Chargers beware: Broncos run better in daylight

Posted: Friday, November 29, 2002

The NFL schedule is kind to the Denver Broncos this week: They get to play in daylight.

The site is San Diego for a game against the Chargers, who along with Oakland are 7-4 in the three-way tie atop the AFC West. That's just fine with Denver, which is 7-0 during the day and 0-4 at night, with three of the four losses at home.

''If you can figure it out, let me know, will you?'' coach Mike Shanahan says. ''It's disappointing, but life goes on. We will see how we react when the pressure is on.''

The pressure is definitely on. In the AFC, 14 of the 16 teams are between 7-4 and 5-6 and all have a chance to make the playoffs.

To be fair to the Broncos, two of the night losses in Denver were decided in the final seconds by field goals of 50 yards or more. One was last week's 23-20 overtime loss to Indianapolis, which the Colts tied on Mike Vanderjagt's 54-yarder at the end of regulation, then won on Vanderjagt's 51-yarder.

This is the latest in a tough run for the Chargers, who lost 26-9 in Denver, their only defeat in a 6-1 start.

They since have lost three of four, all against teams in the NFL's upper echelon, and would have lost the fourth had San Francisco's Jose Cortez, since released, not missed an overtime field goal.

''We've been inconsistent, but at the same time we're in first place,'' defensive end Marcellus Wiley says. ''To be in first place and inconsistent, the sky's the limit, that's what we look at it as.''

The Chargers were just all-around bad last week in a 30-3 loss in Miami.

LaDainian Tomlinson was held to 45 yards on 14 carries and lost the league rushing lead to Kansas City's Priest Holmes.

''It's just a bad loss. I think the key thing is how we bounce back,'' he said. ''For the most part we've done a good job of bouncing back.''

The Broncos again will start Steve Beuerlein at quarterback in place of Brian Griese (sprained knee). The 37-year-old Beuerlein was 15-for-24 for 185 yards and a touchdown against the Colts, but had two interceptions.

New York Jets (6-5) at Oakland (7-4), Monday night

The Jets have won four straight and the Raiders three in a row. Both teams had their share of bumps this season and bounced back thanks in large part to quarterbacks Chad Pennington and Rich Gannon.

The Raiders eliminated New York in last season's playoffs just six days after the Jets won 24-22 in Oakland in the final regular-season game on a field goal in the final minute.

Tampa Bay (9-2) at New Orleans (7-4)

The Saints have lost three of the last four and fallen to third in the NFC South behind Tampa Bay and Atlanta. But New Orleans beat the Bucs in the first week of the season.

The Buccaneers boast the best defense in the NFL, allowing only 126 points so far, 58 fewer than anyone else. They have allowed only five TD passes all season. The Bucs come off a 21-7 win against the Packers, their first victory this season over a team with a winning record.

Miami (7-4) at Buffalo (5-6)

Ray Lucas gets a chance for atonement and the resurgent AFC East-leading Dolphins could just about bury the slumping Bills.

Lucas endured what he called the worst game of his career, throwing four interceptions in Miami's 23-10 loss to the Bills last month. Lucas has rebounded, efficiently leading Miami to two straight victories.

The Bills have lost three straight. Buffalo's porous defense is yielding almost 29 points a game. Most disturbing is how the once-prolific Drew Bledsoe-led offense is sputtering, particularly in red-zone efficiency.

St. Louis (5-6) at Philadelphia (8-3)

After routing San Francisco without Donovan McNabb (broken ankle), the Eagles meet St. Louis without backup QB Koy Detmer (dislocated elbow). A.J. Feeley, a backup his senior season in college two years ago, leads the injury-plagued Eagles in a rematch of last season's NFC championship game.

Kurt Warner returned to the starting lineup, but the Rams' winning streak ended at five last week in Washington. St. Louis could be without Marshall Faulk (ankle) for a third straight game, but it must find a way to win to maintain playoff hopes.

