NFL Preview - Jacksonville (1-0) at San Diego (0-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Coming off a fourth straight division title, the San Diego Chargers didn't look the part last Monday night. Faced with a quicker turnaround, they'll have to deal with a Jacksonville Jaguars club that has feasted on the AFC West as of late.
San Diego will try to avoid its second 0-2 start in three seasons this Sunday in a matchup at Qualcomm Stadium with Jacksonville, which comes in riding a seven-game winning streak over AFC West opponents.
The Chargers won their final 11 games of 2009 to claim yet another division crown, but that didn't get them anywhere due to a loss to the New York Jets in the AFC Division Playoffs. San Diego's roll during the regular season then came to an end with a head-scratching 21-14 setback to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night.
San Diego had won five straight over the Chiefs and found themselves in position to tie the game late, but quarterback Philip Rivers couldn't get his club into the end zone in the game's final minutes despite reaching the Kansas City four-yard line.
San Diego's final two offensive plays were incomplete passes by Rivers, as he failed to hit Malcom Floyd in the end zone on both attempts.
The Chargers looked like a club that was without a pair of former Pro Bowlers in wide receiver Vincent Jackson and left tackle Marcus McNeill. Jackson is set to miss at least San Diego's first three games due to a suspension and could ultimately be traded, while restricted free agent McNeill has yet to sign his tender.
San Diego also played its first regular-season game since parting ways with running back LaDainian Tomlinson in the offseason. Rookie Ryan Mathews assumed the starting role, but his fumble in the first half led to a Chiefs' touchdown.
"I was just fighting for more yards and the ball was out of my body a little bit," Mathews said. "It was a little bit slippery. They took it from me. I should have had two hands on it."
Linebacker Shawne Merriman was inactive for the Chargers due to an Achilles injury and hopes to make his season debut in this one.
Even if Merriman can play this weekend, he won't be able to spark an offense that failed to score at least 20 points for the first time in 21 straight regular-season games. The Chargers will now also need to deal with a Jaguars club that hasn't lost to an AFC West resident since Dec. 31, 2006 in Kansas City.
Jacksonville improved to 11-3 versus the division since 2003 with Sunday's 24-17 victory over the Denver Broncos. Quarterback David Garrard hit wide receiver and ex-Charger Kassim Osgood for a 24-yard scoring throw midway through the fourth quarter to lift the Jaguars.
Having started the season 0-2 in each of the previous two years, Jacksonville won its season opener for the first time in four seasons and snapped a four- game overall losing streak that concluded its 2009 campaign.
"What a great beginning to the 2010 season," Jaguars head coach Jack Del Rio said. "I told our guys I'm so proud of the team effort, coming out with a hard-fought victory. I thought all three phases contributed."
The Jaguars, who haven't started a season 2-0 since 2006, got three sacks out of a defense that recorded just 14 all of last year as well a fourth-down stop of the Broncos with about five minutes to play.
The Jaguars have a 2-1 lead in their all-time series with the Chargers, breaking a deadlock in the series with a 24-17 home win when the teams last met, during the 2007 season. San Diego won the previous meeting, a 34-21 win in the only previous matchup between the teams at Qualcomm Stadium.
San Diego head coach Norv Turner is 2-2 in his career against the Jaguars, including a pair of wins during his tenure in Washington (1994-2000) and a loss while with Oakland (2004-05). Del Rio is 2-1 against the Chargers in his career, and 2-0 head-to-head with Turner.
WHEN THE JAGUARS HAVE THE BALL
Garrard heads to San Diego off one of the best games of his career. He completed 16-of-21 pass attempts for 170 yards, but made the most of his chances with a career high-tying three touchdown passes for a 138.9 passer rating, a personal best. Two of his scoring throws went to tight end Marcedes Lewis, the 2006 first-round pick's only two catches of the game that's already left him just one shy of a new career high for touchdowns. While Lewis was Garrard's favorite scoring target, the quarterback used Mike Thomas to get up the field. The wide receiver made a team-leading six catches for 89 yards to offset zero catches by last year's top wideout, Mike Sims-Walker. Running back Maurice Jones-Drew fell two yards shy of his first 100-yard rushing game since Week 15 of last year and also added three receptions for 15 yards. He remains one touchdown shy of 50 for his career. Osgood's lone catch was his touchdown haul and was his first score since Dec. 12, 2004.
