Through three games, the San Diego Chargers have the 29th-ranked defense in football, two heartbreaking losses and a disappointing start for one of the AFC’s preseason favorites.
Still, they’re much better off than the Oakland Raiders.
With uncertainty swirling around Oakland coach Lane Kiffin, the host Raiders will look to end a nine-game losing streak against the their AFC West rivals on Sunday, while San Diego hopes to build on a high-scoring victory.
After allowing an AFC-high 94 points in their first three games, the Chargers (1-2) certainly haven’t looked like they’re on their way back to the conference title game—especially with star linebacker Shawne Merriman out for the season with a knee injury.
But at least they’re sure their coach will still be around tomorrow. That hasn’t seemed such a certainty in Oakland this week, with rumors surfacing that owner Al Davis was set to fire Kiffin.
The Raiders (1-2) went 4-12 in Kiffin’s first season last year, and after they blew a nine-point lead in the final five minutes in a 24-23 loss at Buffalo on Sunday, reports—but nothing official—emerged that Oakland’s unpredictable owner had seen enough.
“Until I am told by Al Davis that I’m not the head coach here anymore, we’re going to keep plugging away the same way we have been,” Kiffin said Monday. “So I have not been told by Al Davis that I am not the head coach. Until he tells me directly, we’ll keep plugging away.”
So far, he hasn’t produced the best results. The Raiders were blown out at home in their opener, losing 41-14 to Denver on Sept. 8, and though they earned a 23-8 victory in Week 2 at winless Kansas City, they couldn’t finish the job last weekend.
They allowed the Bills to charge down the field twice in the latter stages of the fourth quarter, going three-and-out in between and eventually giving up a game-winning field goal as time expired.
While the defense has been spotty, quarterback JaMarcus Russell has mostly struggled. The No. 1 overall pick in the 2007 draft hasn’t thrown an interception in 2008, but he’s completed 51.6 percent of his passes for just 391 yards in three games.
The doubt surrounding the team’s coach isn’t likely to help.
“I’m not going to sit up here and lie and say it helps and that it brings our team together and we’re going to bond together like the movie ‘Major League,’ like somebody told me,” Kiffin said. “It doesn’t help. But I can’t control it so all I can do is keep our team together.”
Against San Diego, the Raiders haven’t been able to produce a victory in exactly five years, since they beat the Chargers 34-31 at home on Sept. 28, 2003.
In nine losses since then, they’ve been held to 17 or fewer points while allowing 21 or more points in each meeting. Last year, they lost twice by a combined score of 58-31.
They could be the perfect fix for a San Diego club looking to get back to .500. Despite their woeful defense, which has allowed more than 400 yards per game, the Chargers feel like they could be 3-0 after they coughed up leads in the final 30 seconds in each of their first two games. They lost 39-38 at Denver in Week 2 after an incomplete pass call that referee Ed Hochuli admitted was incorrect.
Coach Norv Turner’s team made sure nothing like that happened Monday night, beating the New York Jets 48-29.
“It was a good win, a good win to build on,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’re 1-2. We didn’t all of a sudden become 3-0 like we wished we were.”
Rivers threw for 250 yards, three touchdowns and one interception on Monday, continuing his torrid start. The third-year starter has the highest passer rating in the NFL this season—124.8—completing more than two-thirds of his passes while hitting for nine touchdowns and just two interceptions.
“I’m not a stat guy; I don’t get caught up in that stuff,” Rivers said. “My purpose and our team’s purpose to go win, and all of that stuff takes care of itself.”
While Rivers has thrived, LaDainian Tomlinson struggled to get going against the Jets, carrying 26 times for just 67 yards - an average of 2.6 per carry. The 2006 NFL MVP has been dealing with a toe injury.
“We have the best back in football in LT,” Turner said, “and we need to get him going like he’s done.”
The Chargers don’t want to take the same path, but they started 1-3 last season before winning 10 of their last 12 and advancing within a game of the Super Bowl.