Chargers-Raiders showdown for playoffs will not resemble October matchup
He didn’t play the first time these teams met this season, a calf injury resulting in Justin Jones going on injured reserve before the game.
Having rebounded from that setback and a recent visit to the COVID-19 reserve list, the Chargers defensive tackle on Wednesday sounded plenty ready to face Las Vegas.
“We’re gonna be physical, violent,” Jones promised. “Everybody’s gonna be flying around. Everybody’s gonna communicate and everybody’s gonna have a day. I feel like it’s gonna be in our favor this week. I do feel that way.”
Jones and the Chargers will have to wait to play the Raiders as long as possible in Week 18. Kickoff is set for 5:20 p.m. Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, the matchup marking the final regular-season game of this NFL season.
Given the stakes — the winner advances to the playoffs — the league pushed the Chargers-Raiders game to a stand-alone time slot in an attempt to maximize interest and viewership.
The Chargers were able to beat the Raiders with a strong running attack during their first meeting, and they’ll need that again to become playoff team.
“This is going to be an outstanding football game for the NFL,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. Later, he added, “It’s kind of like a playoff game before the playoffs start.”
That just about defines this matchup. Barring an Indianapolis loss at Jacksonville — the Colts are favored by more than two touchdowns — only one of these two can move on.
The Chargers’ lone chance of grabbing a playoff berth is to not lose Sunday. They must win or tie, regardless of any other outcomes around the league this weekend.
“Nothing we did in the beginning of the year matters no more,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “All that matters come Sunday night is you win, you keep going.”
Jones wasn’t the only starter who missed the Chargers’ 28-14 victory over the Raiders at SoFi Stadium on the first Monday night in October. Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. was out, too, with a shoulder injury.
Kenneth Murray Jr. was on injured reserve at that point because of an ankle problem. He has started five games at linebacker this season and one at edge rusher.
Three months ago, the Chargers also didn’t have kicker Dustin Hopkins or return man Andre Roberts, both of whom have helped boost their special teams.
Of course, Las Vegas still was being coached by Jon Gruden in early October, his messy departure just one of the many obstacles the Raiders have had to navigate to reach this stage.
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Staley admitted that the first meeting between these teams “seems so long ago.” The Chargers opened a 21-0 halftime lead before the Raiders closed to 21-14 entering the fourth quarter.
Possessing the ball for nearly 10 of the final 15 minutes, the Chargers were able to close and hand Las Vegas its first loss after starting the season 3-0.
Staley said the value in rewatching that game this week is in seeing how the Raiders played certain individual matchups and how they deployed their personnel in general.
Otherwise, he said he anticipates there being little carryover.
“Maybe you can make some comparisons, maybe there are some things that you can activate in the plan.” Staley said. “But both teams are so different. It’s going to be a different ballgame, a different plan of attack.”
Las Vegas began December by losing at home to Washington and then at Kansas City, the latter defeat a 39-point drubbing. But the Raiders rallied to win at Cleveland and Indianapolis around a home victory over Denver.
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Now, everything is down to a final game, only the most consequential of this NFL regular season.
The Chargers are trying to advance to the playoffs for the first time since January of 2019. Only 12 players remain from that team.
The Raiders are trying to move on for just the second time since the franchise lost Super Bowl XXXVII following the 2002 season.
There should be no shortage of belief on either side.
“You’re going to have to bring your best stuff to beat us,” Jones said, “because we’re bringing ours.”
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