Chargers need to get over hump

Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd has his touchdown catch stripped away by Vikings defensive back...

Chargers wide receiver Malcom Floyd has his touchdown catch stripped away by Vikings defensive back Cedric Griffin on Sunday. (Reuters)

MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:32 PM ET

FOXBORO, MASS. - The frost isn’t on the pumpkin just yet but in these parts the whiff of angst already hangs in the air like burning leaves.

It has nothing to do with Sunday’s matchup of a couple of heavyweights in the Philip Rivers led San Diego Chargers taking on the host Tom Brady led New England Patriots.

It’s a big game but right now it’s not quite the big deal in these parts.

About 30 miles down the highway all eyes are fixed on Fenway Park, not Gillette Stadium, as the beloved Red Sox are like a battered heavyweight boxer, fighting gamely on wobbly legs, a couple of shots to the head away from crashing to the canvas.

After Friday’s game against the fresh-legged and youthful Tampa Bay Rays, the BoSox will either sit just two games or four up on Tampa in their fight for the wild-card spot in October’s playoffs.

Chocking down the stretch used to be an art form perfected by the Red Sox until their fortunes finally turned in 2004 with their World Series victory.

Since that date it would seem they have exorcised the demons of collapses past, but in the Boston area, those past defeats cut deep and memories are long.

Which brings us back to Sunday’s late afternoon matinee that features Rivers against Brady and in the world of the National Football League, that’s about as good as it gets. For AFC teams, it is as good as it gets.

In many ways the Chargers and Rivers are like those past tormented Red Sox teams that would crash and burn at season’s end. They had the talent but were cursed as misfortune would hammer away at them at every turn.

If you happen to be a fan of the Chargers, you know that is a familiar refrain.

Since Air Coryell and Dan Fouts in the late ’70s and early ’80s, the Chargers have fielded a host of teams that had talent by the bucket full but could never win the big one.

It’s an old charge that has been handed down over the decades and it’s a tag that Rivers and the current crop of Chargers wear to this day.

Perhaps the greatest game ever to be played in the playoffs in the modern day occurred in 1981 between the Chargers and the Miami Dolphins. The Chargers came out on top of that one 41-38, winning in overtime to move on to the AFC championship game in Cincinnati, one where they were heavily favoured to beat the Bengals.

The football gods had a surprise that day, though, as the temperature dropped to -22C Fahrenheit with a wind chill factor of minus-50C. Cincy won that one 27-7.

The Chargers have made just one Super Bowl appearance in their history, that one coming in 1994 when they took on the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl XXIX. They were annihilated 49-26 by ’Niners quarterback Steve Young.

The Rivers era for the Chargers started in earnest in 2006 after Drew Brees signed with New Orleans as a free agent, opening the door for the graduate of North Carolina State.

Since then, Rivers had been able to pile up the stats and has proven to be a fiery and inspirational leader on the field but like the great Chargers of the past, has not been able to get his team over the hump.

The closest he has come to reaching the Super Bowl was in 2007 when in the AFC Championship game — against Brady and the Patriots — he was playing with a torn ACL in his knee and lost 21-12.

In recent campaigns, the Chargers have gotten off to sluggish starts so in many ways this game may mean a lot more to them than perhaps the Patriots, who just never lose at home.

The Patriots are so good and so consistent that a loss would be viewed as a minor irritant, a bump in the road as there is nobody who doesn’t believes that they will miss the playoffs.

It’s a much bigger deal for the Chargers, who didn’t look sharp in last week’s victory over a bad Minnesota team.

Rivers, meanwhile, has his own hurdle to clear when facing New England.

Including the playoffs, Rivers is 1-4 against the Patriots. In three regular-season games, he’s 71-for-107 for 821 yards with six TDs and three interceptions.

So, motivation will be on his side.

At Fenway, meanwhile, the Red Sox will attempt to rally from their reeling.

It’s a feeling that Rivers and the Chargers know so very well.


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