KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones; DirecTV, 709
SERIES: 20th meeting. The Chargers lead the series over the Cleveland Browns, 11-7-1. The two teams played last year, also at Cleveland, and the Chargers won 26-20. It was the first win of the year for the Chargers, after opening with five losses. The Chargers led 23-6 before finally holding on for the win.
2004 RANKINGS: Chargers: offense 10th (6th rush, 19th pass); defense 14th (1st rush, 30th pass). Browns: offense 27th (27th rush, 23rd pass); defense 21st (31st rush, 10th pass)
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Chargers' biggest concern is getting motivated to play an opponent mired in a deep tailspin. Coach Marty Schottenheimer has vowed his team will be up to face the Browns, who will give rookie QB Luke McCown his third consecutive start. Cleveland hopes RB Lee Suggs can return to provide more of a running presence than William Green has of late. Green has struggled behind an offense line that hasn't produced many holes and will be going up against the league's top-ranked rush defense. If the Browns can't run the ball, McCown will have little chance to succeed because the line doesn't pass protect well, either. Offensively, the Chargers want to get the passing game back on track. WR Keenan McCardell might not play, but Eric Parker and Kassim Osgood have stepped up in recent games. And with RB LaDainian Tomlinson as healthy as he has been all season, the Chargers have good balance.
FAST FACTS: Chargers: Have held nine of their past 13 opponents under 100 rushing yards. ... Tomlinson has scored a touchdown in a team-record 10 consecutive games and is just three games shy of the NFL record held by John Riggins and George Rogers. Browns: Have used 31 different offensive line combinations in 93 games since re-entering the league in 1999.
PREDICTION: Chargers 23-13
- WR Keenan McCardell (hamstring) didn't
practice and remains questionable for Sunday. He was restricted to riding a
stationary bike. If he can't go, it means more playing time for Kassim
Osgood, and possibly, Bobby Shaw.
- RB Jesse Chatman (toe) didn't practice but
will probably go on Sunday.
- CB Sammy Davis (leg) didn't practice and
will not play on Sunday. Drayton Florence will replace him again on Sunday.
- WR Tim Dwight (toe) didn't practice. He is
questionable, but he has a good chance to go after not playing on Sunday. If
he can't play Chatman would return kicks.
- RB LaDainian Tomlinson could be headed for a big day on Sunday. He rushed for 200 yards in last year's visit to Cleveland and the Browns are ranked No. 31 against the run. Tomlinson has rushed for 100 yards in three of his last four games.
- FS Chris Crocker will miss his second
straight game with a bruised biceps. Earl Little will start instead.
- DB Michael Lehan will be sidelined for the
third straight game with a pulled hamstring.
- RB Lee Suggs practiced the last two days and
plans to play against the Chargers. He missed three straight games with a
- C Craig Osika was signed to backup Melvin Fowler, but Osika is not in playing shape and probably couldn't play more
than 10 plays, coach Terry Robiskie said.
- DE Kenard Lang said the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson, whom the Browns face Sunday, is the best running back in the NFL. Last year Tomlinson rushed for 200 yards against the Browns.
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
It'll be interesting to see how tight end Antonio Gates bounces back on Sunday.
Gates burst onto the scene with 11 touchdown receptions. But in the last two games, Gates has four catches 48 yards.
What's the difference?
Gates is no longer a secret weapon. Defensive coordinators are game-planning against him. They are jamming him at the line of scrimmage, which is knocking him off his routes.
"If I continue to work hard, do the things I need to do," Gates said. "I think one day I can be pretty good."
Gates, though, isn't in a funk. On the contrary, he would just as soon talk about his run-blocking and other aspects of his game.
That's Gates. Despite his success, his helmet size hasn't changed. He remains the low-key, hardworking, guy who stunned the NFL earlier this season.
He heads to Cleveland on Sunday, facing a team
which surrendered a second-round pick to snag tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr.
While Winslow is out with an injury, Gates is putting the hurt -- although
he's coming off two down games -- on most other teams.
The Browns are putting newly acquired quarterback Josh Harris through a crash course in practice this week just in case rookie starter Luke McCown is injured Sunday while playing against the Chargers.
Harris was signed Tuesday from the Ravens practice squad because Jeff Garcia was placed on injured reserve with a torn left knee ligament.
Harris could go into the game as the No. 2 quarterback because Kelly Holcomb, who would be starting under normal circumstances, still has not healed from broken ribs sustained Nov. 28 in Cincinnati when he was hit by Bengals end Justin Smith.
Holcomb threw during practice Wednesday and Thursday. He said he can throw without much pain, but he is concerned about taking a hit on the injured ribs. Plus, he said breathing is difficult in the cold weather, and the forecast high for Cleveland Sunday is 23 degrees.
Harris, listed as 6-feet-1, was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round from Bowling Green last April. He could have remained on the Ravens practice squad, but he chose to sign with the Browns. The difference is about $9,000 a week in salary. Plus, the Browns keep his rights and their quarterback situation for next year is uncertain.
Coach Terry Robiskie said Harris has studied the offense diligently and picked things up quickly in practice Wednesday and Thursday. Robiskie said he knew Harris was intelligent because the Browns had him in for a pre-draft workout last spring.
"I'd be as comfortable as I could be if I had to play Sunday," Harris said. "Obviously the plan would be condensed a little bit. Guys would have to make plays, but ultimately it's football."