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NFL Preview - Buffalo (5-7) at San Diego (5-7)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - Their playoff hopes are dwindling and so is the job security of head coach Norv Turner, but the San Diego Chargers are not about to give up just yet.
The Chargers seemingly proved that by ending a six-game losing streak at Jacksonville on Monday and now head back home on a short week to host the Buffalo Bills Sunday from Qualcomm Stadium. Quarterback Philip Rivers, the subject of many critics this season, turned in one of his finest performances against the Jaguars by throwing for 294 yards and three touchdown passes.
Rivers was not intercepted for a second straight game, and said afterwards the trust factor is still strong among the players.
"There's no quit in that locker room. Never will be," Rivers said. "Teams that have quit don't fly all the way across the country and play a Monday night game and do what we did.
San Diego will now try to stop a three-game home losing streak and avoid losing four in a row as the host for the first time since Nov. 4-Dec. 30, 2001. It hasn't won back-to-back games since a three-game winning streak from Sept. 25- Oct. 9 and is tied with Kansas City for last in the AFC West -- two games behind the division-leading Broncos and Raiders.
That standing in the division and the team's overall 5-7 record has led to speculation that Turner could be let go at season's end, which may haven given the players some extra incentive.
"Norv's a heck of a guy. A heck of a coach," said Rivers. "Everybody in the locker room loves playing for him. When we've been 4-8, when we've won 11 in a row, I don't think he's gotten the credit he deserves. He's never flinched and it feeds down to us. The team takes on that personality."
The Chargers are scheduled to play two straight home games before ending the regular season with consecutive tilts on the road against Detroit and Oakland.
Buffalo's surprise start to the season seems like decades ago now that the team is mired in a five-game losing streak that followed a 5-2 record early on. The Bills not only have the daunting task of ending their slide against a high-powered San Diego offense, but also must put to rest a five-game losing streak away from western New York.
The Bills haven't recorded a road win since opening the 2011 season with a 41-7 drubbing of the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The losing trend and poor defense continued with last weekend's 23-17 loss versus Tennessee, in which Titans running back Chris Johnson single-handedly disposed of the Bills with 153 yards and two touchdowns on 23 carries.
"The reason we lost was fundamentals," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "You've got to block, you've got to tackle. You've got to take care of the football. Those are the things that happened to us in this game and we didn't get the job done to win. You have to do those things fundamentally in order to be able to win."
Gailey's team sits one game in front of last-place Miami in the AFC East after being tied with New England atop the division standings at one point with five victories over its first seven games. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said it's hard and unfortunate to realize the team's current position after such a promising start, but has also been one of the reasons for the decline. He has thrown seven interceptions and just six touchdown passes during the skid.
Buffalo will play two straight home games after visiting San Diego and will close out the regular season on the road against New England.
San Diego has a 20-10-2 lead in its all-time series with Buffalo during the regular season, but the Bills were 23-14 winners when the teams last squared off back in 2008, which took place at Ralph Wilson Stadium. The Chargers had bested Buffalo two straight times prior to that loss, including a 48-10 rout in 2005 in the Bills' most recent visit to San Diego. Buffalo also suffered a 24-21 home loss to the Bolts in 2006 and is 0-4 at Qualcomm Stadium since a 28-27 decision there on Dec. 6, 1981.
The Bills and Chargers have also met three times in postseason play. Buffalo defeated San Diego in both the 1964 and 1965 AFL Championship Games, the second of which was held in San Diego, while the Chargers registered a 20-14 win over the Bills at Qualcomm Stadium in a 1980 AFC Divisional Playoff.
Turner is 2-3 against Buffalo over the course of his head coaching career, with only the 2008 result coming during his tenure with the Chargers. His Oakland Raiders topped the Bills in both the 2004 and '05 seasons, while Turner's two other losses occurred while at the helm of Washington from 1994-2000. Gailey has never faced San Diego as a head coach but sports a 4-0 record in head-to-head bouts with Turner, with his Dallas Cowboys sweeping season sets from Turner's Redskins in both 1998 and 1999.
WHEN THE BILLS HAVE THE BALL
Fitzpatrick (2837 passing yards, 20 TD, 14 INT) has produced a rating of 100 or better only three times this season and is more than due for a breakout performance. He has eclipsed the 300-yard passing mark only once this season -- a Week 3 win over New England, but has not thrown an interception in two straight games and has four touchdown passes in that time. He is 163 passing yards shy of matching last year's career-high total of 3,000, and three scoring strikes away from tying his best output of 23 set in 2010. Buffalo is 15th overall in passing yards (228.3 ypg), but is averaging just 13.4 points during the recent slide -- 16.7 fewer than the opening seven weeks. Wideout Stevie Johnson (59 receptions, 6 TD) had five catches for 52 yards and a score in the loss to Tennessee and has hauled in a touchdown pass in consecutive weeks. He can stretch the field with the best of them and is aiming to record back-to- back 1,000-yard campaigns as well. Tight end Scott Chandler (35 receptions, 6 TD) needs one more touchdown grab for the most at his position in franchise history, but is unlikely to play this week due to an ankle injury. He is tied with Pete Metzelaars and Jay Riemersma for the team tight-end record in that category. Running back C.J. Spiller (253 rushing yards, 2 TD) has been filling in admirably for the injured Fred Jackson and should experience progress against the Chargers' defense. He is coming off his first career game of over 100 all-purpose yards.
