Sunday's Contest Has Playoff Feel

WR Vincent Jackson (Denis Poroy/AP)

The Chargers visit Indianapolis on Sunday night in a game that has the feel of a playoff game. Whenever the Chargers and Colts square off, there always seems to be a lot on the line.

"Every game means a ton and I expect a playoff atmosphere," quarterback Philip Rivers said. "And both teams are treating it like a playoff game. That's why you play. You really can't ask for more or a better deal and we are looking forward to it."

For the Chargers, they must prove they can win a road game against a quality opponent. The Chargers have won but once in five road outings, and that was their last one, a thriller over Houston.

Come Sunday night, they must conquer a dynamite team and a fan base that isn't shy about bringing the noise.

"We've never been in this stadium; the last time we were in the other dome and it was super loud," Rivers said. "And I expect it to be loud. That is what you get on the road and we will handle that."

Can the Chargers handle success? After stumbling to a 2-5 start, they have won three straight and have pulled to within one game of the AFC West-leading Chiefs.

But beating the Colts (6-4), especially with them coming off a loss to the Patriots, will be a tall order.

"They are an awfully good football team and they have got big-time players on both sides of the ball," coach Norv Turner said. "Guys that can change the game."

The Chargers hope nothing changes from Monday night, when they played their best game of the season in thumping the Broncos, 35-14.

But it's one thing beating Kyle Orton and Denver at home, compared to wrestling with Peyton Manning on the road.

Luckily for Rivers, he's not fretting about defending Manning.

"We have enough to worry about with that defense," Rivers said. "That is a heck of defense but certainly when you play a Peyton Manning team, it is fun. He has always been a favorite of mine and has played this position at a high level for a number of years."

The Chargers have followed this act for a number of years as well: play bad early, and then make a playoff push with stellar Novembers and Decembers. The Chargers are looking for their eighth straight November win Sunday night.

If doing so, it's imperative the Chargers keep their high-powered offense (averaging 27 points a game) in gear considering Manning is on the other side.

"We don't need to be going three-and-out too many times," said Rivers, who has thrown for 3,177 yards and 23 touchdowns.

And he has his Pro Bowl target in Vincent Jackson this week. Jackson, after missing the first 10 games, will be in the starting lineup.

"Just contribute," Jackson said, when asked what he's looking to do Sunday. "Obviously there's been a lot of guys step up, and I just want to do the same. Just step in and help Philip out, help this offense out and win some ball games."

The Chargers have been prevailing of late. And the addition of Jackson can only help them go forward in gunning for their fifth straight AFC West title.

"That's exactly what I plan to bring: a fresh face, a new body, somebody who's hungry to go out there and perform well," Jackson said. "These guys are playing well. Whether I was here or not, I think they're gonna go out and give everything they've got.

"But it is kind of a fresh feeling in the air, a new body. I'm going to go out there and contribute, like I said, any way I can, special teams or whatever."

SERIES HISTORY: 24th regular-season meeting. Chargers lead series, 14-9. The Chargers, including their two playoff wins, have defeated the Colts in four of the past five meetings. In 2005, the Chargers ended the Colts' 13-0 start with a win at the RCA Dome. In the 2007 Divisional Playoff game, the Chargers prevailed 28-24 in the last game played at the RCA Dome. Sunday night marks the Chargers' first visit to Lucas Oil Stadium.

NOTES, QUOTES


QB Philip Rivers
Robert Laberge/Getty
--QB Philip Rivers may be challenging Dan Marino's single-season passing mark but that isn't translating into Pro Bowl votes. Rivers is No. 6, behind Peyton Manning, Michael Vick, Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees.

--WR Vincent Jackson is back after signing his contract late and missing three games on the roster exempt list. "It's going to be great to get him back," Rivers said. "Any time you can add a great player to the mix it is certainly a plus."

Jackson said there were no hard feelings from teammates upon his return after missing the first 10 games. "Absolutely," Jackson said. "These guys welcomed me back as soon as I got here, and it's been nothing but positives. And I'm excited to play the rest of this season."

--CB Antoine Cason figures to be tested often by Manning. Cason, who has a team-high three interceptions, is ready. "It's a challenge, its competition; we all know how great he is," Cason said. "He is a great quarterback."

--WR Legedu Naanee, if his tender hamstring allows, could be primed to make some big plays. With Patrick Crayton not playing this week, Naanee will be inserted into the slot. "He is going to pick up some of the slack," Turner said. "Patrick has been an awfully strong contributor to our team."

--TE Kory Sperry and RB Curtis Brinkley were added to the squad Monday and could see action Sunday, considering the questionable status of Antonio Gates and Ryan Mathews.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "They have always rebounded extremely well after a loss." -- Coach Norv Turner on the task of facing the Colts following their defeat to the Patriots.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

The Chargers could be in a pickle again at tight end. Antonio Gates isn't certain he can play and Kris Wilson, the next man up, is nursing a bad back and was limited in practice again on Wednesday after missing Sunday's game.

Kory Sperry could get the start; he did so last game and had two catches for 21 years. Sperry had spent the entire season on the practice squad.

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Mike Tolbert has scored a touchdown in six of his past seven games; he leads the team with eight rushing touchdowns.

--QB Philip Rivers has started his career by not producing a three-interception game in his first 74 outings. The previous mark was Joe Montana at 57.

--ILB Kevin Burnett has a career-high five sacks. He is 1.5 sacks away from matching his career total coming into the season.

--LB Darry Beckwith was brought back to the practice squad.

--LB Brandon Lang was added to the practice squad.

GAME PLAN

Philip Rivers is having a phenomenal year and the Chargers should just wind him up and let him go to defeat the Colts.

Not so fast.

The Chargers have something the Colts don't and that is a running game. And if you got it, use it, and the Chargers will do just that.

While Ryan Mathews hasn't done much this year and isn't expected to play, Mike Tolbert is.

Tolbert's bruising style plays well into those long drives that could keep Peyton Manning off the field.

If the Chargers are rolling on the ground, they won't be shy about staying there. Remember, in Monday's win, Rivers threw for a season-low 233 yards as the Chargers were content to feed Tolbert.

INJURY IMPACT

--TE Antonio Gates (foot) didn't practice on Wednesday and there is a real possibility he will miss his third straight game.

--LG Louis Vasquez (stinger) didn't practice and he could be down this week; he might be a game-day decision.

--RB Ryan Mathews (ankle) didn't practice and he likely won't play again this week.

--WR Malcom Floyd (hamstring) didn't practice after tweaking his injury in the Monday night game. But the Chargers are optimistic he will play.

--WR Legedu Naanee (hamstring) is back practicing and looked good making cuts in practice. He should go Sunday.

--WR Patrick Crayton (wrist) didn't practice and he could be lost for the rest of the season.

--SS Steve Gregory (shoulder) was working and it appears he will return this week. He likely will still back up Paul Oliver.

--DL Travis Johnson (shoulder) did not work and could be down again this week.

--TE Kris Wilson (back) was limited in his work; he should go Sunday.



Can the Bolts lose Sunday and still win the division? Talk in the message boards.




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