BALTIMORE — Asked to assess the importance of Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers supplied an answer that should stand for the rest of the season.
“It’s kind of what you’d expect this time of year, with the two teams fighting for a (playoff) spot,” Rivers noted. “So, it’ll be exciting and a heck of a challenge for us.”
This will be the first of five straight games for San Diego (7-4) against teams with winning records and postseason aspirations. The Chargers have defeated just one team with a winning record, Seattle in Week 2.
San Diego certainly can’t afford to look past this game, but coach Mike McCoy and his players are well aware that New England, Denver, San Francisco and Kansas City loom in December.
“We’ve got five teams coming up that are, shoot, as good as they get,” free safety Eric Weddle said. “We’re either going to win a bunch and get in or we don’t. I think the team is focused, we’re ready. We showed it last week (in a 27-24 win over St. Louis).
“We’ve got to get this next one. It’s the only one that matters.”
Because San Diego and Baltimore own identical records, the winner will have the tiebreaker if the teams finish tied for a wild-card spot.
“Every game right now is like a playoff game for us,” Ravens wide receiver Torrey Smith said. “It’s really going to be about who wants it more. We have to be at our best right now, and we understand that.”
Some things to know about the Chargers-Ravens matchup:
INDESTRUCTABLE QBs: Rivers has started every game since the beginning of the 2006 season, and Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t missed a start since taking the job as a rookie in the 2008 season opener.
Flacco expressed his respect for Rivers by saying: “It’s pretty cool. That’s what football is all about. It’s not the fact that he’s not missed a game, it’s the fact that he has been hurt in certain instances and has played through it.”
Since taking over as coach in Baltimore in 2008, Harbaugh has never had anyone but Flacco as his starter.
“Durability is every bit as important as ability,” Harbaugh said. “You can be the most talented guy in the world, but if you’re not there to do the job it really doesn’t matter.”
GATES ENDURES: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has been catching touchdown passes since 2003 with no sign of letting up. With four more TD receptions, he will become the ninth player in NFL history with 100.
“You look at the tape, and you’re hoping that he’s going to age out at some point,” Harbaugh said, grinning. “We all do at some point, but he hasn’t yet. He continues to adjust his game. He really does a great job of bodying up and making plays as a receiver. He’s still a downfield threat. He’s a go-to guy for Philip Rivers.”
NEAR 1,000: Ravens running back Justin Forsett needs 97 yards rushing to reach 1,000 for the first time in his seven-year career. He is coming off two straight 100-yard games and scored two TDs in each of those contests.
“Our offensive line, it starts with those guys,” Flacco said. “They’re doing a lot of things really well right now.”
Stopping Forsett is a priority for the Chargers, whose rushing defense ranks 15th in the NFL.
MR. SMITH GOES TO BALTIMORE: Steve Smith ended up in Baltimore after being released by Carolina, but the Chargers also coveted the veteran wide receiver.
McCoy, a former assistant at Carolina, dialed up Smith after the Panthers cut him.
“It was more just a conversation to see where he was at and what his plans were,” McCoy said. “Obviously, he made a great decision for him and his family, and he’s having a great year.”
Smith leads the Ravens with 53 catches for 817 yards and has scored five touchdowns.
HE LIKES ME: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs, who surpassed 100 career sacks last week in a win over New Orleans, usually doesn’t speak well of opposing quarterbacks. He made an exception this week when asked about Rivers.
“I don’t like many quarterbacks in this league,” Suggs said. “Andy Dalton is one, he’s another, and there’s a few more. But that’s about it.”
Rivers has no desire to talk about it Sunday.
“I hope not to have too much interaction with him. That means he’s either laying on top of me or getting back there a lot,” Rivers said.
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