San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is looking to rebound against… (Peter Aiken / Getty Images )
The Green Bay Packers returned from the relaxation of bye week ready to work.
"Fresh, live, lot of chatter … excitement … energy," Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy told reporters Monday after putting his unbeaten (7-0) team through a 90-minute practice in pads scripted to concentrate on "the extensive use of fundamental drills."
In San Diego, meanwhile, a depressed group reeling from perhaps the most bitter regular-season loss since its famed "Holy Roller" defeat at the hands of the Oakland Raiders in 1978 came home from Kansas City staring at the daunting task of trying to beat visiting Green Bay on a short week Sunday.
"This one's rough," Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said of the 23-20 overtime defeat set up by his fumbled snap late in regulation. San Diego was running one more play to center a potential game-winning field goal in the final seconds before the miscue.
"To blow it on a play — something that never happens, that shouldn't happen — we've got to find a way to bounce back here in a hurry."
If the disparity in pregame moods indicates anything, the Chargers (4-3) are in a mismatch.
"We can't spend a lot of time fretting and worrying about [Kansas City]," San Diego Coach Norv Turner told reporters. "What we have to do is clean up the issues that are keeping us from getting it done."
Most of those issues revolve around Rivers, who threw two more interceptions Monday and now has an NFL-leading 11. He has seven touchdown passes.
The Chargers are a red-zone train wreck, a situation some blame on season-long injury woes that have limited practice time for tight end Antonio Gates, wide receivers Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd, and running backs Ryan Mathews and Mike Tolbert.
What a contrast with the defending Super Bowl-champion Packers, whose quarterback Aaron Rodgers has thrown 20 touchdowns with three interceptions and leads the NFL in passer rating (125.6).
"We like where we are, but we're really focused on getting better," McCarthy said. "We have more to offer as a football team."
Most of that has to do with defense, but part of the residue of big leads is a statistical stain. The Packers rank among the bottom in passing and total yards given up.
"Everybody's got egos in the room and wants to be good statistically," Packers safety Charlie Peprah said on the team's website.
The problem is when bad statistics coincide with defeat, which is where Rivers — in his sixth season as a starter — finds himself.
Praised constantly for his leadership skills by Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith, Rivers now finds his team tied with the Chiefs and Raiders atop the AFC West with only two losing teams remaining on the schedule.
"It's going to be an all-season deal," Rivers said.
Baltimore (5-2) at Pittsburgh (6-2)
The Steelers vividly remember what Coach Mike Tomlin called the "stench" of their season-opening 35-7 loss at the Ravens. This Sunday night opportunity for revenge on the heels of an impressive victory over New England can let the Black and Gold tighten its grip on the division and AFC lead.
New York Giants (5-2) at New England (5-2)
We do get a Manning versus Brady clash after all, with Eli directing his NFC East-leading team and Tom Brady returning to the comfort of Gillette Stadium after failing to solve Pittsburgh's defensive pressure on Patriots receivers. It will be intriguing to see whether the Giants take the same tack.
New York Jets (4-3) at Buffalo (5-2)
The Jets haven't won on the road and the Bills haven't lost at home. If the Bills win, not only would they gain a two-game edge on their division rivals but also they'd have the only perfect division record.