Chargers try to sustain momentum vs. red-hot Falcons
Earlier this month, the Atlanta Falcons battled last season’s Super Bowl teams in back-to-back weeks and emerged with two victories.
The San Diego Chargers haven’t recorded consecutive victories — against anyone — since 2014.
That illustrates the gulf between the teams as the Chargers (2-4) head to Atlanta to face the Falcons (4-2) on Sunday (4:05 p.m. ET, FOX).
Atlanta was unable to make it a trio of impressive wins when it stumbled late in a 26-24 loss at Seattle on Sunday. However, the home victory over the Carolina Panthers and the road win over the Denver Broncos stamped the Falcons as legitimate NFC contenders.
The team is receiving contributions from all over the field.
"We have had some games where different groups came through," Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. "Two weeks ago certainly the defensive line had a big day. Two weeks before that, the quarterback and receivers had one. We have had games where the special teams have been involved."
The Chargers, meanwhile, got a needed victory last Thursday, beating the Broncos 21-13 and taking some of the heat off embattled coach Mike McCoy.
"You know how I feel about momentum, week to week," San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. "But we are now like, ‘Guys, that’s how you beat a good team. That’s what it feels like.’"
Now the Chargers are charged with repeating the feat against Atlanta so they can post their first winning streak since November 2014. San Diego also owns just one win in its past 12 road games.
"Atlanta is a team that is as hot as any," Rivers said. "That will be a big one."
Rivers, who threw for a season-low 178 yards against the Broncos, undoubtedly will need to improve upon that figure if the Chargers are to have a chance against the Falcons. San Diego ranks 12th in the league in passing yards per game (263.3) but just 22nd in rushing yards per game (91.8).
The Falcons’ rush defense is stingy, ranking 11th at 94.2 yards per game, but opposing quarterbacks are finding success. Atlanta is tied for 26th in pass defense, yielding 285.3 yards per game.
The Chargers’ leading receiver, Travis Benjamin, didn’t practice Wednesday due to a knee ailment. Even if he is absent Sunday, however, Rivers is well-stocked in terms of receiving weapons, thanks in part to an impressive pair of tight ends.
Hunter Henry is the first rookie tight end to score touchdowns in three consecutive weeks since Jimmy Graham accomplished the feat in 2010. Henry is benefitting from the guidance of veteran tight end Antonio Gates.
"It’s awesome to have that kind of guy on your side," said Henry, an Arkansas product who has 19 catches for 310 yards. "He’s arguably the best ever playing this position so being among his presence is an honor. And I’m happy to call him a good friend."
The young Atlanta defense, which includes six players in their first or second year, expects to improve as the season continues.
"We have to keep working, we have to keep pushing because you saw in the second half (against Seattle), we came out fighting," Falcons free safety Ricardo Allen said. "We came out working. …
"With (good teams), you have to be really detailed and you can’t give them anything extra. Once they catch the ball, you have to get them down right then. Once you see the quarterback scramble, you have to get on your guys."
The Falcons’ offensive attack is both balanced and dangerous. Behind quarterback Matt Ryan, Atlanta ranks second in passing yards per game (329.5), while the rushing attack is ninth at 112 yards per game.
Wide receiver Julio Jones leads the league with 656 receiving yards on 31 catches.
"Any time you go against a player like Julio you have to know where he is every snap," McCoy said. "That is the type of player he is."
San Diego is strong against the run (83.5 yards per game, fifth in the league) but susceptible against the pass (279.7 yards per game, 24th in the NFL).
The Chargers maintain that their attitude is on the rise after they held off Denver to end their three-game losing streak.
"It’s just a new start," San Diego nose tackle Brandon Mebane said. "The season hasn’t gone how we want it to, but this is a new start."
- Antonio Gates
- Atlanta Falcons
- Brandon Mebane
- Carolina Panthers
- Denver Broncos
- FOX Sports San Diego
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- Hunter Henry
- Jimmy Graham
- Julio Jones
- Los Angeles Chargers
- Matt Ryan
- Philip Rivers
- Ricardo Allen
- Travis Benjamin