"We don't not consider them a losing team," coach Dick Vermeil emphasized Wednesday. "We think of them as a championship team -- they won our division and beat us twice, embarrassingly so in the last game of our season when they played a bunch of backups. And they won't be a losing team by the end of the year. They'll win more games than they lose.
"We just don't want them to start with us."
Vermeil, in fact, is still smarting from the 24-17 loss his team absorbed in its finale at Qualcomm last year when the Chargers didn't play Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson and several other key players while resting them for the impending playoffs.
"We went out and played what I thought was the worst game we played all year," he said. "That still hangs in my memory. I don't anticipate our team being in that frame of mind or playing like that again."
Kansas City will have no excuse not to play better in this first of two games against the defending division champs.
First of all, the Chiefs have everything to play for this time -- something they couldn't say last Jan. 2 when they were playing out the string of a 7-9 season. Losses last week by division leader Denver and the Chargers put the 4-2 Chiefs in the thick of the hunt, just one-half game (and a tiebreaker) behind the Broncos. The Chiefs would like nothing better than to put another game between themselves and the Chargers, a team they truly respect.
Secondly, the Chiefs should be well prepared for this fifth road game in seven starts this year.
The whirlwind preparations that culminated in last Friday's victory in Miami, moved forward two days to beat the arrival of Hurricane Wilma in south Florida, meant the Chiefs had a mini-bye -- a three-day weekend, at least -- plus an additional day of preparation for the Chargers. The Chiefs need to take the momentum they gained in winning at Miami in an abbreviated work week and use it to steal another game on the road in San Diego.
"Friday night's performance was more indicative of the kind of team that we want to become in the second part of the season," Vermeil said. "Our defense has shown steady improvement -- maybe not in overall ranking (29th), but in some critical areas (like forcing turnovers). And our (ninth-ranked) offense is starting to ascend."
SERIES HISTORY: This is the 90th regular-season meeting between the two teams. The Chiefs lead 47-41 in regular-season meetings, but lost 34-31 on a late Nate Kaeding field goal last year in Arrowhead and 24-17 last January in Qualcomm.
It was near the end of the preseason when Dick Vermeil put kicker Lawrence Tynes on notice, saying he was "in the tank" and in danger of losing the job he'd held only one year.
This week, Tynes justified what little faith Vermeil had in him by being named the AFC's special teams player of the week after kicking career-long field goals of 51 and 52 yards on a hot, wet, muggy south Florida night.
"You've just got to weather the storm," Tynes said of riding out the bad stretch when it appeared his head coach didn't believe in him. "It's an up-and-down down league. You'll go crazy if you keep beating yourself down if you miss a kick."
Working with a new holder, rookie punter Dustin Colquitt, set Tynes back in training camp and the preseason when Vermeil began to lose his patience. The two have since worked through any problems they had then when Colquitt was doing the first extensive holding of his career.
"I knew we would get through it, it was just a matter of time," Tynes said. "Obviously I would have liked to kick better in preseason. I just didn't. But when it counted I've done my job, and that's the important thing."
Added Vermeil: "I think every kicker goes through some real lows in his career, especially getting started. Sometimes he goes through two or three poor periods within the first couple of years. The good ones I've been around go through a barrier, and when they break through that barrier they start becoming what they had the ability to be all along because they gained confidence and self-esteem.
"I'd like to believe that Lawrence went through that barrier the other night (in Miami). He kicked himself through it. I believe because he's been patient and we have been patient (really?) that eventually he'll ascend to being one of the leading kickers in the league."
With an extra day of preparation following their Friday night game in Miami, the Chiefs essentially took the opportunity to rest rather than work. They had three days of regular practice -- albeit it on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday -- while doing their regular Saturday morning pre-game walkthrough on Friday before flying to San Diego on Saturday.
The last six Chiefs-Chargers games at Qualcomm have all been decided by seven points or less, with two one-point decisions coming in that time.
Winning in San Diego seems to be a leading indicator of Kansas City's chances for making the playoffs. In the team's 13 seasons of post-season appearances, they won in San Diego in 11 of them.
The Chiefs are coming off a season-high 462 yards total offense in their win over Miami.
BY THE NUMBERS:
5 of 6 - The number of times the Chiefs have shut out an opponent in the first quarter of games this year.
7 - The number of playoff appearances the Chiefs made in 10 seasons under current Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer.
1 - The number of playoff appearances the Chiefs have made in six seasons since his departure.
19 - The league-high number of fumbles the Chiefs defense has forced this year.
