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NFL Preview - Oakland (4-11) at San Diego (6-9)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A hard-hit taken last weekend will cause Oakland Raiders starting quarterback Carson Palmer to miss the final game of the season.
Whoever is under center this Sunday could also be in for a long day as Oakland visits San Diego in what could be the final game for Norv Turner as head coach of the Chargers.
The 6-9 Chargers are guaranteed their first losing season since going 4-12 under Marty Schottenheimer in 2003 and Turner's struggles this season, factored into his inability to get San Diego a Super Bowl title, have led to speculation that he will not be back next season.
"I'm not giving it a lot of thought. Obviously there's a lot of speculation that way and I know that there are people who assume that," Turner said on Monday. "As I said to our team probably four or five weeks ago, this is really an outstanding group of people. Put aside what they are as football players. I enjoy being around these guys a great deal. ... We're playing a division rival in the Raiders so we just have to get everything that we can out of this week with each other and we'll just see what happens."
San Diego's defense seemed to have some fun last weekend in a 27-17 win over the New York Jets, matching a club record with 11 sacks. Rookie defensive end Kendall Reyes had 3 1/2 of those, the most by a first-year Charger since Leslie O'Neal racked up five in 1986.
"I've never been a part of a team that had 11 sacks. The most I've ever seen has been six, maybe seven," veteran linebacker Takeo Spikes told San Diego's website.
Micheal Spurlock returned a punt 63 yards for a score less than two minutes into the game and Philip Rivers threw a pair of touchdown passes for San Diego, which has won two of three following a setback in four straight.
One of Rivers' scoring throws went to tight end Antonio Gates. who passed Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for the most touchdown catches in club history.
The Chargers hope to dial up the pressure again this weekend against a Raiders team that was bested by the Carolina Panthers 17-6 last weekend.
Oakland gained just 189 yards of offense, 47 on the ground, one week after snapping a six-game slide with a 15-0 blanking of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Carson Palmer left in the first quarter following a blindside hit and will miss this weekend's game due to cracked ribs and a bruised lung. Matt Leinart replaced Palmer and threw for 115 yards with an interception.
Terrelle Pryor also saw some time on the field, catching a pass for 22 yards, running for another two yards and completing a five-yard pass.
Head coach Dennis Allen did not announced whether it would be Leinart or Pryor starting the finale, though both will get practice with the first team this week.
"Our plan right now is to work both of them this week and then we'll see how practice goes and then later in the week we'll be ready to name a starter," he said.
The Chargers have won two straight over the Raiders, including a season- opening 22-14 win in Oakland on Sept. 10. It was their 15th victory in the last 18 encounters in this series.
The Raiders have won two straight in San Diego and are aiming to match their longest winning streak at Qualcomm Stadium.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Rivers is looking to build momentum for next season and has six touchdown passes to zero interceptions over his last three games. He is 45 passing yards shy of becoming the first Charger in team history to pass for at least 3,500 in five straight seasons.
His 34-yard scoring strike to Gates in the third quarter gave the tight end 82 in his career and six this season. Gates notched at least eight scoring receptions in seven straight seasons from 2004-2010, but his 14 games played this season is his highest total since 2009.
"Obviously it's a record that he's been working on since he got here years ago and I like I always say, to be able to do something at the level he's done it for an extended period of time is impressive," Tuner said of Gates. "When you see him out there running full speed the way he is now, you kind of forget the things that he's gone through the last few years to overcome and get back to this point. It was a tough road there for a while with the toe and the foot situation he had."
Gates has 10 career touchdowns versus the Raiders.
Reyes has just two sacks heading into last weekend's game before exploding, while linebacker Shaun Phillips had 2 1/2 to give him 9 1/2 on the season.
Defensive end Corey Liuget added two sacks versus the Jets to give him a career-best seven this season and earn some praise from Turner.
"(Reyes) and Corey Liuget are two guys who have gotten better as this year has gone along and I think that they've shown that they're going to be outstanding players in this league for a long time," the coach said. "I think that our guys did a great job taking care of what they could control, going out and playing the best they could and finding a way to get a win on the road."
Oakland will limp into this game with some uncertainty under center.
Leinart, a former first-round pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2006, got the majority of work last weekend in place of Palmer, who completed his three passes for 31 yards. Despite the injury, he joined Rich Gannon as the only Oakland quarterbacks in team history to pass for 4,000 in a single season.
Should Leinart get the call this weekend, it will be only his fifth appearance since the start of the 2010 campaign and third start since he made five in 2007 with the Cardinals.
"Well I mean that's his first extended action in a regular season game in a long time, so I'm sure there was a little bit of rust there," Allen said of Leinart after Sunday's loss. "At the end of the day, when you lose your starting quarterback, there's a lot of other guys that have to step up and we didn't have enough guys that made enough plays for us offensively."
Pryor, meanwhile, has yet to make an NFL start since the Raiders took him in the third round of the supplemental draft in 2011 and has thrown only two passes at the pro level.
Despite the injury to Palmer, Pryor got about as much work as was anticipated.
"Well that was kind of the plan going into the game, how we used Terrelle in the game," Allen said. "That was really what the plan was. We used the same plays with Matt in there that we had planned. But we had it planned out for Terrelle and Carson to be in there at the same time."
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had just two catches on six targets versus the Panthers, but did haul in a career-high nine receptions for 130 yards on Jan. 1 against the Chargers in last season's finale.
Rookie linebacker Miles Burris posted the first interception of his career last weekend for the Raiders, while defensive tackle Desmond Bryant has 2 1/2 sacks in his last three games.
Rivers has had a lot of success in the month of December, going 25-5 as a starter during the month with 54 touchdown passes and 16 interceptions.
On top of that, he is 10-3 in his career as a starter versus the Raiders and will be going up against Oakland's 22nd-ranked pass attack.
Allen noted after last weekend's loss to the Panthers that his team needs to run the ball better, but San Diego ranks fourth against the run, yielding just 95.1 yards per game, and will dare Oakland's quarterbacks to make plays.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 20, Raiders 17
12/27 13:28:55 ET
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