Chargers Turn Attention to Raiders

San Diego is on a three-game slide, but the team's slump actually began four games ago in Oakland when the Raiders were a play away from upsetting the Chargers. The teams meet again this Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium and both are absolutely desperate for a victory. (Photo by Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports)

The Chargers are used to playing must-win games in the second half of the season.

A season ago, San Diego lost a tough game in Miami that many had pegged as a must-win. But the Chargers rallied to win five of their final six games, snapping a three-year playoff drought. Fast forward to this season and San Diego is coming off another devastating loss in Miami that dropped the Chargers in the standings; if the playoffs started today, the Bolts would be on the outside looking in.

"I promise you we're going to get this thing back on track," Head Coach Mike McCoy said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

The turn-around must start Sunday against the Raiders. Oakland is coming off a tough loss of its own, a 41-17 loss to the Broncos, and is still seeking its first win of the season. The closest it came to victory was in Week 6 versus the Chargers, when the Raiders led 28-21 with less than six minutes remaining before San Diego rallied for a 31-28 win.

Jason Verrett sealed San Diego's fifth consecutive win by intercepting fellow rookie Derek Carr on Oakland's final drive. But Verrett will not be there to save the day in the rematch, instead shelved by a shoulder injury. The Chargers, however, should get a boost by the expected return of another rookie, OLB Jerry Attaochu. San Diego's pass rush has been sorely lacking the last few weeks, so Attaochu's speed and explosiveness should provide a spark.

Also expected to return is Ryan Mathews, who will split carries with Branden Oliver as Mathews makes his way back from a knee injury. He has been practicing this week and is expected to go without restrictions against the Raiders. The last time Mathews was healthy enough to face Oakland (Week 16 last season), he finished with 119 yards from scrimmage and a touchdown in 26-13 Chargers victory.

McCoy is confident Mathews will hit the ground running once he returns, despite missing the last nine weeks.

"It's not a concern to me one bit," McCoy said. "I have all the confidence in the world in Ryan and the success he'll have when he comes back."

The verdict is still out on the availability of Melvin Ingram (who is eligible to return from temporary IR this week) and Manti Te'o (foot injury). Regardless, injuries can no longer be used as a crutch. This team has operated for weeks with the idea: "Just make it until the bye week and get healthy." The bye is officially over now, and so too the excuses must be.

Bolts backers used to believe the twice-a-year collisions with the Raiders were the only games that mattered. Now -- with the AFC boasting 11 teams with at least five wins -- the Chargers must best their division rivals for the second time in 36 days or the rest of their games will really be meaningless.

Can the Chargers get back into the playoff race? Discuss in the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the team. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 18 years and covered the team since '03. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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