While the San Diego Chargers’ Philip Rivers and Antonio Gates have turned back the clock in coach Mike McCoy’s up-tempo attack, the development of Oakland Raiders quarterback Terrell Pryor has been stunted a bit due to a concussion.
Pryor appears to be on track to return as these banged-up AFC West rivals meet Sunday night with the Chargers looking to move above .500 by beating the Raiders for the 17th time in 20 meetings.
This contest was moved to an 8:35 p.m. PDT kickoff because the Oakland Athletics are hosting Game 2 of the AL division series Saturday night and it takes too long to convert the Coliseum to play an afternoon game.
The Raiders (1-3) hope to benefit from the switch as they try to recover from several injuries and prepare for a San Diego offense that has been difficult to stop under its new coach.
“It’s a divisional game, so we know it’s going to be a tough, competitive football game,” Oakland coach Dennis Allen told the team’s official website. “I think they’ve got good players, and again, we’re going to have to play well to beat them.”
Pryor, the team’s second-leading rusher with 198 yards, completed 19 of 28 passes for a career-high 281 yards and a touchdown before being knocked out in a 37-21 loss at Denver on Sept. 23. He missed last Sunday’s 24-14 loss to Washington.
Pryor returned to practice Wednesday and was working with the first team. He is once again symptom free and appears on target to resume his starting role Sunday.
He plans to be the same player he was before the injury, not worried about taking another hard hit.
“I just try to make the right decisions and the smart decisions and be a smart person and player,” Pryor said. “Obviously, if there’s three guys coming cramming down on me I don’t want to challenge all three of those guys so get down. Just be myself and play football. That’s how I have to play.”
He made his first career start in last season’s finale at San Diego, connecting on 13 of 28 attempts for 150 yards with two scores and one interception in a 24-21 loss.
Fullback Marcel Reece (knee) does not have a timetable for his return, while center Stefen Wisniewski (knee) isn’t expected to play against the Chargers (2-2). Leading rusher Darren McFadden might also be out after sustaining a hamstring injury last Sunday.
Rashad Jennings may have to assume the backfield duties after gaining 45 yards on 15 carries while catching eight passes for 71 yards against Washington.
“If you have the right mentality nothing really changes,” Jennings said. “You prepare that you’re carrying the load always. We hope he’s healthy. He’s a big part of this team. Whatever role I’m asked to take on I’ll be ready for it.”
San Diego also suffered a big loss when it had to place Dwight Freeney on injured reserve after the linebacker tore his quadriceps last weekend. Freeney leads the team with 15 quarterback hurries and three hits.
“Anytime you lose a great player like Dwight Freeney, it’s a blow to your team,” McCoy said. “That’s offense, defense, special teams, in your league. When you lose one of the greatest players of all-time on your team, with an injury like that, in a game, that’s tough.”
McCoy, a former offensive coordinator with the Broncos, has certainly provided a lift for a San Diego team that ranks seventh in the NFL with 27.0 points per game and eighth in total offense with an average of 396.3 yards.
Following a two-year stretch in which he threw 35 interceptions and posted an 88.7 passer rating, Rivers has returned to the form that has earned him four trips to the Pro Bowl.
He completed 35 of 42 passes for 401 yards with three scores and one pick in last Sunday’s 30-21 win over Dallas. Rivers’ 83.3 percent completion rate was the highest in NFL history for a 400-yard passing game.
He’s only been intercepted twice while ranking second in the league in completion percentage (73.9), touchdowns (11) and passer rating (118.8), trailing Denver’s Peyton Manning in each category.
“I feel in sync,” Rivers said. “I have a rhythm and I’m comfortable in the pocket when we get that no-huddle going.”
Rivers is 6-1 as a starter in Oakland and has thrown for 306.0 yards per game with seven touchdowns and two picks in his last four there.
Gates has particularly benefited from Rivers’ resurgence with 23 receptions for 315 yards and two scores in his last three games. The five-time All-Pro tight end had 10 catches – his most since 2007 – for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Cowboys.
He’s hauled in a TD in four of his last six meetings with the Raiders.
The Chargers have won 16 of 19 in the series but took last year’s two meetings by a combined 11 points.