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Inside the NFL | THIS WEEK'S MATCHUPS

Chargers Now Forced to Play Catch-Up

October 28, 2005|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Not halfway through their season, the San Diego Chargers already have lost as many games as last season.

Not that LaDainian Tomlinson & Co. have crashed and burned.

The Chargers (3-4) could just as easily be undefeated or at least leading their division as scrambling to climb back to .500 going into Sunday's AFC West matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) at San Diego. The 1 p.m. game will be shown on Channel 2.

Favored by six points, the Chargers will try to rebound from another heartbreaking defeat. They carried a 17-13 lead into the final minutes Sunday at Philadelphia, only to lose, 20-17, after Nate Kaeding's 40-yard field-goal attempt was blocked and returned 65 yards for a touchdown with 2:25 to play.

Earlier, they lost on a field goal with five seconds to play at Denver and on a field goal with six seconds left against the Pittsburgh Steelers. In their opener, they had first and goal at the seven but failed to score in a 28-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Their four losses have been by a combined 12 points. In each game, they either led or were tied in the fourth quarter.

"Really just one play in each of those games probably would have got the job done," quarterback Drew Brees told the San Diego Union-Tribune this week. "And it's not like there was only one play that was available to be made; there were many plays available to be made, and all we had to do was make one of those ... and we could have won all those games."

Instead, they're trying to stay close to the Chiefs and Denver Broncos in the division race. The Chiefs, who had extra time to prepare after winning last Friday at Miami, have lost five of their last seven at San Diego, three by one point.

Elsewhere:

Chicago (3-3) plus 3 at Detroit (3-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Bears have not given up a rushing touchdown, rank third in the NFL in total defense and last month intercepted five Joey Harrington passes in a 38-6 rout of the Lions. This time, Harrington will watch from the sideline and Jeff Garcia will start for the Lions.

Arizona (2-4) plus 9 at Dallas (4-3), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Cardinals, 0-13 at Dallas since October 1989, rank next to last in the NFL in rushing, and nearly 40% of their running plays have resulted in either a loss or no gain.

Oakland (2-4) minus 1 at Tennessee (2-5), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Steve McNair is expected to return for the Titans after sitting out last week because of a sore back, but that's not necessarily bad news for the Raiders. McNair's backup, Billy Volek, passed for 462 yards and four touchdowns in a game against Oakland last season.

Cleveland (2-4) plus 2 at Houston (0-6), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- Considering that he has eight turnovers in his last three games and his collegiate eligibility has run out, Brown quarterback Trent Dilfer was right on the money when he said, "I haven't played well on Sundays the past couple weeks. I know I need to fix that."

Washington (4-2) plus 2 1/2 at N.Y. Giants (4-2), Sunday, 10 a.m., Channel 11 -- These teams used to dominate with defense, but times have changed. The Giants are the league's highest-scoring team but rank 31st in total defense. The Redskins, fourth in total defense but 15th against the run, rank second in total offense.

Jacksonville (4-2) minus 3 at St. Louis (3-4), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- The Jaguars have only one game left against an opponent with a winning record, but quarterback Byron Leftwich warned, "There's not a big difference between the good teams and what some people would call a bad team. There's no such thing as a bad team in this league."

Green Bay (1-5) plus 9 at Cincinnati (5-2), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- With injuries continuing to deplete his supporting cast and a brutal stretch of games coming up, Brett Favre might not have enough left to salvage the Packers' season.

Minnesota (2-4) plus 7 1/2 at Carolina (4-2), Sunday, 10 a.m. -- "I don't see a cloud," receiver Nate Burleson said this week after the troubled Vikings' dramatic victory over the Packers. How about this: They're 0-3 on the road and have turned the ball over 12 times, been penalized 32 times and outscored, 95-21.

Miami (2-4) plus 2 1/2 vs. New Orleans (2-5) at Baton Rouge, La., Sunday, 1 p.m. -- The Dolphins have lost three in a row after an encouraging start, and Ricky Williams, in two games since his one-year retirement and four-game drug suspension, has rushed for seven yards in 11 carries, an average of 23 inches a carry.

Philadelphia (4-2) plus 3 1/2 at Denver (5-2), Sunday, 1:15 p.m., Channel 11 -- Coach Andy Reid said the Eagles were "a little too heavy with the passing" after Donovan McNabb set a franchise record with 35 completions in 54 attempts Sunday against the Chargers, but this might not be the right time for a change. The Broncos rank fifth in the league against the run, 26th against the pass.

Tampa Bay (5-1) minus 11 at San Francisco (1-5), Sunday, 1:15 p.m. -- Chris Simms takes over for the injured Brian Griese, and Carnell "Cadillac" Williams is expected back for the Buccaneers, whose best-in-the-NFL defense has carried them to the top of the NFC South and close to the first 6-1 start in franchise history.

Buffalo (3-4) plus 9 at New England (3-3), Sunday, 5:30 p.m., ESPN -- The return of linebacker Tedy Bruschi could be an emotional lift for the Patriots, whose pursuit of a third consecutive Super Bowl championship has failed to pick up steam because of an injury-depleted defense that ranks 26th in the league.

Baltimore (2-4) plus 10 at Pittsburgh (4-2), Monday, 6 p.m., Channel 7 -- No Ray Lewis? No Ed Reed? No chance for the Ravens? The Steelers have lost two of their three home games but were impressive Sunday in a 27-13 victory at Cincinnati, where Willie Parker ran for 131 yards and Ben Roethlisberger passed for two touchdowns.

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