Chargers desperate to salvage season

ROB LONGLEY

, Last Updated: 9:10 AM ET

It was a supposed to be a Sunday of redemption for the San Diego Chargers, a primetime game to show they were worthy of top billing in the AFC.

Instead, tonight's game against the visiting New England Patriots is a desperate attempt to salvage a season that could be a lost cause in a hurry.

The Chargers are a troubled team with a 2-3 record and showing little signs of improvement, much less staying in touch with the 4-1 Denver Broncos atop the AFC West.

A loss to the Miami Dolphins last week put them in a must-win position tonight despite facing the Patriots with a lineup that is hurting as much as their record.

Quarterback Philip Rivers is nursing sore ribs and tight end Antonio Gates also is injured. But the biggest pain, it would seem, is the banged-up toe of the NFL's most dynamic offensive player the past couple of seasons, running back LaDainian Tomlinson.

LT is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry and in last week's shocker was held to just 35 yards on 12 carries.

"As a runner, you need pretty much everything that you have as far as your legs are concerned," Tomlinson said. "Feet, toes, knees, hamstrings .. but it's football and as long as I've been playing, there's no way I can expect to not ever be hurt."

The Patriots, meanwhile, gradually are adjusting to live without injured quarterback Tom Brady.

With a win, they would move into a tie for first in the AFC East with the idle Buffalo Bills at 4-1.

But like the Chargers, things haven't exactly gone smoothly for the Patriots since that AFC title clash at Foxborough in January. That victory got them to 18-0 but two weeks later their bid for an undefeated season came crashing down in the Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.

Then the Patriots lost Brady in Week 1 and also were upset by the Dolphins to surrender top spot in the division for the first time in three seasons.

So yes, the game is important for both teams but on different terms. Who could have imagined, after all, that at this point in the season they would have a combined record of 5-4?

NO PLACE LIKE DOME?

On the topic of AFC powers in trouble, the Indianapolis Colts need to snap out of their underwhelming 2-2 start.

Consider that the Colts had not lost a game in September or October the past three seasons, it indeed is a cause for concern, especially with the Tennessee Titans, their division rival, at 5-0.

Of even more bother to the spoiled fans in the Indiana state capital is the fact that the Colts are 0-2 in their spiffy new Lucas Oil Stadium.

"It's been a little puzzling for us that we haven't had that precision and energy that we normally have," Colts coach Tony Dungy said in advance of today's game against visiting Baltimore. "We're trying to find it but we're certainly not playing as well as we have (in September and October) these past few years."

It's not about to get much easier, either. After the Ravens, the Colts go through a stretch against the Green Bay Packers, Titans, Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"We're not happy with our start, especially with the schedule we have coming up," Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said. "So we certainly want to get on some kind of win streak here."

GENTLE GIANTS

The Giants are still perfect ... but are they as good as their 4-0 record implies?

The Giants have had little trouble with the opponents they have faced thus far, taking control of the tough NFC East. Their opponents have hardly been fearsome, however, with a combined record of 5-13. Take the Washington Redskins out of the mix and that total drops to 1-12.

The G-Men have what appears to be another easy assignment tomorrow when they face the Browns at Cleveland. That matchup is followed by a game against another relative lightweight, the San Francisco 49ers, the following week.


Photos