Tumbling Again

The San Diego Chargers are at the top of the AFC West where they were expected to be, even though their season was not supposed to look anything like this.

The Chargers try to avoid falling out of a tie for the division lead on Sunday when they host the stumbling Baltimore Ravens.

Oddsmakers from Bodog have made San Diego –9.5 point spread favorites (View NFL Football odds) for Sunday’s game, the over/under has been set at 38.5 total points (Game Matchup). Current public betting information shows that 55% of bets for this game have been placed on San Diego –9.5 (View NFL Football bet percentages).

After winning the AFC West with a 14-2 record in 2006, San Diego (5-5) entered this season considered to be a top Super Bowl contender with some of the best talent in the league, led by star running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

First-year coach Norv Turner has not gotten Tomlinson as many touches as he received last season, when he scored an NFL-record 28 touchdowns, and the Chargers have been inconsistent offensively, particularly at quarterback.

Philip Rivers appeared to be emerging as one of the AFC's top passers a season ago, throwing for 3,388 yards with 22 touchdowns and nine interceptions. But 10 games into 2007, he's already thrown more interceptions (11) than last year and his quarterback rating has plummeted from a steady 92.0 to a subpar 76.5.

Rivers has five interceptions and one touchdown pass in the last three games, two of which were losses.

"We knew coming in that we weren't going 14-2 again," Rivers said after last Sunday's 24-17 loss at Jacksonville. "The goal obviously was to not be 5-5. The goal was to give us a shot in January and that goal is still obtainable."

A year after winning the division by five games, the Chargers enter Week 12 of the NFL season tied for first place with Denver. The AFC West is the NFL's only division that doesn't feature a team with a winning record.

Rivers hasn't had much help from his receiving corps.

While tight end Antonio Gates leads the team with 54 receptions and Tomlinson has 41, the Chargers' top pass catcher among wideouts is Vincent Jackson with 24. Next on that list is Chris Chambers, who was acquired from Miami shortly before the trade deadline to give Rivers another option, but he has just 13 receptions and one touchdown in four games.

Aside from Rivers' struggles, San Diego's once-feared defense has taken a step back. The Chargers had a top-10 defense last season, surrendering 301.6 yards per game, but rank among the bottom 10 this year with an average of 353.7.

They led the NFL with 61 sacks last season, but have 19 in 2007. Linebacker Shawne Merriman had a league-leading 17 sacks in 2006 but is stuck on 5 1/2 this year, failing to record one in the last four games.

"We're (all) a little disappointed," said San Diego safety Marlon McCree. "I know I'm a little angry, some other guys are. We've got to channel that anger and that disappointment and dig ourselves out of this hole. We've just got to keep fighting."

Angry would be a good way to describe the Ravens (4-6), who have lost four straight and may still be steaming from their 33-30 overtime defeat to Cleveland last Sunday.

Baltimore had scored 16 fourth-quarter points to take a 30-27 lead with 26 seconds to play, but a 39-yard kick return and two completions by Derek Anderson put Browns kicker Phil Dawson in position for a potential game-tying 51-yard field goal.

The kick was long enough, but bounced off the left upright and then what appeared to be the crossbar before falling into the end zone.

As the Ravens celebrated what they thought was a victory, the officials had a lengthy discussion and determined Dawson's kick had gone off the curved center support behind the crossbar - and the kick was ruled good.

Ravens coach Brian Billick and several players had to be called back on the field from the locker room. Cleveland got the ball first in overtime and Dawson ended up kicking a 43-yard field goal that gave the Browns an improbable victory.

"It's crazy, it's weird," said Ravens receiver Derrick Mason. "Just when you thought everything that had gone wrong you had overcome it, then there's another thing. They probably made the right call."

A good sign for Baltimore was the offense producing its highest point total of the season and amassing 368 total yards, its most in six weeks. The Ravens still rank among the NFL's bottom 10 teams in points per game and total offense.

The unsettled situation at quarterback hasn't helped. Battling injuries as usual, Steve McNair has made six starts and has thrown just two touchdown passes. Kyle Boller has started the other four games and has thrown for four TDs, yet his quarterback rating (71.9) is worse than McNair's (73.9).

It appears Boller will start again after throwing for 279 yards last week, including 255 during the second-half comeback.

The passing game continues to be much less reliable than Willis McGahee and the rushing attack. The offseason acquisition has scored a touchdown in five straight games after not scoring in the first five weeks, and he is second in the AFC with 851 rushing yards after posting his third 100-yard game last week.

While Baltimore's defense has been able to make up for its lack of offensive firepower in past seasons, that hasn't been the case in 2007. After leading the league in points allowed (12.6 per game) in 2006, they've given up an average of 21.1 this season.

To make matters worse, the Ravens learned Wednesday defensive end Trevor Pryce, the team's sack leader in 2006, will miss the rest of the season with a pectoral tear.

"It's gotten away only in the sense that we're certainly not where we want to be," Billick said. "But, you hold on to whatever competitive perspective you choose to, individually and collectively."

The Ravens beat the Chargers 16-13 last season for their third straight win in this series after losing the first two meetings.

By: Staff Writers - Email Us

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