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SAN DIEGO – The Chargers have played well inside Qualcomm Stadium, winning seven consecutive games in the regular season.
Good thing, because San Diego (2-4) will have plenty at stake when they kick off 1:15 p.m. Sunday against the New England Patriots (4-1).
“Certainly there’s an understanding of how much we need to win this game,” Philip Rivers said. “We’re not looking at our record or looking ahead. It’s about trying to win one game at home. We’ve played well at home the first two games and we need to play well again to win this game.”
The opponent won’t make it easy. Super Bowl champions three times this decade and undefeated in the regular season in another year, the Patriots will bring some of the most-recognized names in the NFL to Southern California in Head Coach Bill Belichick, quarterback Tom Brady and receiver Wes Welker.
“They’re one of the best teams in the league,” Head Coach Norv Turner said. “They’re first in the league in scoring. I think each week they’ve gotten better on defense. They played their best game last week against the Ravens and they’re a real threat in the kicking game.”
Brady is having his customary year, completing 67.5 percent of his passes for 10 touchdowns against four interceptions. With an armada of players around him, scoring 30.8 points per game, the Patriots present plenty of challenges on offense.
Speedy receiver/returner Brandon Tate will test San Diego’s progress on special teams. Tate has returned two kickoffs for touchdowns in five games and averages 32.6 yards per return. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski is second in the NFL with 13 touchbacks. Rookie punter Zoltan Mesko is third in the NFL in net punting average.
“(Tate) is awfully explosive as a returner,” Turner said. “He’s a pure speed guy so when he’s on the field you’ve got to know where he is.”
The two franchises will meet for the eighth time this decade and have played some significant games, including the 2007 AFC Championship.
The chance of the Patriots not being prepared for San Diego after a physical, 23-20 overtime win against Baltimore appear to be zero.
“That’s a good football team,” Belichick said. “You see all the things that they do offensively, defensively, leading the league in a lot of categories.
“They’ve had a couple games where things have fallen together and they’ve just blown out Arizona and Jacksonville and other games where I know they’re disappointed in the results with some turnovers and big plays against them, but they make a lot of positive plays and they give you a lot to get ready for.”
Key to the Chargers’ offense may be the health of its starting pass-catchers. Tight end Antonio Gates (toe), one of the centerpieces, did not practice this week. Neither did Malcom Floyd (hamstring) and Legedu Naanee (hamstring), the two starting receivers.
Their status will not be determined until minutes before kickoff. Turner holds out hope that they can play, but missing practice lessens their chances. If they’re out, Patrick Crayton, Buster Davis and recent addition Richard Goodman will have to contribute. The team has confidence in Randy McMichael and Kris Wilson if they need to play more in place of Gates.
Whoever Philip Rivers has thrown the ball has gained yards this season. Rivers is the only quarterback to top 2,000 yards through Week 6 this season.
On defense, Kevin Burnett has five sacks and can set his career-high by getting Brady on the ground twice. That’s easier said than done.
“It’s tough because he tries to get the ball out fast,” Stephen Cooper said. “What we’ve got to do is disguise as much as possible, try to play a lot of chess with his mind, go out there and do what we do. We’ve got to play disciplined football and also play smart.”
The season never rests on one game. Win or lose, the Chargers will need to play well during the next nine contests to make the playoffs and extend their streak of AFC West championships. But there’s an urgency around Chargers Park to put together a good performance against New England.
“It’s important for us to get a win under our belt right now,” Jeromey Clary said. “The longer we wait the bigger the hole becomes and the taller the ladder we need to get out of there. So let’s stop digging ourselves a hole and start working our way out right now.” Read