Miami Dolphins at San Diego Chargers game preview
SAN DIEGO (AP) — They’re still the San Diego Chargers, at least for four more home games.
Beyond that, the Chargers are uncertain about their future home. At least it’s not as hyper-hot as last year, when ownership was working with the rival Oakland Raiders on a plan for a stadium in the Los Angeles suburb of Carson. That plan was rejected by NFL owners, who nonetheless gave the Chargers the option to join the Rams in a stadium in Inglewood scheduled to open in 2019.
The Chargers then spent most of this year campaigning for a measure that would raise $1.15 billion for a $1.8 billion stadium and convention center annex in downtown San Diego that would replace aging Qualcomm Stadium. All the while, they reminded everyone that they hold the option to move to L.A.
Voters called their bluff, voting it down 57-43. It needed 66.7 percent to pass.
Chargers chairman Dean Spanos said he’ll consider his options but won’t announce a decision until after the season.
Interestingly enough, their first game since Election Day is at home against the Miami Dolphins. The Chargers beat the Dolphins on Dec. 20 on an emotional day in which fans thought they were seeing their beloved Bolts in San Diego for the final time.
Quarterback Philip Rivers said he’s optimistic enough groundwork has been laid for the team and city to eventually agree to a stadium deal.
"The love from team to the city and the city to the team has been awesome over the last 55 years and the last 13 I’ve been here," Rivers said. "I can’t see us not here. We have four of our last seven at home and a chance to bounce back and get back in the thick of it, and hopefully we can have some exciting home-field advantage type of atmosphere games down the stretch."
Here are some things to look for when the Chargers (4-5) host the Dolphins (4-4):
Being from Wisconsin, Chargers second-year running back Melvin Gordon is OK with coach Mike McCoy referring to him as a bell cow after he went off for a career-high 196 yards on 32 carries and his NFL-leading 11th touchdown in a home victory against Tennessee. He also caught four passes for 65 yards.
"I mean, it’s cool," Gordon said. "It’s all right. I like it, I guess. You hear it a lot at Wisconsin, going there."
Gordon is running hard and quickly making people forget his miserable rookie season. He’s run for 768 yards and nine touchdowns, with two receiving TDs.
Gordon became the bell cow after Danny Woodhead was lost to a knee injury in the second game.
"More’s been put on his shoulders. He’s played more snaps and had a lot more carries," Rivers said. "You don’t want to run him down, but at the same time the way he’s going, you want to give it to him as much as he can. I don’t think it’s a deal where he’s going to get it handed to him 30 times, but we’re going to need him to keep running the way he’s running, because when we’re able to be that balanced and have those type of drives, it makes us that much better."
Miami’s Jay Ajayi has rushed for 100-plus yards in three consecutive games, including two straight 200-yard games The last Dolphins running back who had three or more consecutive games with 100-plus yards was Reggie Bush, who had four straight in 2011.
Ajayi’s 529 yards in those three games are third most in team history behind Ricky Williams, who rushed for 587 and 545 yards in two three-game stretches in 2002.
Dolphins center Mike Pouncey reached the second level to block a linebacker and seal off a lane for a 20-yard touchdown run by Ajayi. That’s just one small example of the job the offensive line has done to pave the way for the Dolphins’ recent turnaround.
"You’ve got four guys who can play left tackle, and you’ve got probably the best center in football, in my eyes," Branden Albert said. "Our talent and our experience is helping us out."
Albert is the starting left tackle, but left guard Laremy Tunsil, right guard Jermon Bushrod and right tackle Ja’Wuan James all have experience at left tackle.
DEEP IN RETURNERS
Darren Rizzi is in his eighth year as the Dolphins’ special teams coordinator, and he’s never enjoyed so much depth among his returners.
Rookie Kenyan Drake ran back a kickoff 96 yards for the winning touchdown last Sunday against the Jets. Jakeem Grant scored on a 74-yard punt return in Week 5. Jarvis Landry is averaging 11.1 yards on punt returns.
"It’s a good problem to have," Rizzi said. "For a special teams coach to have options back there where you’re not just a one-trick pony, it really helps you. This is the first time in eight years we’ve had this many guys I’d feel comfortable putting back there."
San Diego star Antonio Gates is three touchdown catches shy of matching Tony Gonzalez’s NFL record for a tight end (111). Gates has caught 81 touchdown passes from Rivers, an NFL record for a quarterback-tight end combo.