You break down Friday’s Christmas night game between the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans and one thing keeps coming to mind: One team has a lot to play for.

That team also didn’t have to travel 2,000-plus miles during a short week to play a football game, either. And its top running back (Chris Johnson) has more than 1,000 more rushing yards than the other team’s top back (LaDainian Tomlinson).

Tennessee has a lot of advantages entering this contest with the biggest thing (say it, Norval) being that the Titans’ season rides on this game.

The Chargers (11-3) have already clinched the division title and are close to wrapping up the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. They know they are playing football in January while the Titans (7-7) – one of the hottest teams in the NFL right now – still have work to do to join the postseason festivities.

I think back to the Chargers last visit to Nashville in December of 2007 and figure this game is going to be a war with so much on the line for the Titans. That contest, won by the Chargers 23-17 in overtime, was one of the best NFL games I ever covered.

For three-plus quarters, the Titans smashed the Chargers and led 17-3 early in the fourth quarter. San Diego had all of 110 total yards up to that point and left tackle Marcus McNeill was badly overmatched by Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch (three sacks).

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (who injured a knee during the second quarter and later returned) had a measly 37 passing yards through three quarters, Shawne Merriman had left the game with a knee injury, and there wasn’t any evidence that a fabulous comeback was in the offing.

But the Chargers scored two fourth-quarter touchdowns to force overtime. The final drive almost ended on a fourth-and-5 play but Chris Chambers made a sensational 19-yard catch (that Titans coach Jeff Fisher disputed) to keep the Chargers alive. Reflect on that catch and it’s safe to say the Chargers’ upcoming postseason run would sure look better if Chambers were on the roster instead of chronically inactive Craig “Buster” Davis (aka, the Big Bust).

Then with nine seconds left in regulation, Rivers hit Antonio Gates on a 2-yard scoring pass to tie the game.

In the overtime, Tomlinson provided the winning points with a 16-yard TD run. Tomlinson had 146 yards that afternoon and hasn’t eclipsed that yardage total since. In fact, he doesn’t have a single 100-yard rushing game this season.

Tomlinson (670 yards, 3.3 average) won’t be anywhere close to being the best back on the field on Friday. Johnson has topped 100 rushing yards in nine consecutive games and has 1,730 yards on the season. He does what Tomlinson used to do – strike fear in every defensive player on the field. He can go the distance at anytime from anywhere on the field.

One advantage the Chargers have is with Gates. The Titans lost stellar linebacker Keith Bulluck for the season and Tennessee is severely handicapped without him in terms of dealing with Gates.

The Chargers also have the edge at quarterback with Rivers (closing in on 4,000 passing yards) against Vince Young though Young has made great strides this season since replacing Kerry Collins. The Titans were 0-6 when Young replaced Collins as the starter and are now vying to become the first team to start that poorly to reach the playoffs.

Of course, the Titans have one of the best coaches in Fisher, who has won a lot of games with inferior talent over the years. Remember, Chargers coach Norv Turner was unable to do that in his two previous head-coaching stints with the Washington Redskins and Oakland Raiders. He’s winning games now because he’s got one of the best stocked teams in the league.

So it promises to be a good football game to end your Christmas festivities. The Titans are favored by 3 points over the Chargers, who have won 17 consecutive December games.

  1. Annette says:

    Good points, I think I will definitely subscribe!I’ll go and read some more!

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