 594 yards, has the league's third-highest passer rating (122.5) and is tied for first with six touchdowns.
Brett Favre has thrown an NFL-record 445 touchdown passes in his Hall of Fame career, but after a solid debut with the Jets, his second game didn't go nearly as well. After tossing a pair of touchdowns in a season-opening 20-14 win over Miami, Favre threw a crucial interception in his home debut last Sunday, leading to a third-quarter New England score that pushed New York's deficit from three to 10 points. The Patriots went on to win 19-10.
One particular sequence that drew the ire of Jets' fans occurred in the second quarter, when New York had a first-and-goal at the New England 3-yard line. The Jets gave the ball to Thomas Jones three times unsuccessfully before settling for a field goal.
"There's no guarantees throwing the ball would've worked,'' Favre said. "Do I like my chances? Absolutely. But I'm going to say that no matter what. You know, people can call it conservative or whatever. Had we run the ball in on one of those three, they're great calls.''
Even though the Jets couldn't hand New England its first regular season loss in 21 games, New York's defense played well. The Patriots didn't have Tom Brady, but the Jets held Randy Moss to two catches and limited the Patriots to 260 total yards.
New York is sixth in run defense (76.5 ypg) and eighth in total defense (268.5 ypg).
Linebacker Eric Barton, though, said it was what the defense didn't do that cost New York the chance to move to 2-0.
"When we needed to make big stops, we didn't make them,'' said Barton, who leads the Jets with 14 tackles. "It's as simple as that. We didn't force any turnovers, we didn't get the ball back in our offense's hands more. We didn't do that.''
Favre, 5-0 against the Chargers, hasn't played in San Diego since 2003.
This is the Jets' first visit to Qualcomm Stadium since they upset the Chargers 20-17 in overtime in a 2005 wild-card game.
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