Saturday, September 17, 2005 | Division rivals collide in a pivotal early season battle. Denver comes home with a look of dismay after enduring a humiliating 34-10 defeat at Miami. The Broncos have won nine of their last 10 home openers. San Diego is seething, thanks to its own incompetence. The Bolts ill-timed blunders led to a 28-24 loss against Dallas.

A Must Win Situation. A make or break game in Week 2 is unusual, but that’s the case as neither side can afford to fall to 0-2. From 2002-2004, 36 teams started the season with back-to-back losses and only three of those squads managed to earn a postseason invitation.

Wiley Veterans. Keenan McCardell and Rod Smith are two of the most accomplished receivers in league history. The 35-year-old wideouts might have lost a step or two over the years, but continue to excel using experience and intelligence to get open. McCardell had nine catches for 123 yards and two touchdowns in Week 1. He needs 124 yards receiving to reach 10,000 in his career, a milestone mark only 21 players have reached. Smith is 24 yards shy of McCardell on the NFL all-time list.

Feel The Breeze. Access to the end zone should be a bit easier for Drew Brees and Co. now that tight end Antonio Gates is done serving a three-game suspension. The Chargers best red-zone receiver was sorely missed last week, especially during the final series of the game. With time ticking away, four pass plays from inside the 10-yard line failed to yield a game-winning touchdown. Gates had 81 catches for 964 yards and 13 touchdowns in ’04. His mere presence on the field creates a slew of options for the offense.

Ground Control. Dallas moved extra defenders close to the line of scrimmage and held LaDainian Tomlinson to 72 yards on 19 carriers. The Broncos should use similar tactics to stop the run, especially after being trampled last week for a total of 151 yards on the ground. Their outstanding linebackers and hard-hitting strong safety John Lynch, a San Diego native, will crowd the box on first and second down. Tomlinson managed just 60 yards on 22 carries during San Diego’s visit to Denver in ’04. In fact, that was the last time he failed to score a touchdown. L.T. can set a new NFL record on Sunday by reaching the end zone in 14 straight games.

Gallop Down The Field. Denver boasts a running game that has been one of the NFL’s best for a decade. Five different running backs have rushed for more than 1,000 in a season during that stretch. Mike Anderson ran for nearly 1,500 yards behind the Broncos’ fantastic offensive line in 2000. He was No. 1 on the depth chart before suffering a rib injury last week. Three different backs posted 100-yard games last season including Tatum Bell, who must answer the bell this week. Denver has won 35 of its last 43 games when a running back gallops for 100 yards or more.

Snake In The Grass. Jake Plummer appeared poised for a fantastic season after setting a team-record with 4,089 yards passing and tossing 27 touchdown passes in ’04. He looked awful through three quarters against Miami before adding meaningless stats in the fourth quarter of the blowout. Plummer owns a 5-2 record against the Chargers and usually puts on his best performances at home.

Mile High Meltdowns. San Diego has lost five straight games in Denver, including four setbacks at Invesco Field. The outcome of those contests has been basically determined by halftime. The Broncos opened up leads of 20-0, 19-0, 27-0 and 13-3. That’s right, the Chargers scored a whopping total of three points in the first half at Denver since 2001.

Kevin Aron is a freelance writer in San Diego and outright sports junkie. Kevin has worked in college sports information, sports agent offices and, most recently, as managing editor of for nearly five years.

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