Dangerous curves ahead

The Chargers head into the meat of their schedule with two tough road games. But the one that lurks ahead remains fit with peril. A road win will do wonders for a team aspiring to do great things.

Philip Rivers looks at Sunday and sees a dangerous team. Never mind the fading Bengals have lost four of their past five to squander a 3-0 start.

"We're not far off of it," Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis said. "We're going to have some fun. We're going to get back to winning football games. This is the start of it right now. We have an opportunity to set our sail and do good things. We're not that far off. We weren't that good when we were 3-0 and we're not that bad at 4-4. And so we're just going to keep on playing.

The Bengals were a trendy Super Bowl pick at the season's beginning, based on their playoff run from last year. But the team is two games behind the surprising Ravens in the AFC North and could have their season slip away with a home loss on Sunday.

That's why Rivers - and the rest of the Chargers - are approaching this weekend's game as if the Bengals are 8-0 instead of looking like the Bungles of years past.

"Cincinnati is obviously coming off a tough couple of losses in a row and they're at home and they're going to be ready to go," Rivers said.

Ditto the Chargers - the ready to go part, anyway.

"We're kind of in a stage where we're getting back on a roll and we need to keep it going," said Rivers, who is 6-2 in his first year as a starter. "We need to win a tough game on the road."

"Every game is huge in this league," Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer added. "And as the season goes on, the games get bigger, whether you're playing a team that's 2-6 or 6-2, it doesn't matter. Wins become more critical. You need to win, especially when you're playing a division opponent or a conference opponent. But as the season progresses, the games definitely get bigger. And when you lose, like we have the last couple of weeks, wins become more important to get."

The Chargers have yet to win an away game outside California. Their two road wins came at Oakland and San Francisco. They've dropped contests at Baltimore and Kansas City.

What the team hopes for is their players quit dropping. At one point Sunday, all four linebacker positions were manned by second-stringers because of injuries and a suspension. The backups - Carlos Polk, Tim Dobbins, Stephen Cooper, Matt Wilhelm - played well.

But the Chargers know they need to be as close to full-strength as possible to defeat the Bengals and leave with the Ohio state championship after beating the Browns last Sunday.

"We've got a real challenge ahead of us," coach Marty Schottenheimer said.

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