The San Diego Chargers were atop the AFC West after beating the Oakland Raiders a month ago, but they haven’t won since.
With their playoff hopes precarious, the Chargers emerge from their bye looking to capitalize on another meeting with the winless Raiders on Sunday.
San Diego (5-4) had a five-game winning streak after Branden Oliver’s 1-yard TD run with 1:56 to play provided the difference in a 31-28 win at Oakland in Week 6.
The Chargers, though, followed that with three straight losses, including a 37-0 defeat at Miami on Nov. 2.
The losing streak is "in the past but it’s also kind of right there on your mind," wide receiver Eddie Royal said. "As a competitor you just hate losing and you know that feeling and you never want to have it again. So that kind of motivates you to come out and work that much harder, study a little bit more film, just so you don’t have that feeling again."
San Diego, though, is struggling in nearly every facet of the game. The offense is averaging 245.0 yards with seven turnovers during the losing streak after gaining 395.8 per game with one interception over the previous five games.
The defense was limiting opponents to 289.4 yards a contest while forcing seven turnovers during the winning streak, but that’s increased to 410.3 with no turnovers the last three games.
The Chargers were outgained 441-178 by the Dolphins and shut out for the first time since Oct. 31, 1999.
They’re hoping to get a lift from the potential returns of running back Ryan Mathews (knee) and linebackers Melvin Ingram (hip) and Manti Te’o (foot).
Mathews, who set a career high with 1,255 yards with an average of 4.4 per carry last year, has only 71 in 2014. He had 99 yards and a touchdown in a 26-13 home win over Oakland last season.
San Diego has topped 100 yards twice without Mathews and is averaging only 60.0 the last three games. However, coach Mike McCoy feels there’s more needed to end the skid.
"You’re definitely excited but those two guys aren’t going to change everything we do," McCoy said. "The other 10 guys on the field have got to play better with him. Ryan Mathews does not guarantee 200 yards rushing. It’s not just a couple guys coming back that all of a sudden you’re winning a football game. All 46 have got to play better, we’ve got to coach better.
"(Mathews is) a talented player without a doubt, but he can"t do it all on his own. Melvin can’t do everything on his own, either."
That’s especially true if Philip Rivers struggles again. The quarterback has completed 62.1 percent of his passes for 595 yards with five touchdowns, six interceptions and a 71.2 rating in three games.
He had been the driving force behind the winning streak, connecting on 71.8 percent of his attempts for 1,518 yards with 14 scores and one pick for a staggering 126.8 rating. That included 313 yards with three TDs on 22-of-34 passing against the Raiders (0-9).
The Chargers, though, aren’t taking the AFC West rival lightly, despite Oakland losing 15 games in a row for the longest slide since St. Louis dropped 17 straight from Oct. 26, 2008-Oct. 25, 2009.
"I think normally if it was a non-divisional game you might view it a little different," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "But this is the Raiders. We know how talented they are, we know how hard they play and if you take them for granted, if you look at them just for the record, you’re a fool."
The Raiders have lost seven straight road games and are coming off last week’s 41-17 home defeat in what was perhaps their worst performance of the season.
They mustered 222 yards of offense – only 30 on the ground – and they failed to gain a first down rushing for the first time since 2006.
"They’re looking for the gold at the end of the rainbow and it hasn’t been there," coach Tony Sparano said. "We have to stay the course and believe in the things that we’re doing and we’re getting better as a football team."
Derek Carr is struggling, compiling a 67.7 rating while completing 61.4 percent of his passes for 386 yards with four touchdowns and as many interceptions over the past two games.
The rookie, though, had a season-high four TD passes against the Chargers in Week 5, hitting Andre Holmes for a 77-yard score on the third play from scrimmage.
"It’s not just Derek," Sparano said. "I know we want to make this just about Derek, but it’s not really about Derek."