The Chargers are essentially looking at a must-win game in late October. If they lose, they’ll drop to 2–5, which would continue their worst start in four seasons under coach Norv Turner. The Chargers’ saving grace is that they play in the weak AFC West. The only time the Patriots have lost to the Chargers in the last three games between the teams was in 2008, when Matt Cassel replaced the injured Tom Brady. New England eliminated the Chargers from the playoffs in 2006 and ’07. The Patriots are coming off a big overtime win against the Baltimore Ravens and would love to pull into a tie atop the AFC East with the idle New York Jets.
Keys for th Chargers
• Hope that tight end Antonio Gates can play. Gates sprained a toe early in the lackluster 20–17 loss to the St. Louis Rams last Sunday and didn’t return. With wide receiver Malcom Floyd also out, Philip Rivers struggled. Turner believes Gates has a better chance to play than Floyd, but it could come down to a game-time decision.
• Strive for balance. The Chargers’ running game has been an afterthought as Rivers piles up passing yards. The Chargers say it’s because they’ve fallen behind early on the road. It could be that rookie running back Ryan Mathews is still nursing the ankle he sprained in the home opener against Jacksonville five weeks ago. Whatever the reason, the Chargers haven’t just strapped it on and gone after opponents on the ground like they did under Marty Schottenheimer.
Keys for the Patriots
• Will a $50,000 fine tone down safety Brandon Meriweather play? Meriweather was dinged for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore’s Todd Heap, one of several hits around the league last Sunday that caused the NFL to dole out fines and threaten suspensions for such dangerous play. Meriweather apologized for the hit and said he’d play within the rules.
• Brandon Tate and Patrick Chung on special teams. Tate is one of two players who’ve returned two kickoffs for touchdowns this year. The other player, Leon Washington, returned two kickoffs for TDs against the Chargers in the second half of Seattle’s victory against San Diego on Sept. 26. The Chargers have struggled in special teams play all season, and their various units are still in flux due to injuries and players moving into starting roles. Chung blocked two kicks against Miami on Oct. 4, the night Tate had his second kickoff return for a TD of the season in a 41–14 Patriots victory.
The Chargers aren’t playing well in any phase, and it’s been five years since they beat Brady. Their only wins have been against Jacksonville and Arizona. The Patriots are much better than those teams. Patriots 30–17.