Chicago (3-8) vs. Green Bay (8-3)

Bears WR Marty Booker, who had 121 yards receiving against Green Bay earlier this year, is on pace to finish with 1,431 yards, which would break the team record of 1,400 by Marcus Robinson in 1999. Although the Bears lead the series 83-74-6, they have lost 15 of the last 17.

After consecutive stumbles on the road, the Packers return to Lambeau Field. Brett Favre has never lost at home in 32 games when the temperature at kickoff is 34 degrees or colder. But the Packers are without both offensive tackles after LT Chad Clifton got pummeled on Warren Sapp's block last week.

Atlanta (7-3-1) at Minnesota (3-8)

Falcons QB Michael Vick is getting better and better, and has a chance to enhance his stats against the Vikings' 29th-ranked defense.

This game features two of the NFL's top rushing teams: The Vikings are ranked second, the Falcons fourth. Minnesota's Michael Bennett had his streak of four straight 100-yard games broken against New England and is questionable with a sprained ankle. Warrick Dunn, Vick and rookie T.J. Duckett together have 1,502 yards on the ground.

Houston (3-8) at Indianapolis (7-4)

Welcome back Vic Fangio. The Texans' defensive coordinator makes his return to Indianapolis after a public feud last season led to the firing of then-coach Jim Mora. Colts president Bill Polian thought Fangio's system was too complex, Mora disagreed and took the fall for his friend.

Fangio certainly would like to win one for Mora, but new coach Tony Dungy has brought in a simpler defensive system, and the Colts have responded with three straight wins. Another victory would allow them to keep sole possession of the AFC South lead.

Seattle (4-7) at San Francisco (7-4)

For the first time in more than two years, the 49ers have lost two in a row -- in overtime to San Diego and 38-17 Monday night to a Philadelphia team without Donovan McNabb.

They hold a two-game lead in the NFC West, but they are endangering their chances of home-field playoff advantage and allowing the Rams to hang around in the division race.

Pittsburgh (6-4-1) at Jacksonville (5-6)

The Jaguars brought in their third kicker of the season, Richie Cunningham, who hasn't kicked in an NFL game since 2000, when he went 5-for-7 for the Panthers. He replaces Tim Seder.

The Steelers are playing guessing games with their old AFC Central rivals. Bill Cowher said he won't officially announce a starting quarterback -- Tommy Maddox or Kordell Stewart -- until gametime.

Arizona (4-7) at Kansas City (5-6)

On the brink of playoff elimination, the Chiefs try to rebound from their most disappointing loss in two years, 39-32 to Seattle. Priest Holmes, who had 307 yards rushing and receiving against a weak Seahawks defense, might be in for another big game. But a repeat performance by a defense that yielded almost 600 yards to Seattle could again negate whatever Holmes achieves.

Carolina (3-8) at Cleveland (6-5)

Back in the playoff race, the Browns have to avoid a letdown against the reeling Panthers, who have lost eight straight.

Rookie William Green appears to have finally figured things out, rushing for 114 yards and a TD last week in Cleveland's upset at New Orleans.

Tennessee (6-5) at New York Giants (6-5)

Both teams hurt their playoff chances last weekend, having winning streaks snapped in games they expected to win.

Titans QB Steve McNair is banged up, and WR Kevin Dyson is out with a hamstring injury. That might put the pressure on Eddie George, who needs only 4 yards to pass Earl Campbell as the franchise's career rushing leader.

Baltimore (5-6) at Cincinnati (1-10)

The Ravens are 1 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh and one behind Cleveland in the AFC North. They play each of them in December, so there's still a slim playoff hope. Baltimore beat the Bengals 38-27 three weeks ago behind QB Jeff Blake, who returns to Cincinnati for the first time since leaving as a free agent after the 1999 season.

RB Jamal Lewis has run for 100 yards in his last three games against Cincinnati.

A loss would drop the Bengals to 1-11 for the fourth time in franchise history. With 52 yards, Corey Dillon will become only the fourth player to reach 1,000 yards rushing in each of his first six NFL seasons. Barry Sanders, Eric Dickerson and Curtis Martin did it.

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