The Patriots and Chargers have had a good mini-rivalry going for the last decade, and it will renew this weekend in sunny San Diego. The schizophrenic Chargers (2-4) will be a tough test for the new-look Patriots (4-1), who need a win to pull even with the idle Jets at the top of the AFC East.
Fortunately for New England, the Chargers are a banged-up team. The Patriots will be looking to capitalize.
WHEN AND WHERE
Sunday, Oct. 14, 4:15 p.m. Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, Calif.
HEAD TO HEAD
The Patriots lead the all-time series, 20-15-2 (the ties came in 1965 and 1967), including a 2-1 record in the playoffs. The Chargers’ postseason victory came in the 1963 AFL Championship. The Patriots are 9-7-1 on the road against the Chargers.
Interestingly, both head coaches have a losing record in the series. Bill Belichick is 3-5 against the Chargers, including a 2-3 mark with New England, and Norv Turner is 2-4 against the Patriots, including a 1-2 mark with San Diego.
Tight end Antonio Gates leads the Chargers with 31 receptions and seven touchdowns, and he is second on the team with 490 receiving yards. It is believed Gates will gut out his toe injury and play Sunday, but his effectiveness has the most significant impact on San Diego’s offense.
Teams that have made a conscious effort to attack the middle of the Patriots’ defense have had success, most notably the Saints during joint practices and then in the preseason opener. The Patriots will need to use the formula they had in the second half last week against Todd Heap, chipping him at the line and doing everything possible to disrupt his timing.
Look for the Patriots to throw a number of looks at Gates, and they could even use linebackers Gary Guyton and Brandon Spikes on the field at the same time with Jerod Mayo. It’s a combination the Patriots haven’t really used, but it’s a 3-3-5 possibility that could guard against teams with effective running games and good tight end play.
In six career games against the Chargers, including the playoffs, Tom Brady has completed 162-of-254 passes (63.8 percent) for 1,709 yards, 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Brady, whose first career 300-yard game came against San Diego in 2002, is 4-2 against the Chargers.
Brady and Belichick have the highest winning percentage of any head coach-starting quarterback tandem since the 1970 merger. Their .765 winning percentage (101-31 record) tops Oakland’s Ken Stabler and John Madden (60-19-1, .756), Chicago’s Jim McMahon and Mike Ditka (46-15, .754) and Indy’s Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy (73-24, .753). The Patriots would have to lose their next two games for Brady and Belichick to lose the top perch. Brady and the Patriots need to finish the 2010 regular season with at least a 12-4 record to keep that top spot.
Aaron Hernandez has the two longest runs by a tight end in Patriots history. He had an 18-yard rush against the Ravens and a 13-yard run against the Bills.
Wide receiver Wes Welker has 379 receptions as a member of the Patriots, which ranks fifth in team history. Running back Kevin Faulk is fourth with 424 catches. Welker would need to average 4.2 catches per game to pass Faulk by the end of the season.
Linebacker Tracy White leads the Patriots five solo tackles on special teams and eight total tackles on special teams.
The Chargers lead the NFL in total defense (255.2 yards per game) and passing defense (163.7), and they’re tied for second with 21 sacks. This will be a big test for the Patriots, who are first in points per game (30.8), 10th in total offense (354.2) and 14th in passing offense (231.0).
Linebackers Shaun Phillips (six sacks) and Kevin Burnett (five) are the Chargers’ two most dangerous pass rushers. Burnett has already set a career high in that category and only had 6.5 sacks in his first five seasons. All five of his sacks have also come in the last three weeks.
Most of the talk of San Diego’s running game surrounds Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles, but Mike Tolbert leads the team with 66 carries, 295 yards and five touchdowns. Mathews has 55 carries for 282 yards (team-high 5.1 yards per carry) and one touchdown, and Sproles has 19 carries for 80 yards and 15 receptions (tied for third on team) for 155 yards.
Philip Rivers has started his career with 70 consecutive games without throwing three interceptions, which is an NFL record. Former 49ers quarterback Joe Montana had the old record with 57.
Rivers has completed 137-of-220 passes this season (62.3 percent) for 2,008 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.
From Thursday’s practice report
Quarterback Tom Brady (shoulder) fully participated and will play.
Safety James Sanders (hamstring) fully participated and is expected to play.
Wide receiver Julian Edelman (concussion) had limited participation, and it’s unclear if he’ll play.
Cornerback Kyle Arrington (groin) had limited participation, and it’s unclear if he’ll play.
Running back Fred Taylor (toe) did not practice and will unlikely play.
Safety Jarrad Page (calf) did not practice and appears unlikely to play.
Running back Ryan Mathews (ankle) fully participated and is expected to play.
Linebacker Brandon Siler (foot) fully participated and is expected to play.
Tight end Antonio Gates (toe) did not practice, but it’s believed he’ll play.
Wide receiver Malcom Floyd (hamstring) did not practice and is not expected to play.
Wide receiver Legedu Naanee (hamstring) did not practice, and it’s unclear if he’ll play.
Wide receiver Buster Davis (ribs) did not practice, and it’s unclear if he’ll play.
Linebacker Larry English (foot) did not practice, and it’s unclear if he’ll play.
Kicker Nate Kaeding (groin) did not practice and will not play.
With the combination of the Chargers’ strong play at home, immense talent on the roster and their recent regular-season history against the Patriots, this figures to be a pretty difficult game for New England. Obviously, San Diego’s record doesn’t reflect its potential, and the Patriots sound like a team that is well aware of the danger this game possesses.
At this point, the Patriots have too much going for them, while the Chargers have found too many ways to kill themselves. Look for the Patriots to capitalize off another strong fourth quarter to win a very close game.