|Chargers, Bucs collide with playoff implications|
|Written by Admin|
|Thursday, 18 December 2008 13:13|
The division winners from a year ago have followed different paths to contention, but both desperately need to win Sunday at Raymond James Stadium to bolster chances of advancing to the postseason again.
In San Diego's case, it's beat the Bucs (9-5) or the chase is over. Even then, the Chargers (6-8) need Buffalo to beat Denver later in the day to set up a showdown with the Broncos for the AFC West title next week.
``We've got to win or we can forget it,'' Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
It's not quite as urgent for Tampa Bay, although the surest way to clinch a spot for the third time in four seasons is to win remaining games against San Diego and Oakland (3-11) at home.
ost consecutive games to division rivals Carolina and Atlanta to fall two games behind the NFC South-leading Panthers, and are in a tight battle with the Falcons, Cowboys, Eagles and Bears for two wild-card berths.
The Chargers, a preseason favorite to get to the Super Bowl after losing in last year's AFC title game, have won two in a row to keep hope alive following a 4-8 start. Last week, Rivers led them back from an 11-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat Kansas City 22-21.
``We have to win. They have to win, and somebody's going to win,'' Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said.
In hanging in the AFC West race, San Diego has extended its winning streak in the month of December to 12 games, including six straight on the road - a streak that began following a loss at Kansas City three years ago.
``Since we've dug ourselves a hole, every week's been a playoff game for us: you lose, you're out,'' Rivers said. ``Obviously on Sunday, we know Tampa's got a lot at stake as well. This is a playoff game. We're expecting that type of atmosphere.''
Two weeks ago, the Bucs were in the running for not only another division championship and a first-round playoff bye but potential home-field advantage throughout the postseason, including the Super Bowl, which will be played at RJS.
10 overtime loss at Atlanta, where the offense sputtered with quarterback Jeff Garcia sidelined by a right calf strain.
The challenge this week is slowing Rivers, the NFL's top-rated passer, and containing LaDainian Tomlinson, who hasn't had a 100-yard game since Oct. 26. Tomlinson nevertheless is just 76 yards shy of joining Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin as the only players in league history to run for 1,000 in each of his first eight seasons.
``I don't care what their record is. ... It will be challenging. There's no question,'' Gruden said.
``We're going to get their best,'' Bucs defensive end Greg White said. ``No doubt.''
Seven of the Chargers' eight losses have been by a touchdown or less. They've dropped two games by a single point, one game by two and another by three.
Rivers said one of the keys to giving themselves a chance to save the season has been realizing they were not nearly as bad as a poor start suggested.
``We've lost so many close games, it can make you try to diagnose and find a bigger problem than there really is,'' Rivers said.
``I think more than anything, we just stayed with it and kept playing. When it can be tough at 4-8 and easy to shut it down, we've kept playing and we've given ourselves a chance this Sunday to have a chance.''
Gruden is confident his injury-depleted team can rebound from a rough two weeks to finish strong, too.
outside help, the Bucs could even clinch a playoff spot Sunday - but only if they first do their part by beating the Chargers.
``We're going to do the best we can to stay upbeat and positive. ... It's not like we've been blown out of the place (the last two weeks) and didn't do some good things,'' Gruden said. ``The challenge, obviously, is if you're a backup player and you're replacing a guy who was a starter, you've got to play better than the guy you're replacing.''