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Three keys vs. Chargers

Posted by Tom Wilcox October 9, 2008 05:54 AM

1. Not the best of friends
The Patriots and Chargers are not division foes, but the teams have developed quite a rivalry in recent years. Last season, New England defeated San Diego in Week 2 and in the AFC championship game. The Patriots also knocked off the 14-2 Chargers in San Diego in the second round of the playoffs in 2007, when many Chargers, notably LaDainian Tomlinson, felt the Patriots showed disrespect toward them by mocking Shawne Merriman’s sack dance. Tomlinson said the Patriots “showed no class, and maybe that comes from the head coach.”

2. Slow out of the gate
The Chargers are off to a disappointing 2-3 start after losing on the final play of the game against the Panthers in Week 1 and dropping a controversial contest against the Broncos the following week. During Denver’s game-winning drive, quarterback Jay Cutler lost control of the ball and San Diego recovered, but referee Ed Hochuli initially ruled it an incomplete pass and could not be overruled by instant replay. The Chargers then bounced back to beat the Jets and Raiders before falling to the Dolphins last week, 17-10. Tomlinson has had a particularly rough start, averaging just 3.7 yards per carry.

3. Defensive play offensive
The Chargers were a popular Super Bowl pick during the preseason, mainly on the strength of their defense. But after playing just one game, Merriman (right), who had 12.5 sacks last year, had season-ending knee surgery. San Diego is 24th in the league in points allowed (25.8), 28th in yards allowed per game (379.0) and last in passing defense (265.6). The Chargers are hoping for a boost from the return of linebacker Stephen Cooper. The Wareham native was suspended for the first four games of the season after testing positive for a banned stimulant. He returned last week and had eight tackles against the Dolphins. — Tom Wilcox

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Charles P. Pierce writes for the Boston Globe Magazine. A long-time sportswriter and columnist, Pierce is a frequent guest on national TV and radio.
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