The Chargers' defense is led by starting linebacker and leading tackler Takeo Spikes (85 tackles), who played for the Bills from 2003-06 and led the team with nine stops on Monday night. The ferocious Spikes may not have Donald Butler (78 tackles) alongside him in this one, however, as the second-year pro is nursing a foot injury this week. Butler made eight tackles and deflected a pass against the Jaguars and is second on the team in stops. San Diego should expect a lot of plays from Spiller between the tackles and catching passes out of the backfield this week, as the Chargers are only 26th in run defense (131.7 ypg). Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (29 tackles) leads the team with six sacks, but didn't have one in Jacksonville. Backup defensive linemen Tommie Harris (10 tackles) and Cam Thomas (14 tackles) each had one on Jaguars rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert, however, and hope to have similar success against Buffalo's offensive line. Fitzpatrick can air out when given enough time and will match up with Chargers talented safety Eric Weddle (70 tackles, 6 INT), who is tied for second in the NFL with six interceptions and posted his first pick in six weeks against Jacksonville. Cornerbacks Antoine Cason (41 tackles) and Quentin Jammer (35 tackles) are also main pieces in San Diego's No. 6 rated pass defense.
WHEN THE CHARGERS HAVE THE BALL
The Chargers finally got their offense back in gear against the lowly Jaguars and kept themselves alive in the AFC playoff picture on Monday. Rivers (3505 passing yards, 19 TD, 17 INT) has been sensational in December over his career, owning a 21-2 record, 43 touchdown passes and a 102.6 passer rating. He said he still hasn't put a complete game together this season, even though he completed 22 of his 28 attempts on against Jacksonville. Rivers played behind a makeshift offensive line for the fourth consecutive game, but was not sacked for the second time in three weeks. The good protection in Jacksonville allowed San Diego to avoid extending its longest losing streak since a dreadful 0-9 clip to finish the 2001 campaign. Starting guards Louis Vasquez and Tyronne Green were back in action after both players missed each of the previous two weeks with injuries, and the duo helped Rivers claim his season-best 146.1 rating. Wide receiver Malcolm Floyd (23 receptions, 2 TD) had missed four games with a hip injury before returning to post a season-high 108 yards and a touchdown on four receptions Monday night. Floyd is a dangerous weapon, and having him back in the lineup only makes wideout Vincent Jackson (48 receptions, 897 yards, 8 TD) and tight end Antonio Gates (46 receptions, 4 TD) better. Running back Ryan Mathews (829 rushing yards, 4 TD) is on pace for his first 1,000-yard season and has posted 100-plus yards rushing in consecutive weeks.
Buffalo's defense has produced only two turnovers the past four weeks and had trouble stopping the run against the Titans. It is 24th against the rush this season, allowing 129.1 yards per game on the ground, and should expect a healthy dose of Mathews this weekend. The Bills have been plagued by injuries on both sides of the ball and linebacker Nick Barnett (97 tackles, 3 sacks) said there are "drastic differences" because of all the depletions. Barnett leads the team in tackles and will be a key component in stopping San Diego's offense. Since the Chargers enjoy airing it out on a week-to-week basis, the Bills hope strong safety George Wilson (79 tackles, 4 INT) is healthy enough to help stop that from happening Sunday. He is still recovering from a neck stinger suffered in Week 10 and was able to return to practice this week. Wilson leads the team with four interceptions and cornerback Drayton Florence (38 tackles, 3 INT), an ex-Charger, is second with three picks. Nose tackle Marcell Dareus (30 tackles, 4 sacks) leads the team in sacks, while Barnett is second with three after having one in the loss to the Titans. Florence and cornerback Leodis McKelvin (34 tackles, 1 INT) will have to slow down Vincent Jackson, Floyd and Gates quite often Sunday.
KEYS TO THE GAME
The Bills are making their only trip to the West Coast this weekend, and the cross-country flight could play a role in the game's outcome. Linebacker Kirk Morrison said it will give the team more rest since it's like playing a 4 p.m. (et) game back in Orchard Park, but Buffalo will still have to prove it can handle a long trek and knock off a San Diego squad coming off of a short week.
Can Rivers continue his recent run of successful performances versus the Bills? That is the main question for the Chargers' offense, since the quarterback dictates how the ball is moved nearly 75 percent of the time. Rivers noted how Monday's win was a major morale boost and believes the energy should be greater on Sunday.
Buffalo could be in for a long afternoon, since its defense is slacking in most areas. The Bills are 19th in pass defense, 22nd in yards allowed, 24th against the run and 26th in points permitted. They are hoping to avoid six straight losses since opening the 2010 campaign with an 0-8 mark.
The Chargers may appear to have their act in order again, though another win Sunday over Buffalo may do little for their postseason aspirations. They would need a big collapse from both Denver and Oakland in the final four games of the season, while likely having to win out the rest of the way in order to make a case for the playoffs. The season is all but finished for the Bills after the way they have been playing the past month or so, and facing Rivers this week will be their death knell. Containing the run has also been a problem for Buffalo, so this could be another 100-yard performance for Mathews.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 26, Bills 13
12/08 17:37:49 ET