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 SAN DIEGO (AP) -A season after finishing one game shy of the Super Bowl, the San Diego Chargers are only one game better than the Oakland Raiders.
That's as good a reason as any for why some of the buzz is missing heading into Thursday night's renewal of the Raiders-Chargers rivalry, which dates to the birth of the AFL in 1960.
The Chargers have beaten the Raiders 10 straight times and LaDainian Tomlinson dominates Oakland like no other team. Still, there's a gloom around the Chargers.
Once considered Super Bowl favorites, the Chargers (4-8) have lost three straight and five of six. Their lifeless 22-16 loss to the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday all but eliminated them from postseason contention, leaving them three games behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West with four to play.
This will be a showdown of teams closer to the bottom of the heap than the top. The Raiders (3-9) can catch the Chargers if they can pull off an upset.
ek doesn't have the same edge as usual.
``In this situation, we are both two struggling teams, so it's not even fair to talk about a rivalry because we are struggling,'' Tomlinson said.
Tomlinson addressed his teammates right after the debilitating loss to the Falcons, imploring them not to give up.
``For us we need to make sure we finish in the right way - we continue to stay disciplined coming in here and working hard at practice and being prepared to win a game,'' Tomlinson said a few days later.
The Chargers haven't won since barely holding off the last-place Kansas City Chiefs at home on Nov. 9. Since then, they've lost at Pittsburgh and at home to Indianapolis and Atlanta.
Along the way, Tomlinson has looked mortal. Running behind a line that's had a startling dropoff, Tomlinson was held to 24 yards by the Falcons, the second-lowest total in his brilliant eight-year career. The two-time defending NFL rushing champion and 2006 league MVP, Tomlinson has only 794 yards and six touchdowns on the ground three-quarters of the way through the season.
The Chargers have become a finesse passing team, with Philip Rivers flashing a 100.5 passer rating, second in the NFL, while throwing 23 TD passes.
rowing the ball a lot more, so I really do think we're pretty much a pass-first offense.''
Maybe another game with the Raiders will perk up things, even though the Chargers' playoff chances are likely extinguished.
L.T. has only two 100-yard games this season. The first, naturally, was at Oakland on Sept. 28, when he had 106 yards and two touchdowns as the Chargers rallied from a 15-0 halftime deficit to beat the Raiders 28-18.
Tomlinson has 1,815 yards and 18 touchdowns against Oakland in his career, more than against any other team.
``I really don't know, to be honest with you, why it's been that way,'' Tomlinson said. ``I think it started back when Marty first got here and we had a physical mind-set that we were going to be physical and really run the ball against them. Even with Norv being here, that just kind of continued and that's why it's always been like that.''
That would be Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers' coach from 2002-06 who hated the Raiders. After Schottenheimer was fired because he and general manager A.J. Smith had an icy relationship, the Chargers continued to beat up on the Raiders under Turner, who coached Oakland in 2004-05 before being fired by Al Davis.
Tomlinson ``has had a lot of success against the Raiders and hopefully we can slow that down a little bit this week,'' interim Oakland coach Tom Cable said.
And those 10 straight Chargers wins?
s quite a streak considering they are divisional rivals and they are going to play each other twice a year,'' Cable said. ``It's a credit to the organization. They have really had it going and had a lot of good players.''
The Raiders are playing out their sixth straight losing season. They truly are a Black Hole, having gone 22-70 since being routed by Tampa Bay and former Raiders coach Jon Gruden in the Super Bowl at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium on Jan. 26, 2003.
They've been inconsistent the last two weeks, shocking the Broncos 31-10 at Denver and then losing at home to the Chiefs, 20-13.
``Maddening is a fair word,'' Cable said. ``I think really trying to learn how to win, learning how to understand in this league that nothing comes easy and you really have to go out and take what you want because nobody is going to give it to you. The culture around here has been defeat for a long time now and you have to change that before you move forward.''

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