Red-hot Rivers leads Chargers against winless Jags
(SportsNetwork.com) - Moral victories aren't just for Jerry Jones anymore. And though most teams would be reticent to pull positives from a 16-point defeat, most teams aren't the 2013 Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Jaguars entered a Week 6 matchup with the unbeaten Denver Broncos as one of the NFL's largest all-time underdogs - 27 points - and distinguished themselves fairly well in staying within two points into the third quarter before the hosts pulled away.
They'll try to add to that in a Week 7 matchup when they host the San Diego Chargers in an effort to avoid the first 0-7 beginning in franchise history. Jacksonville is already the first team in 29 years - since the 1984 Houston Oilers - to lose its first six games by double digits.
Still, you can count San Diego coach Mike McCoy among the few not underestimating the Jaguars.
"This is going to be a very good football team we're playing," he said. "Everyone gave (Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning) a lot of flak last week for saying hey, this is a very good football team and his comments were correct, I believe, about what type of team it is."
Quarterback Chad Henne will likely make his fourth start of the season in place of former first-round draft choice Blaine Gabbert, who's questionable once again with a hamstring injury.
Henne threw for a season-best 303 yards against the Broncos, including 14 connections with Justin Blackmon, who compiled 190 yards. Blackmon has 326 yards in two games since arriving after serving a four-game suspension for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.
His receiving cohort, Cecil Shorts III, is doubtful with a shoulder problem.
"I'm very hopeful," Shorts said. "I'm very stable structurally. Nothing broken or cracked. But it's a lot of pain. It's a matter of how much I can handle and take. We still have time to improve between now and Sunday. My goal is definitely to get prepared like I'm playing."
Shorts has faced the Chargers once in his career and scored a touchdown in Jacksonville's 38-14 loss to San Diego in 2011. Blackmon, at that time, was still in college at Oklahoma State.
Running back Maurice Jones-Drew had 97 rushing yards and 91 receiving yards in that game, but has maxed out at 71 yards rushing this season - against the Broncos - and has no games with more than two receptions.
"There were some positives that we can take from (the Denver game)," Jaguars linebacker Paul Posluszny said. "We can learn from this game. We definitely need some improvements. We're definitely headed in the right direction."
A defeat of Jacksonville will push the Chargers past the .500 mark for the first time in the brief tenure of McCoy, whose team has alternated losses and wins since the opener.
Last Sunday, San Diego defeated the AFC South Division-leading Indianapolis Colts, 19-9.
Chargers rookie receiver Keenan Allen caught a career-best nine passes and exceeded 100 yards receiving for the second straight game. He also scored for the second straight game, chalking up the game's lone TD on a 22-yard pass from Philip Rivers.
On the ground, running back Ryan Matthews ran for a season-high 102 yards on 22 carries, a week after he'd gained just eight yards on three carries before sustaining a concussion in a loss at Oakland.
Rivers is third in the NFL with 1,847 yards, tied for second with 14 touchdowns and reached 400 yards three times in five games before going for 237 last week.
"(Beating the Colts) was a turning point for our season," Rivers said. "That doesn't mean it's going to take care of itself, but 2-4 would have been quite a bind to be in. We've got to get Jacksonville (Sunday) before the bye and find ourselves at 4-3, and see what happens the rest of the way."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Jaguars will want to throw the ball. San Diego is 25th in the league defending the pass, and, though it's not resulted in victories, the insertion of Henne and the return of Blackmon have given the Jacksonville offense a boost. They may not exceed 20 for the first time, but they should at least beat their average of 11.67 points per week.
The Chargers in turn want to run the ball. Jacksonville is dead last in the 32-team league while trying to stop things on the ground.
And, while the San Diego offense isn't necessarily predicated on running, Ryan Mathews is capable and productive when getting 15 to 25 carries, as evidenced by last week's 102-yard effort.
Very few teams go through an entire season winless. So, history suggests that, as bad as they are, the Jaguars will eventually snatch a game from someone.
The Chargers, coming across the country after a big home win against a high- end opponent, appear vulnerable. But until it happens it'll be nearly impossible to predict. San Diego on paper is too talented, regardless of logistics.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Chargers 29, Jaguars 17
10/18 09:51:53 ET