KICKOFF: Sunday, 4:15 p.m. ET
LOCATION: San Diego, CA
VENUE: Qualcomm Stadium
SURFACE: Natural Grass
TV: CBS, Jim Nantz, Phil Simms
PREDICTION: Patriots 38-28
KEYS TO THE GAME: The Patriots' offense didn't miss a beat minus WR Randy Moss last week, with QB Tom Brady spreading the field to his possession receivers even with deep threat Brandon Tate a nonfactor. San Diego's defense has been inconsistent in several areas, from interior run defense to the pass rush to coverage. The Patriots will move the ball. The question is, can Chargers QB Philip Rivers match Brady score for score? His arsenal could be significantly limited if WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and TE Antonio Gates (toe) can't go. Considering how Rivers' pass protection broke down last week, the Chargers would be wise to incorporate RB Ryan Mathews early on.
FAST FACTS: The Patriots are averaging an NFL-high 30.8 points per game. ... Rivers has thrown a touchdown pass in an NFL-high 19 consecutive games.
Good luck trying to figure out the Chargers, who, despite leading the league in total offense and defense, find themselves 2-4 as they welcome the red-hot Patriots to town.
The Chargers haven't won since Oct. 3 and are coming off a terrible road trip in which they lost back-to-back games to Oakland and St. Louis. Their wins have been offensive outbursts -- a 38-14 thrashing of Jacksonville and a 41-10 drubbing of Arizona -- and their losses have been close; they've yet to lose by more than eight points this season.
So, what gives? Part of the problem might be scheduling. The Chargers are 2-0 at home, but a woeful 0-4 on the road.
"We're playing them at (their) home, so I'm sure we're going to get their best," Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. "The times we played out there like in '06 was a battle, hard-fought game that we ended up winning. We lost to them in '08. They really beat us up pretty good. It's going to be a good challenge.
"I think everyone's looking forward to it. I think we want to play the good teams. We want to play them on the road. We played a good game on the road last time against Miami, and we have to put another one together this week."
San Diego's defense, despite what the scores and the overall record indicate, hasn't been bad. In fact, the Chargers have allowed the fewest yards in the NFL and have adjusted well despite the loss of former All-Pro linebacker Shawne Merriman.
"They have a ton of sacks," Brady said. "(Shaun) Phillips has six sacks. He's a great pass rusher. They have a very good front seven. It seems like every team is playing the 3-4 now, too. This is about the fifth game in a row we've played the 3-4. So, it means you have good pass rushers, outside linebackers. It typically means you have a good, athletic group of linebackers -- and these guys certainly do. (They have) a very stout front. It's a good test."
The Patriots typically don't let records fool them, so don't expect them to be caught off guard by playing a desperate team in its first game at home in three weeks. New England has had plenty of history with the Chargers -- some good, some bad.
"I wouldn't expect us to not put everything we have into it," Brady said. "We know the challenge that it is. This team is 2-4, but they're 2-0 at home, and that's where we're playing them. There has to be a huge commitment by the team this week to do everything that we need to do. The last few weeks, we've had extra time to prepare. There's really no opportunity for any lost time this week and also to travel out there to the West Coast, go to California. I never mind that."
Chargers coach Norv Turner's comments were right on.
"Our depth is being tested as strong as it can be," he said. "When you have Richard Goodman and (practice squad receiver Seyi Ajirotutu) catching half the balls in practice, you're being tested. We're doing our best to get our guys healthy and get them ready to play a game."
The Chargers have used 61 players this season as they battle injuries on their road back to respectability.
For some time, it was the linebackers unit that was the hardest hit.
Now, it's the pass-catchers falling to the injury bug, not a good sign as the Chargers (2-4) try to end a two-game losing streak Sunday against the visiting Patriots.
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd isn't expected to play this week after straining his hamstring in Sunday's loss to the Rams.
Tight end Antonio Gates has a toe injury, but he will test it before game time and the club will decide his status. But even if he gives a thumbs up, he will be compromised when cutting on his routes.
Wide receiver Buster Davis didn't practice Thursday due to sore ribs.
Wide receiver Legedu Naanee is iffy with a hamstring injury that kept him out of the last game.
Wide receiver Vincent Jackson -- one of the NFL's premier downfield threats -- is still unsigned. He is expected to return to practice Oct. 29, but he still would have to sit out three games after general manager A.J. Smith put him on the roster exempt list.
All of this might mean the Chargers can't take advantage of the soft spot of the Patriots' defense -- their wobbly secondary.
Instead, San Diego will have to do something it hasn't done with authority in two seasons -- run the football.
But with the lack of pass-catchers and the importance of keeping quarterback Philip Rivers in one piece -- he was sacked seven times Sunday -- the Chargers have few options other than hugging the ground.
--WR Julian Edelman was limited in practice Thursday due to a concussion, but all signs point to him being available this weekend in San Diego despite not being able to finish last week.
--RB Fred Taylor did not practice Thursday (or Friday). He's been out the entire week with a nagging toe injury and likely will miss his third consecutive game Sunday.
--S Jarrad Page did not practice Thursday (or Friday) due to a calf injury. He'll likely make the trip to San Diego and will be out Sunday.
--CB Kyle Arrington was limited in practice Thursday due to a groin injury. There's no telling whether he'll be available Sunday, but if he sees action, it'll more than likely be in a limited capacity.
--S James Sanders is practicing despite a hamstring injury and should be available Sunday, albeit in a limited role in sub-defense packages.
--WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday, and he is likely down this week.
--RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) practiced Thursday and should be full go for Sunday.
--TE Antonio Gates (toe) didn't practice Thursday. The chances are decreasing he can go Sunday.
--K Nate Kaeding (groin) didn't practice Thursday and won't play this week and possibly the following two games as well. Kris Brown was signed as a replacement.
--WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) didn't practice Thursday. He will try later in the week -- he's got a shot, but not much of one, to play Sunday.
--WR Buster Davis (ribs) didn't practice Thursday. He might play Sunday, but his pain level isn't high.
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