TIME: Sunday, 1 p.m. EST.
Tomlinson, who has rushed for a team-record 1,375 yards and 13 touchdowns this season, was a rookie last season when San Diego opened 5-2 before losing its final nine games.
The Chargers won six of their first seven this season—establishing themselves as the team to beat in the AFC West—but have since lost four of six, including Sunday’s crucial 27-7 setback to the division-leading Oakland Raiders.
“I think we all know that we can’t afford another loss if we want to put ourselves in the right position to make the playoffs,” Tomlinson said of San Diego’s suddenly precarious postseason hopes.
“I think the guys are well aware of that.”
The Oakland loss dropped San Diego one game behind the Raiders in the West, and also left the Chargers behind both Miami and Indianapolis—taking current tiebreakers into account—in the wild card hunt.
Only two AFC wild cards will make the playoffs this season due to the addition of a fourth division, meaning the Chargers’ best chance to advance to the postseason will be to win their final three games.
Despite his team’s recent woes, San Diego first-year coach Marty Schottenheimer feels the Chargers are still in good shape.
“Interestingly enough, though, the team that won the Super Bowl last year, what were they after 13 games? They were 8-5,” said Schottenheimer. “Remember that as we enter the final three weeks of the season.
“We’ve still got three weeks to close out hot. The glass is half full.”
Tomlinson managed just 57 yards on 18 carries against a smothering Oakland defense last Sunday, putting the pressure on quarterback Drew Brees, who did not respond well.
Brees completed 22 of 41 passes for 239 yards while throwing three costly interceptions.
“It was all me. It was nothing they were doing,” Brees said. “They weren’t bad decisions, probably just bad passes.”
Bledsoe made some poor decisions of his own last Sunday.
Making his return to New England after being traded to the Bills this past offseason, Bledsoe threw four interceptions while his former understudy Tom Brady led the Patriots to an easy 27-17 victory over the Bills.
More important than his failure to play well in Foxboro, Bledsoe’s poor effort ended any realistic hopes Buffalo had of advancing to the playoffs.
Like Brees, Bledsoe took full responsibility for the crushing defeat.
“Every game I’ve ever played I’ve taken personally. This one more than most,” Bledsoe said. “With the turnovers, it falls heavily on my shoulders.
“We understand the situation that we are really on the outside looking in (at the playoffs). A lot of crazy things would have to happen for us to get in.”
Bledsoe has had significant success during his first season in Buffalo, doubling the team’s win total from a season ago while throwing for 3,842 yards and 23 touchdowns.
“It should never come down to it being solely on Drew’s back,” Buffalo fullback Larry Center said. “This is not the Buffalo Bledsoes. It’s the Buffalo Bills.”
STANDINGS: Chargers - 2nd place, AFC West. Bills - 4th place, AFC East.
CHARGERS LEADERS: Offense - Brees, 2,562 passing yards, 12 passing TDs; Tomlinson, 1,375 rushing yards, 13 rushing TDs, 64 receptions; Curtis Conway, 794 receiving yards, 5 receiving TDs. Defense - Donnie Edwards, 78 tackles, 5 INTs; Raylee Johnson, 5 1/2 sacks.
BILLS LEADERS: Offense - Bledsoe, 3,842 passing yards, 23 passing TDs; Travis Henry, 1,168 rushing yards, 11 rushing TDs; Eric Moulds, Peerless Price, 81 receptions, 9 receiving TDs; Price, 1,125 receiving yards. Defense - London Fletcher, 80 tackles; Aaron Schobel, 6 1/2 sacks; Nate Clements, 4 INTs.
CHARGERS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 137.3 yards per game (7th in NFL); Passing Offense - 187.3 ypg (23rd); Total Offense - 324.6 ypg (19th). Rushing Defense - 105.2 ypg (9th); Passing Defense - 264.8 ypg (31st); Total Defense - 370.1 ypg (29th).
BILLS TEAM RANK: Rushing Offense - 99.9 ypg (22nd); Passing Offense - 271.3 ypg (2nd); Total Offense - 371.2 ypg (6th). Rushing Defense - 138.7 ypg (31st); Passing Defense - 195.2 ypg (7th); Total Defense - 333.9 ypg (17th).
LAST MEETING: Oct. 28, 2001; Chargers, 27-24 (OT). At San Diego, Doug Flutie scored on a 13-yard scramble with 1:10 remaining in regulation before the Chargers pulled out the win in overtime.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Chargers - RB Tomlinson surpassed Natrone Means (1,350 yards) for the team’s single-season rushing record last week. … WR Conway, the team’s leader in receiving yards and touchdowns, is ready to return to action this week after missing consecutive games with a shoulder injury suffered during a 30-3 loss at Miami on Nov. 24. … Rookie WR Eric Parker helped fill the void left by Conway last week, establishing career highs with seven catchers for 96 yards. Bills - With his 323 completions this season, QB Bledsoe has broken the franchise record established by Jim Kelly (304) in 1991. … WR Moulds moved into second place on the Bills’ all-time receiving TDs list with his 36th. He is now 50 behind the franchise’s all-time leader Andre Reed. … RB Centers needs 10 catches over the final three games for his 11th straight season with at least 50 receptions.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Chargers - 3-3 on the road; Bills - 3-3 at home.
INJURIES: Chargers - QUESTIONABLE: WR Conway (shoulder); G Michael Keathley (ankle); T Damion McIntosh (ankle). PROBABLE: T Vaughn Parker (elbow); LB Carlos Polk (ankle). Bills - QUESTIONABLE: T Jonas Jennings (leg); DE Kendrick Office (wrist); LB Dominique Stevenson (head).