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Thursday, November 17, 2005 | brutal schedule featuring games on the road against both defending conference champions, a run of games versus well-rested opponents and endless accumulation of frequent flyer miles led to an exhausting first half of the 2005 season for the Chargers. Fresh off a bye week, this banged up roster is ready to make a postseason push. Marty Schottenheimer listed 14 players battling an assortment of ailments from defenders Sammy Davis, Steve Foley and Randall Godfrey to center Nick Hardwick, tackle Roman Oben and receivers Keenan McCardell and Eric Parker on offense. Time to rest, reflect and recover is over, but the race has merely started.

Seven games remain for San Diego to sneak its way into the postseason party. This is the time of year when coaches and players sing the “taking it one game at a time” mantra louder than usual. Preparation for the upcoming opponent is a mandatory lyric at press conferences and interview sessions. Fantasizing about what it will take to get into the playoffs is mandated to media members and boisterous boosters. The Chargers are 5-4, which is a game off a 6-3 pace set last season, and two games behind Denver in the AFC West. San Diego trails Jacksonville by one game in the hunt for the final wild card spot. Kansas City and New England are also 5-4, but each side has already lost to the Bolts this season. Three of the next four games are at Qualcomm Stadium against squads with sub-.500 records. The Chargers need to rack up at least three victories during this stretch. They travel to Indianapolis and Kansas City in Weeks 15 and 16 before hosting a season-ending showdown versus the Broncos, which looms as a possible battle for the division crown.

Travel Trouble. Buffalo must figure out how to win on foreign turf in order to try to end a postseason hiatus that dates back to 1999. The Bills are 0-4 on the road scoring less than 11 points per game and losing by an average of 13.5 points. Jumping out to a first-half lead is critical to Buffalo’s success and a common factor in all four of its victories. When ahead on the scoreboard the offense relies heavily on a strong running game to control time of possession and set up play-action pass plays. Willis McGahee ranks fourth in the NFL in rushing, but will find little room against the NFL’s top-ranked rush defense.

Wingin’ It. The Bills need to challenge the Chargers suspect secondary to open holes for McGahee. Poor pass protection and ongoing quarterback conundrums equal a pedestrian passing attack. Eric Moulds has shaken out of an early slump and leads the team with 42 catches for 389 yards. Deep threat Lee Evans grabbed two scoring passes last week to tie Moulds atop the stat sheet with three touchdowns in ’05.

Second Chance. After spending four weeks on sidelines, J.P. Losman threw for 137 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions and led the Bills to victory Sunday. The second-year quarterback was 1-3 as a starter, passing for less than 100 yards twice and completing just one touchdown pass before being benched. Kelly Holcomb started the last five contests before suffering a head injury in the second quarter against Kansas City. Buffalo will challenge New England for the title and also factor in the wild card race if the confidence Losman gained in relief translates into steady production as a starter. The Patriots hold to a slim lead over Buffalo in the AFC East.

What a Rush. LaDainian Tomlinson has already set an NFL record with scoring runs in 14 straight games. Tomlinson equaled Lenny Moore’s league mark by scoring a touchdown in his 18th straight game before being shutdown in Philadelphia. L.T. has thrown for three scores and tallied 15 TDs as a runner and receiver. He is on pace to challenge Priest Holmes’ record of 27 TDs set in 2003. L.T. is also making a run at the third 1,500-yard rushing campaign in his brief five-year career.

Test of Strength. The Chargers 28 points per game average ranks third in the NFL. The offense has been held under 20 points just twice and posted more than 40 on two occasions. Antonio Gates leads the Bolts and all tight ends with 51 receptions for 707 yards and six TDs. Drew Brees is tied for third in the AFC with 14 scoring tosses, including six to McCardell. Lighting up the scoreboard against a Bills defense allowing just 18 is not an easy task. Buffalo finished second in the NFL in total defense two years straight. However, the loss of Pro Bowl linebacker Takeo Spikes to an Achilles injury has been tough to overcome. His absence puts more responsibility on London Fletcher, who ranks sixth in the AFC in tackles. Defensive end Aaron Schobel leads the squad with seven sacks. Pressuring opponents has led to plenty of takeaways as Buffalo ranks fourth in the league with a plus-10 turnover differential.

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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