COSTA MESA (CNS) - The Los Angeles Chargers will face the New England Patriots today in an AFC divisional playoff game, seeking to continue their excellence away from what is now known as Dignity Health Sports Park.
The Chargers were a league-best-equaling 7-1 on the road in the regular season, won a game in London that was considered a home game and were victorious at Baltimore to open the playoffs.
“I think we have a good routine,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said last week when asked to explain his team's success on the road. “No doubt traveling on the road I think galvanized these players, and they do stick together.”
The Patriots were the lone NFL team in the 2018 regular season to go 8- 0 at home. They have won 15 consecutive games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts dating back to last season and eight consecutive playoff games, a streak that began in the 2013 season.
Their home playoff winning streak equals the fourth longest in NFL history, one behind the Buffalo Bills' nine-game streak from 1988-95.
“They're very good at finding your weaknesses and exploiting that,” Lynn said of the Patriots. “They're one of the best I've ever been around in doing that. We've got to be able to make those adjustments and keep up. Not only keep up, but get ahead.”
To Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, “of all teams in the league, they do a heck of a job of capitalizing on your little errors.”
“We've got to be on all those details so we can execute at the highest level to score in the red zone, convert third downs and all those things that end up being the difference -- protecting the football and more,” Rivers said.
The Chargers are seeking to reach the AFC Championship Game for the first time since the 2007 season. New England has made seven consecutive appearances in the AFC Championship Game, the longest streak for either of the NFL's conference championship games which were created as part of the NFL-AFL merger that fully went into effect in 1970.
The winner will play at Kansas City next Sunday for a berth in the Super Bowl.
The Chargers have lost their last seven regular-season and postseason games against the Patriots when quarterback Tom Brady has played for New England.
“This team is 0-0,” Rivers said. “We've never played them. Certainly, I was a part of all those teams that didn't win in those games, but this team right here has never played them, and that's the way I look at it. Again, those are all things that you're aware of, and shoot, we can't go back and win. We have a chance to win on Sunday.”
The Patriots were 21-13 winners in the most recent meeting on Oct. 29, 2017, with Brady throwing for 333 yards and one touchdown and Rivers throwing for 212 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
The Chargers have made two additions to their roster since last Sunday's 23-17 victory over Baltimore in a wild card game, activating tight end Hunter Henry from the reserve/physically unable to perform list and signing Nick Rose to handle kickoffs.
Henry suffered a torn ACL during organized team activities on May 22 and hasn't played this season. He started 23 games this past two seasons, catching 81 passes for 1,057 yards and 12 touchdowns.
When Lynn last met with reporters on Friday, he said a decision on whether Hunter would play would be made Saturday.
“I thought he got better as the week went on, but we just have to step back, look at some more tape and just make sure that he's right,” Lynn said.
Rose had 32 touchbacks in 45 kickoffs in 10 games last season with the Washington Redskins and Chargers. He spent the preseason with the Houston Texans, but was released before the start of the regular season.
Rose had been in training camp with the San Antonio Commanders of the Alliance of American Football this month.
“He has a strong kickoff leg,” Lynn said. “That's what we're looking at (for him).
“Our coverage units, they've been outstanding, but they cover kicks every single week. The guy that we're facing, (Patriots returner Cordarrelle) Patterson, I think he's one of the best in the business. If we can kick the ball in the end zone a little bit, I think that might help.”
A key for the Chargers is whether their offensive line can give Rivers time to “throw the football down the field,” said Phil Simms, an analyst on CBS' “The NFL Today” and an NFL quarterback from 1979-93.
“The Chargers' receivers are four-deep and they're good, but we haven't seen that of late because of good defenses they've been playing ... have made him go too quick,” Simms said. “He hasn't had those opportunities.”
A key for New England is being able to control Chargers defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram, according to Boomer Esiason, an analyst on “The NFL Today” and an NFL quarterback from 1984-97.
“Trent Brown, the left tackle, and Marcus Cannon, the right tackle, (are) the two most important players, giving Tom Brady the space he needs to throw the ball down the field,” Esiason said.
Said Simms: “Why that's so important because if they can't block them, that means the tight end and running back are not going to be in the passing game for the Patriots. That's a big deal.”
Sarah Thomas will be the down judge, the first woman to serve as an official in an NFL playoff game.
The down judge stands at one end of the line of scrimmage with the chain crew, looking for possible offsides, encroachment and other fouls before the snap. He or she also marks the progress of the ball and is in charge of the chain crew.
The NFL changed the name of the position from head linesman in 2017 when it moved Thomas to the position after she was a line judge for two seasons.
Photo: Getty Images