Philip Rivers looks forward to his Thanksgiving debut in his 14th season.
The six-time Pro Bowl quarterback is also pretty fired up about how important Thursday’s visit to the Dallas Cowboys is for his Los Angeles Chargers.
“Outside of playoff games, I don’t know that there’s any bigger stage and game than Thanksgiving,” Rivers said . “It’s certainly a big-time game, more so because of what’s riding on it for our team. Throw in the fact that it’s Thanksgiving, even better.”
Los Angeles (4-6) started 0-4 while AFC West rival Kansas City won its first five. Now the Chargers are within two games of the division-leading Chiefs after scoring their most points since 1981 in a 54-24 win over Buffalo.
The Cowboys (5-5) have lost both games without suspended star running back Ezekiel Elliott, with still four games remaining on the six-game ban over alleged domestic violence. The defending NFC East champs are already all but eliminated in the division race, facing a tough road to a wild-card spot.
“It’s going to show the character of our team,” said quarterback Dak Prescott, who has struggled without the backfield mate from their remarkable rookie season.
“We’ve got the choice to go 11-5 right now or 5-11 or anything in between. It’s about us coming in and coming to work every day to show the character and fight we have to be 11-5.”
Tyron Smith appears set to return for Dallas after the four-time Pro Bowl left tackle missed two games with back and groin issues. Prescott was sacked a career-high eight times in the first loss, 27-7 to Atlanta, and lost a fumble in both games.
But the Cowboys still have to figure out how to stop the run without 2016 All-Pro linebacker Sean Lee, who will miss his second straight game and fourth overall with a hamstring injury. Dallas is allowing 181 yards rushing per game without Lee.
Things to consider going into the Chargers’ second straight Thanksgiving game in Texas (the most recent was a 21-17 AFL win at Houston in 1969, the year before the merger):
After an injury-plagued beginning to his rookie season, Chargers receiver Mike Williams is starting to become a bigger part of the game plan. He caught a season-high five passes against Buffalo, playing 41 snaps and finally getting into a rhythm on the field. The Clemson product could get an even larger role going forward as defenses focus on Keenan Allen after his 12-catch performance against the Bills.
In addition to the likely return of Smith, it appears kicker Dan Bailey will be back after injuring his right groin against San Francisco and missing four games. Mike Nugent was signed to replace him and apparently will remain on the roster at least one more week. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens injured his groin against the Eagles, but has said he thinks he’ll play. Hitchens usually fills Lee’s weakside spot when Lee is out.
What a rush
The Chargers are third in the NFL with 30 sacks after harassing Buffalo quarterbacks Nathan Peterman and Tyrod Taylor. LA’s dynamic rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram is responsible for 19 of those sacks. Bosa is on a particular roll lately, with his pressure causing two of Peterman’s interceptions and Taylor’s fumble, which was returned for a touchdown by Ingram.
Tight end royalty
Once again, Chargers-Cowboys will mean an Antonio Gates-Jason Witten showdown at tight end. They came in together in 2003 and have played all 15 seasons with the same franchise. Between them, Gates and Witten have 2,045 catches for 23,612 yards and 178 touchdowns. Gates’ only TD this season set the NFL record for tight ends at 112. Witten and Tony Gonzalez are the only tight ends with at least 1,000 catches and 10,000 yards. “They are two of the all-time greats,” Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said.
Assuming Bosa faces Smith, he’ll do so with a healthy amount of respect for the 6-foot-5, 320-pound former Southern Cal standout. “First of all, you just look at the man – he’s like a cartoon character, a freakin’ test tube baby. It’s unbelievable the size of him.” Bosa won’t get to see Elliott, his old roommate at Ohio State. Elliott was taken fourth in the 2016 draft, one spot after Bosa. “We were both terrible roommates so it didn’t bother either of us. We were both sloppy,” Bosa said.