NFL Preview - NY Giants (5-7) at San Diego (5-7)
By Shawn Clarke, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - The San Diego Chargers are starting to play themselves out of the postseason picture and look to stay afloat when the New York Giants pay a visit to the west coast Sunday afternoon.
Slated to play four of their last five games at home, the Chargers began the stretch with Sunday's 17-10 loss to the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals at Qualcomm Stadium.
The Chargers were coming off a 41-38 come-from-behind win at Kansas City and couldn't carry the momentum over to this past week. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers passed for 252 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and hasn't passed for 300-plus yards in five of the past seven games. One week after posting a 127.3 QB rating, Rivers had an 80.0 mark versus Cincinnati.
San Diego had three costly turnovers in falling to 5-7 on the season.
"Against a good football team like the Bengals, we made too many mistakes," Chargers head coach Mike McCoy said. "We had three turnovers offensively. It's been a long time since we turned the ball over that way. It's unacceptable."
Chargers tight end Antonio Gates, a reliable target who's known for taking care of the football, was responsible for both fumbles.
"It's unfortunate that we weren't able to come away with the win," Gates said. "One thing about me is that I made some plays today that are uncharacteristic of who I am and what I stand for. You have to take your hat off to that defense. They did a wonderful job in getting the ball out. To me, I have to play better to give us a better chance to win."
Gates had five catches for 41 yards and Keenan Allen led the aerial attack with 106 yards on eight receptions.
Since their 4-3 start to the season, the Chargers have lost four of their last five games. However, they're still alive in the postseason hunt, but need to win out and receive help from around the league. San Diego, which scored a season-low 10 points, has lost two in a row at home.
"We've got three more home games. We've got to go to Denver and take care of them and win out," Chargers cornerback Shareece Wright said. "We've been thinking that for the past two weeks. It's nothing new with this loss, we've just got to stick it out."
The Giants have the same mentality.
New York, which is playing three of four games on the road, recorded a 24-17 win over the NFC East-rival and defending division champion Washington Redskins Sunday night and is 5-1 since a dreadful 0-6 start. The Giants have a nearly impossible task of grabbing a wild card berth, so winning the division is priority No. 1 with Dallas and Philadelphia just two games ahead.
In the road win against the Redskins, the Giants were amped up on defense and registered five sacks, three passes defensed and a fumble recovery. Giants defensive end Justin Tuck sacked Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III four times and played every defensive snap (68).
"The good and negative thing about the New York Giants is that we keep many high quality defensive ends around, so it's hard to play every snap," Tuck said after falling short of Osi Umenyiora's record of six sacks in a game back in 2007. "It was fun last night being out there the whole time, because it allows you to get into a rhythm and I think I kind of benefited from it in some regards. My body isn't telling me that right now, but it was fun last night."
Tuck, the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, didn't have teammate and fellow defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul alongside him Sunday because the young standout is nursing a shoulder injury. Pierre-Paul is questionable against the Chargers and there's a possibility he could miss the game. Giants head coach Tom Coughlin was asked if it would be a good idea to rest JPP for the rest of the season.
"I don't think so," Coughlin said. "I don't think it's in that position, but I'll repeat what I said earlier, I can't answer these questions any more than I've tried to. We really don't know what his status will be this week until we get a little bit. He hasn't done anything in a week. He's been treated and he's rested and hopefully there's going to be some progress made and we'll see what that looks like when we start to practice."
Pierre-Paul had a streak of 59 consecutive games played come to an end.
"Shutting it down is not in my category, otherwise I would have shut it down when I got the injury, which was the Oakland game," Pierre-Paul said. "That's not an option for me. You never know what might happen, to shut it down and my team needs me badly, that's just very selfish of me and I'm not a selfish player. I'll do anything I can to get back on the field quicker."
Giants linebacker Jon Beason was all over FedEx Field and made 17 tackles, while veteran defensive lineman Cullen Jenkins recorded the other sack. The Redskins had only 184 passing yards, but the Giants will face a Chargers offense rated fourth in the league with 292.4 passing yards per game.
The Giants have lost two straight and three of the last four meetings with the Chargers, including a 21-20 setback on Nov. 8, 2009. New York and San Diego have split 10 all-time meetings.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Giants have to take advantage of San Diego's inept defense by throwing the football early and often. The Chargers are 28th in passing yards allowed (268.8) and 29th in total yards allowed (386.6). That should put a smile on the face of Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who's had a mediocre season at best and is due for a breakout performance.
Manning hasn't had a QB rating of 100 or better all season, but did have a season-high mark of 98.7 against the Redskins. He passed for 235 yards with a touchdown and an interception, and has five TD strikes to three picks in his last four games. Wide receiver Victor Cruz leads the Giants with 931 yards, but hasn't scored since Sept. 29 at Kansas City. Had Cruz reached the end zone more often, perhaps New York would be in a better situation than 5-7.
Hakeem Nicks returned for New York after dealing with an abdomen injury and posted two catches for 34 yards in Washington, Nicks has no touchdowns on the season. Sunday could be the day Nicks and Manning hook up for a score.
Giants running back Andre Brown will face the 22nd ranked rush defense this week and managed only 35 yards on 14 carries Sunday. However, Brown scored twice and has three TDs in four games this season. Peyton Hillis had 45 yards on six carries in the win for the Giants, who are 26th in rushing (87.7).
"He's a good, solid player and he helped us right away and then he got involved in the normal rotation about how many people you can dress and to his credit, his attitude remained great and when given the opportunity, he did perform and he did help us," Coughlin said of Hillis.
San Diego did not record any sacks on Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, but Manning was sacked three times Sunday night. In fact, Manning has been sacked 31 times this season and at least twice in the last four games (12).
Corey Liuget and Thomas Keiser lead the Chargers with four sacks apiece, while Coughlin addressed the protection issues.
"We gave up three the other night. We're not real pleased with that, but it's not just the line; it's your tight ends, it's your backs, it's your ability to get in the right protections."
Chargers running back Ryan Mathews is on pace for the second 1,000-yard season of his career and has 782 yards thus far. Mathews has rushed for at least 50 yards in the last four games and will see a Giants defense that is allowing 102.2 rushing yards a game.
The Giants, though, were able to slow down Redskins stud running back Alfred Morris, who had 26 yards on 11 carries, but did score once.
Making a cross-country flight can be stressful on anyone, especially an NFL team that played late on Sunday. The Giants will feel the jet lag when they touch down in San Diego and another loss will be a detriment to their hopes of making a complete turnaround.
With both the Chargers and Giants on playoff respirators, it will come down to turnovers and moving the chains in critical situations. San Diego shot themselves in the foot by not protecting the football last week.
"Anytime you lose the turnover margin you lose the game," Chargers center Nick Hardwick said.
Manning, who was traded for Rivers back on draft day in 2004, has been intercepted three times in four weeks and look for that trend to continue Sunday against a hungry Chargers defense.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Chargers 27, Giants 20
12/05 15:14:15 ET