7-2 Sunday Nite Chargers at Broncos
The San Diego Chargers' stunning comeback victory last week showed just how overpowering their NFL-best offense can be.
The biggest test of the season for that unit comes Sunday night, when the Chargers face the Denver Broncos and the league's stingiest defense in a showdown for first place in the AFC West.
The Chargers (7-2) and Broncos (7-2) clash at Invesco Field in the first of two meetings in four weeks between the division rivals.
San Diego won its third in a row last week in spectacular fashion, scoring 42 points in the second half of a 49-41 victory at Cincinnati. Philip Rivers went 24-of-36 for 338 yards and three touchdowns, and LaDainian Tomlinson scored four TDs and ran for 104 yards as the Chargers overcame a 28-7 halftime deficit by posting their highest point total in 20 years.
``It was a terrific win for us, but it doesn't mean anything this week,'' said coach Marty Schottenheimer, whose team easily leads the league with 297 points. ``We're done with it. We're moving on now. Of course, we've got a big contest this week against Denver.''
Schottenheimer can only hope his high-powered offense can come close to duplicating its output of last week, as his team gets ready to play in a place where it rarely wins. San Diego has lost six straight in Denver and 10 of the last 11 visits, going 11-34-1 there all-time.
In the last four losses at Invesco, the Chargers have scored 47 points - less than their total of last week.
Knowing that history, Schottenheimer started working immediately to get his club's focus off last week's thrilling win and onto the task at hand for Sunday.
``We know what's at stake,'' Tomlinson said Monday. ``First place.''
The star running back also knows that his performance will have a lot to do with whether the Chargers can end their slide in Denver. Tomlinson, the NFL leader with 18 touchdowns and second in the league with 932 rushing yards, has never had a 100-yard game in five visits to Denver, and his top performance was 75 yards as a rookie in 2001. The Chargers lost all five times.
``That has been the biggest factor,'' Tomlinson said. ``They've taken me out of the game early, pretty much. Hopefully this time is different.''
If Tomlinson runs with the determination he has shown over the last three games, it could be. He has rushed for 459 yards and averaged 7.1 yards per carry with nine touchdowns over that span.
In his last five games, Tomlinson has 15 touchdowns.
While the matchup between Tomlinson and Denver's fifth-ranked rushing defense (86.2 yards per game) will be a critical one, the play of Rivers could end up being the deciding factor in this contest. Coming off his best game as a pro, the third-year quarterback will look to duplicate that performance against a pass defense that's ranked only 27th in the NFL.
That, however, hasn't prevented Denver from fielding the NFL's toughest defense this season. The Broncos' 111 points allowed are the fewest in the league. The Broncos defeated Oakland 17-13 last week for their second straight victory and seventh in eight games.
Denver, though, did have trouble at home against another high-scoring team Oct. 29, losing 34-31 to Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts. Manning exposed the Broncos' shortcomings in pass defense, going 32-for-39 for 345 yards and three TDs against schemes that were specifically designed to stop him.
The Broncos are also somewhat banged-up defensively this week, and could be without linebacker Ian Gold (hamstring) and defensive ends Ebenezer Ekuban (thigh) and Patrick Chukwurah (hamstring), all of whom sat out Sunday.
The Broncos struggled offensively last week despite coach Mike Shanahan shuffling his offense looking for a spark. He replaced running back Mike Bell with Damien Nash, tight end Tony Scheffler with Nate Jackson and right tackle George Foster with Adam Meadows.
The changes had little effect, as the Broncos gained just 63 yards on the ground - 37 by Tatum Bell, who returned to the lineup after apparently fibbing to Shanahan about how much better his two big sprained toes felt.
Nash, the fourth tailback to get his shot in Denver's revolving door in the backfield, ran just four times for 14 yards, but did recover his own fumble near the Raiders' goal line.
``As a coach, you have to go with your gut,'' Shanahan said Monday. ``You can't go with who is the starter, or who has been the starter. You have to go based on how a guy practices and what you think is best for your football team.
``If that's a message, the message is we're going to play the best players.''
Jake Plummer tossed three interceptions as Denver gained just 264 yards against the 2-7 Raiders. Plummer, though, threw a go-ahead, 1-yard TD pass to Kyle Johnson in the fourth quarter and the defense forced two fumbles down the stretch as the Broncos held on.
Denver is 4-0 when Plummer throws for more than 200 yards, another testament to how good the defense has been.
Plummer, 7-2 as a starter against the Chargers, will look to take advantage of a San Diego defense that allowed 545 yards, including through 421 through the air, last week.
``We're putting ourselves in some tough spots,'' Plummer said. ``But we're pulling it out when it matters, and that's only going to pay off down the stretch in the season.''
The teams meet again Dec. 10 in San Diego.
By: Michael Cash - theSpread.com - Email Us
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