Opposites attract

The San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders opened the season with high aspirations. The Chargers were looking to build upon their eight win season and the Raiders were looking to go back to the Super Bowl, this time to win it all. Then the tailspin came and neither team responded to the pressure to succeed.

The Raiders age finally showed signs of catching up with them and the Chargers youth proved to difficult to overcome. Sprinkle in injuries and it was a situation that marked the downfall of both clubs heading into the final week of the regular season with both teams eliminated from playoff contention and into the top five worst teams in the league.

At the start of the season it would have been hard to believe if someone said that these two teams would be fighting for last place in the AFC West with 3-12 and 4-11 records.

Yet that is the position they find themselves in.

"This season has been disappointing for both of us," Drew Brees said. "Both teams had a lot of high expectations. This was a game that I looked to before the season as one that would probably determine who was going to be the AFC West champ. I'm sure Oakland looked the same way at it."

Brees has since rattled off a 1-10 record as a starter, in 2003 throwing 15 interceptions compared to just 10 touchdowns.

"The fact that we're both sitting here not where we want to be at all, I still think that it's a game that both of us would definitely like to win and are going to be up for, not just because it's a big rivalry game but both of us want to go into the offseason on a high note," added Brees.

The high note for the franchise would be knowing Brees is the answer at quarterback. That can't happen in just one game. He still would carry that 2-10 record into the offseason, with two of his last three games showing six turnovers by Brees plus any additional accumulated Sunday.

In Oakland, the speculation is age has finally showed up on the stat sheet.

Their team is not ready to commit to that.

"What's happening here has nothing to do with age," Tim Brown said. "We're making plays and things are still happening for us, it's just we're in a little different groove right now. We've had some injuries and we've had some guys not playing."

Injuries have been a huge factor for both teams. The Chargers lost their number two and three receivers, Eric Parker and Tim Dwight, and have lost many along the offensive line. The Raiders have lost a dozen players to injured reserve, similar to the Chargers woes. Eight were opening day starters.

"There was a point and time that injuries started to mount, and you are not the same team," said Callahan.

So it has nothing to do with age?

"I don't know," says Callahan. "Every year is so different. It changes throughout the year and after the season. That's to be determined by them.

"They know their own bodies well enough to know what they can and can't do. They're at an age where training and sophisticated methods have added to the years of a professional athlete. That's being pointed out several times over the course of professional athletics.

"This is a new realm we're in and we have guys of Jerry Rice's nature and Tim Brown's nature to extend their career. We're very fortunate. How long it lasts, I don't know, but God bless them. It's an unbelievable stretch they're in right now."

That stretch could be seeing the first signs of cramping up. On a 4-11 team, nothing is certain anymore.

Cynics among Raider fans wonder why so much emphasis is being placed on winning a meaningless finale. "I don't know why they do that," Callahan said of the cynic's view. "I guess it is from a fan perspective or from fantasy football land.

"My feeling is that we are a group of professionals trying to do our best. When we go out to compete, it is a serious game. We take pride in that. We want to play for each other and do the best we can in our preparation ... to put the best product out there."

It is more about the Chargers beating the Raiders. Any other game would not hold the same esteem this game has. To beat the Raiders in a season that has been disappointing is the one saving grace heading into the offseason.

Denis Savage can be reached at safage@cox.net

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