Jones-Drew will look to snake through a Chargers defense that gave up 135 rushing yards to the Chiefs last week. A bulk of that did come in the form of a 56-yard touchdown run by Kansas City's Jamaal Charles in what was by far the team's biggest offensive play. The secondary, meanwhile, allowed Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel to complete just 10 of his 22 pass attempts for 68 yards. San Diego will look to create more turnovers this weekend after failing to post one last week. Linebacker Shaun Phillips had San Diego's lone sack, while safety Steve Gregory led the way with seven tackles. With Merriman a late scratch, Larry English started in his place at outside linebacker and came away with three tackles. Linebacker Kevin Burnett finished with six tackles, while Phillips and cornerback Antoine Cason had five each.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
Outside of his fumble, this year's 12th overall pick Mathews had a decent debut with 75 yards on 19 carries in replacing Tomlinson. Rivers, meanwhile, by far outplayed his Kansas City counterpart by completing 22-of-39 pass attempts with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He was sacked twice, but found wide receiver Legedu Naanee and tight end Antonio Gates for touchdowns. Gates ended with five receptions for 76 yards and needs nine more receiving yards to pass Steve Jordan (6,307) for seventh-most among tight ends on the NFL's all-time list. Gates is aiming for a third straight game with a touchdown catch versus Jacksonville and has 13 receptions and three touchdowns in three career games versus the Jaguars. Stepping in for Jackson, Naanee (5 receptions) hauled in a 59-yard scoring throw and posted a career-high 110 yards receiving. It was a more frustrating game for Floyd, who in addition to failing to hook up with Rivers for a tying score late, secured just three of the 12 passes fired in his direction for 48 yards.
Rivers and Mathews will be staring at the reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Jags linebacker Daryl Smith, who took home the honor after making a team-leading seven tackles versus the Broncos to go along with a quarterback hit, an interception and a forced fumble that was recovered by safety Sean Considine (6 tackles). Smith's interception also sealed the win, as it came with 53 ticks left. Jacksonville hopes to get the same sort of pressure on Rivers as it did versus Kyle Orton last week. Defensive end Aaron Kampman (3 tackles) posted 1 1/2 sacks and six quarterback hits a week ago, while rookie tackle Tyson Alualu notched the first sack of his career. Jacksonville limited Orton to just an 89.8 passer rating while also limiting Denver's ground game to 89 yards. Starting corner Derek Cox (5 tackles) was benched in the second half on Sunday by Del Rio, but should be back alongside Rashean Mathis this week. Denver wideouts Eddie Royal and Brandon Lloyd combined for 13 catches and 215 yards a week ago.
Though Jones-Drew is coming off a disappointing fantasy effort, with no 100- yard rushing bonus or a score, he remains a must-start and will also get his chances in the passing game. Sims-Walker was a reliable wideout a year ago, but was blanked in Week 1 and both he and Thomas are facing a tougher challenge this week. Both Lewis and Garrard are also coming off of career games, but that sort of production shouldn't be expected again anytime soon. Kicker Josh Scobee hit on his only field goal try last week, showing solid range with a 45-yard conversion, and should be in line for more chances. Wait to see if the Jacksonville pass rush is for real before committing to the Jaguars as a fantasy defense.
Rivers is considered one of the top second-tier fantasy quarterbacks out there, and the fact that he didn't turn the ball over last week is a good sign. Though the loss of Jackson makes Rivers' production tougher to predict, he did show good chemistry with Naanee a week ago. Mathews should continue to get the bulk of the carries and is good to go for the start, while Gates should also be in starting fantasy lineups. One would have liked to see more turnovers last week by the Chargers, but their defense should get another look again in this one due to Jacksonville's questionable offense. Start kicker Nate Kaeding with confidence.
While Del Rio was right in asserting that his club got off to a great start in 2010, the Chargers may look back and see the Chiefs' loss as its most disappointing of the season. Offenses usually need some time to click at the start of the season, and the Jaguars are still trying to gel some new pieces together on defense. Though good enough to knock off the Broncos in Week 1, Rivers is much more capable under center and we can't see San Diego starting out 0-2. Jacksonville's winning streak versus the AFC West is impressive, but it should come to an end versus a tough road opponent.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 24, Jaguars 13
09/16 19:16:05 ET