8 - The number of fumbles the Chiefs recovered.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "One thing I always tell another running back is, be careful what you ask for. To be a starting running back in this league means a lot of sacrifice on your body. The wear-and-tear will (affect) anybody. I believe it's a warrior position, and you have to decide early in your life whether you want to make that sacrifice. I made that decision, and I'm happy about where I'm at right now." -- Priest Holmes, on the pounding he's taken over nine NFL seasons and why at age 32 he's not unhappy to be playing in a rotation with younger runner Larry Johnson.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL:
With starting WR Samie Parker expected to miss the San Diego game with a sprained medial collateral ligament, the Chiefs will start Dante Hall at the X receiver position, but will alternate Marc Boerigter and Chris Horn in there with regularity.
The Chiefs were concerned a year ago when Hall started in three of the first four weeks that all the reps he took in regular offense wore him down and rendered him less effective in the return game. Hall agreed that not all went the way he hoped when given more of a role in regular offense -- "Be careful what you wish for," he said -- but he thinks he's better prepared to handle it now.
"Last year the amount of the additional load (affected me), but this year we're doing a better job of rotating fresh receivers in and out of the lineup," Hall said. "It really doesn't matter who we start on that side opposite Eddie (Kennison) because we're going to be playing a lot of guys there. It's all part of the plan to keep guys as fresh as possible for the end of games, especially since most games are so close these days. That's one way you can get an edge."
Playing in a rotation with Boerigter -- injured and unavailable last year -- and Horn, the threesome makes one nice replacement. Against Miami, Hall (who had 39 yards on three catches), Boerigter (2-34) and Horn (1-50) combined for six receptions for 123 yards.
CB Eric Warfield, who didn't get a real good test in his first start this year against Miami last week, will start a second straight game against San Diego this week. Warfield spent one game on the inactive list following his return from a four-game league suspension to open the season. His return to the starting lineup was precipitated by an injury to replacement starter Dexter McCleon, but the Chiefs would probably have made the change eventually.
CB Dexter McCleon, who will miss a second straight game with a groin strain, hasn't necessarily been written off as a starter when he does get healthy. But even as coach Dick Vermeil continues to laud the abilities of a 32-year-old corner whose best days are behind him -- "He's lined up and started in two Super Bowls. He's been there and done it. If something goes wrong - 'Hey, we beat corners from time to time, too,'" Vermeil said -- McCleon's role upon his return likely would be that of a backup.
TE Tony Gonzalez may have caught 14 passes for a team single-game record last year in the season finale at San Diego, but that was because the Chiefs were making a conscious effort to get him the ball in a successful attempt to set an NFL record for single-season receptions by a tight end (102).
T Willie Roaf missed a Tuesday workout while resting the sore hamstring that sidelined him for 3 3/4 games, but he participated fully in Wednesday's practice. The Chiefs did not find it necessary to include him on the injury list.
DT John Browning, a veteran battling back and knee problems all season, missed practices on Tuesday and Wednesday, but the Chiefs hoped to have him available Thursday.
The Chiefs say they aren't reluctant to pit their ninth-ranked running game against the Chargers' second-ranked rush defense, and they will need to at least establish the threat of a run behind Priest Holmes (90 yards against Miami's solid run D) and Larry Johnson (93 last week) to lend credence to Trent Green's play-action passing game. But with injuries in the Chargers secondary to Sammie Davis and Drayton Florence, Green will challenge the league's 29th-ranked pass defense all over the field with a variety of receivers. He threw to nine different ones in the win over Miami.
Defensively, the Chiefs will find it difficult to play eight in the box in an attempt to limit LaDainian Tomlinson and contend with TE Antonio Gates. Drew Brees will want to challenge Kansas City's 30th-ranked pass defense down the field, especially if the Chiefs are keeping both safeties back.
KEY MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Chargers TE Antonio Gates vs. Chiefs LB's Derrick Johnson and Kendrell Bell. Because KC would like to keep SS Sammy Knight down low to limit Tomlinson's effectiveness, linebackers could loom large in dealing with Gates as he lines up all over the field. A third corner also may have to be utilized here. The Chiefs will have to provide over-the-top help, which means Knight or Greg Wesley will have their hands full dealing with Gates and WR's Keenan McCardell, Eric Parker and Reche Caldwell.
Chiefs G Brian Waters and Will Shields vs. Chargers ILB's Donnie Edwards and Randall Godfrey. When they aren't helping chip on NT Jamal Williams as a means of helping out C Casey Wiegmann, KC's two Pro Bowl guards will be hunting targets on the second level. They're athletic enough to find them, too.
DT Ryan Sims remains out with an injured foot.
WR Samie Parker (knee) is expected to miss a second straight game.
CB Dexter McCleon (groin) is more doubtful than his official questionable designation.
DT John Browning (knee) is truly questionable after missing workouts Tuesday and Wednesday. If he can practice Thursday, as the Chiefs hope, he'll play.
Backup S Jerome Woods (questionable, hamstring) was able to do a little work Wednesday after sitting out Tuesday's practice.
T Kevin Sampson (questionable) doesn't appear ready to play after missing almost two weeks of practice while recovering from complications of dehydration.
Chargers Anything But a Losing Team
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