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AFL rival Raiders, Chargers in Vagabond Bowl
Call it the Vagabond Bowl.
The latest matchup in one of the great rivalries from the American Football League pretends to have some meaning Sunday when the San, er, Los Angeles Chargers visit the OakVegas Raiders in what could be one of the final four pro football games in that relic known as the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.
The Raiders still lead this 118-game series, 62-53-2, after the Chargers took round No. 1 this year, 25-17, in their temporary condominium-sized StubHub home in Carson. In 2020, the Chargers will play in a huge, new state-of-the-art stadium in Inglewood, which they will cohabit with their landlord, the Los Angeles Rams. It is still unknown where the Raiders will play in 2019.
At least the Chargers, 6-2, know where they will play next season. Fans of the 1-7 Raiders learned Tuesday that Mayor Libby Schaaf will get four more years in Oakland, but there is no stadium deal to make sure the team has even one more year in its birth town before moving to Las Vegas in 2020.
Absent some contractual spark between Schaaf and staff and the Raiders, the team's most promising option for a home field next year damned well may be that stadium abandoned by the Chargers in San Diego. Yeah, that one where Raiders fans usually outnumbered those of the Chargers through good and bad times of this great rivalry. How's that for an ironic background?
Times are good for the Chargers, who are very much in the playoff chase, trailing only 8-1 Kansas City in the AFC West, well ahead of the Denver Broncos (3-6) and, oh yeah, the Raiders.
Raider Nation, possibly the most abused loyal fan base in U.S. sports history, will fill the old stadium Sunday to see quarterback Derek Carr duel with the Chargers' great Philip Rivers, who has hit on 165 of 246 passes for 2,296 yards with 19 touchdowns, three interceptions and a 116.5 rating.
Despite being constantly manhandled by unblocked opponents, Carr has completed 204 of 282 passes for 2,198 yards, 10 touchdowns, eight interceptions and a 94.8 rating.
Stir in the Raiders' generous, No. 27-rated defense (yielding 407 yards per game), and the Chargers' so-so No. 19-rated defense (362 yards per game) and there could be enough fireworks at the old stadium to make it worth that pileup of traffic along the Nimitz Freeway.
Good news for the Raiders is that Chargers pass rusher Joey Bosa is still sidelined by an injury that seems to rankle former coach Rex Ryan, who questions how a one-week, preseason foot injury became a 12-week problem.
"If Joey Bosa ever decides to show up - I don't know if he has to ask his dad for permission - because we know the Bosas, if there's an injury that's a week to 12 weeks, there gonna take it all the way to 12 weeks," Ryan said. "This is the NFL, man. ... Nobody understands this injury. I think, speaking as a Chargers fan, we're all like, 'Where is this cat?'"
Thanks Rex; this game needed a little something to rile the troops.
Carr is also upbeat because his offensive line, bad enough for an insurance company to cancel a quarterback's life insurance, should be improved this week. Rookie left tackle Kolton Miller returned to practice Wednesday, albeit wearing braces and with limited participation.
But for a guy whose older brother was battered into submission as a NFL quarterback, and who has been sacked 24 times in half a season himself, Carr will welcome anything that helps.
Gruden told reporters Wednesday that the pressure obviously impacts Carr, as it would any quarterback.
"You get an offensive line that's healthy and playing great, it makes everybody's job a lot easier, " Gruden said. "I'm not going to make any excuses. I think Derek is doing some good things. It does make things difficult when you have the amount of injuries that we have had. I just got a nice call from my brother (Redskins head coach Jay Gruden), he lost all his linemen the other day, too. Got eight games left, we have to continue to coach hard and find a way to improve."
Carr tried to pass it off, as it were.
"Oh man, it's not that bad," he said, when somebody mentioned his older brother David, who retired to the safety of television. "My guys are awesome. The thing about him (David) is there were times where they would have the right guys blocked, they just physically couldn't do it. At least our guys fight, we have that going for us. He did mess with me a little bit, but no, it's not like, 'Oh man, how do you deal with this or that?' It's not like that at all."
"We're having an unprecedented amount of young players having to play. That, obviously, makes it a struggle, makes it tougher."
Miller and right tackler Brandon Parker are rookies. Miller is good when healthy. Parker is struggling like a rookie whether he is healthy or not. He took over for veteran Donald Penn, who was moved to the right side to make room for Miller. But Penn was doing poorly there when a groin injury ended his season and probably his career (injured reserve). So Parker is better for future plans.
Wherever they may be.
SERIES HISTORY: 118th regular-season meeting of original AFL teams. Raiders lead series, 62-53-2. The Chargers actually began in Los Angeles in 1960, so this is sort of a return home. The Chargers swept the Raiders last year, the first time that happened since 2014. Rivers was on board for part of the amazing streak when the Chargers beat the Raiders 13 straight times from 2003-2009. There were historic postseason clashes, with the Raiders beating the Chargers in the 1981 AFC Conference Championship Game. The Chargers were also on the losing end of the "Holy Roller" play, thanks to the art and craft of quarterback Ken Stabler. It led to a rule change regarding fumbles in the last two minutes of a half.