KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET
TV: CBS, Gus Johnson, Brent Jones
SERIES: 7th meeting. The Chargers trail in the series, 5-1. This will be only the Chargers' second game at the Georgia Dome. They fell in their previous visit, 10-9, with Gale Gilbert getting the start at quarterback. The Chargers' lone win in the series came at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in 1988, by a 10-7 score. In the teams' last meeting the Chargers lost, 14-3, at San Diego in 1997.
*2004 rankings: Chargers: offense 17th (6th rush, 21st pass); defense 24th (3rd rush, 30th pass). Falcons: offense 23rd (1st rush, 31st pass); defense 8th (1st rush, 18th pass).
KEYS TO THE GAME: Something has to give with the Chargers defense, which hasn't allowed an opponent to rush for 100 yards in three consecutive games, going up against the league's No. 1 rushing offense. DT Jamal Williams has been holding up the middle of the Chargers' new 3-4 alignment, which was installed by coordinator Wade Phillips, who was fired by the Falcons last year. The Falcons certainly won't abandon their running game, but they will have to mix in more of a vertical passing attack in order to move the ball. Atlanta's defense has indeed been better off without Phillips, and has allowed just five touchdowns in 15 red-zone possessions. But the Chargers suddenly aren't all about RB LaDainian Tomlinson. QB Drew Brees is playing with increased confidence and TE Antonio Gates is an emerging weapon with an AFC-high 13 third-down receptions.
FAST FACTS: Chargers: Tomlinson is fourth on the team's all-time list with 6,789 total yards. ... Their 72 points the past two games is their best two-game total since scoring 77 in the final two games in 1993. Falcons: Lead the series 5-1. ... Have allowed just 16 combined points in the second halves of their past four games.
PREDICTION: Falcons 20-16
INSIDE THE CAMPS:
The Chargers' biggest star chilled on Thursday.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson didn't practice again for the second straight day, with the Chargers preparing for Sunday's game with the Falcons.
"I'm cool," said Tomlinson, who is nursing a sore groin.
Coach Marty Schottenheimer seconded that assessment, saying Tomlinson will play for the third week. But he could be at less than full strength.
Last Thursday, Tomlinson was able to go after skipping Wednesday's session. But on this Thursday, Tomlinson's work was restricted to doing drills with the training staff.
It should be noted that he did return to practice on Friday and participated in a full load.
Another concern is backup Jesse Chatman was out again Thursday. He was fit going into last week's game, and was able to rush for 100 yards and a touchdown when Tomlinson pulled himself from the game in the fourth quarter.
The Chargers will likely need a fit Tomlinson and Chatman, as they are facing the NFL's No. 1 run defense in Atlanta.
When the Falcons (4-1) play the Chargers (3-2) Sunday, Atlanta will see a 3-4 defense for the first time this season. The home team will face a much different offense than it has seen, too.
San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson may be the best running back in the business. He's awfully effective as a receiver, too. He has caught 15 passes, a drop in production compared with his first three seasons, when he caught 59, 79 and 100 passes. The Chargers are especially effective with their screen passes.
"A big part of it is who you're throwing the ball to," said Falcons middle linebacker Chris Draft. "If you throw it to a guy who can make plays then it makes everybody else around you look better. In terms of a West Coast offense, you always try to get the ball to people quick so they have space so they can run. So some of the screens they have a quick."
On the other side of the ball, center Todd McClure said the Falcons have an idea what to look for in San Diego's defense. They practiced the past two seasons against Chargers defensive coordinator Wade Phillips' 3-4 scheme when he ran it in Atlanta.
"They're all over the field," McClure said. "There are some little things, talking to some other guys and coaches on defense who were under Wade (in Atlanta) . . . some little things that help you out. But ultimately, it's getting out there and knowing your assignments ... and then executing."
RB LaDainian Tomlinson did not go on Thursday as he rested a sore groin but was back on the field on Friday. He will be ready for action on Sunday but Jesse Chatman could also get some carries despite a toe injury that held him out of Thursday's action.
DE Adrian Dingle is still having problems with his knee. Despite working out, the knee has been weak and there is concern that he would not be able to last through a full game. Coach Schottenheimer has all but ruled him out of playing this Sunday. Jacques Cesaire will get the start in his place.
DE DeQuincy Scott (knee) has practiced all week, but he's wearing a brace and not moving all that well.
WR/KR Tim Dwight (toe) returned to practice on Friday and will take the field Sunday. He may be limited to returning kickoffs and punts.
LB Steve Foley (knee) will go Sunday; he didn't work Thursday.
LB Donnie Edwards (hip) returned to practice after skipping Wednesday.
C Nick Hardwick (knee) returned to practice, but he probably won't play this week. He'll likely be active the following Sunday in Charlotte. Jason Ball will get the nod at center for the second straight week and it will be interesting to see what they do next week with both players healthy.
S Terrence Kiel (ribs) is fine.
CB Jason Webster, who missed the Falcons' game last Sunday against the Lions and practice Wednesday with a sprained right knee, returned to practice Thursday. He landed on the ground a few times, got knocked around a little bit, and said, "It felt good out there." Barring a setback Friday, Webster will re-enter the starting lineup when the Falcons play the Chargers Sunday.
LB Keith Brooking, who leads the Falcons with 38 combined tackles and assists, on Thursday was downgraded from probable to questionable after missing his second straight practice with a strained hamstring. Although he said he thought the likelihood of playing Sunday against the Chargers is, "good," Brooking was uncharacteristically brief with a reporter. If Brooking were to miss his first game since missing the final 11 games of the 2000 season with a torn ligament in his left foot, rookie Demorrio Williams, the Falcons' fourth-round pick out of Nebraska would start. Coach Jim Mora said, "He'll practice (Friday) so I don't think that's going to be a problem at all."
LB Chris Draft missed his second straight practice for the Falcons Thursday, but said his turf toe is a little better. He's still questionable on the injury report, and if he can't play, reserve Jamie Duncan, who has not been active since tearing a pectoral muscle Aug. 20, is ready for action.
DT Antwan Lake, who's been part of the Falcons' expansive D-line rotation, missed his second straight practice with a sprained ankle Thursday, and is not likely to play Sunday against the Chargers.
DT Cleveland Pinkney, who has not been active in a game this season since the Falcons claimed him off waivers from Tampa shortly before the season began, might be activated Sunday when the Falcons play the Chargers. Reserve DT Antwan Lake is going to miss the game with a sprained ankle.
DE Travis Hall missed his second straight practice with a sprained shoulder, and is still questionable on the Falcons' injury report.
DE Karon Riley, who's likely to be activated Sunday against the Chargers as Atlanta's backup DE if Travis Hall (sprained shoulder) can't play, missed practice Thursday with a stomach bug. He's on the injury report as probable, and coach Jim Mora anticipates him being available against San Diego.
FS Cory Hall continues to be bothered by his back, and he was limited yet again in practice Thursday by a muscle pull.
TE Darnell Sanders, who has not been active for an Atlanta game this season, might be in uniform Sunday against the Chargers because blocking TE Eric Beverly (dislocated right shoulder) will not play. Starting TE Alge Crumpler may handle a few more blocking responsibilities, but Sanders and reserve TE Dwayne Blakley are more likely to handle those chores.
Chargers at Falcons game snapshot
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