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Loss to Broncos leaves Chargers largely irrelevant

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Loss to Broncos leaves Chargers largely irrelevant

SAN DIEGO (AP) It's been a long time - 2003, to be exact - since the San Diego Chargers have been this irrelevant before Thanksgiving.

Back then, Marty Schottenheimer was their second-year coach, quarterback Drew Brees was benched because he struggled so much and LaDainian Tomlinson was in the third season of a Hall of Fame-caliber career.

The Chargers were awful, heading toward an NFL-worst 4-12 finish and their eighth straight year out of the playoffs.

The current Chargers aren't as bad, but are teetering on the brink of oblivion.

The Bolts (4-6) all but ceded the AFC West title to Peyton Manning and the Broncos by losing 30-23 at Denver on Sunday, leaving them with only a desperate shot at a wild-card spot.

Philip Rivers is under siege behind a shaky line every time he drops back to pass. His turnovers are piling up at an alarming rate. He committed three more at Denver, running his total to 43 in the past 26 games.

This season he's thrown 14 interceptions and lost four fumbles. Last season he was picked off 20 times and lost five fumbles.

Rivers has been sacked 26 times in 10 games, including four times at Denver.

Coach Norv Turner admits he worries about the quarterback's well-being.

``Yeah, I am. I mean, I think for the quarterback position, all you've got to do is look at two weeks ago and there's three or four guys that are laying on the ground with concussions or separate shoulders or whatever,'' Turner said Monday.

``It's a very demanding position. Some of the things we do from a game-plan standpoint, the things we're calling, the way we're doing things, is to try to limit his exposure and still give ourselves a chance to win the game. We're all very competitive. Philip's a very competitive guy. The way we put a game plan together is very competitive.

``We're used to having success offensively, we're used to scoring a lot of points, we're used to moving the ball. That probably doesn't fit with where we're at right now. When we can we take that aggressive nature, and there's sometimes we can't.''

After a 3-1 start, San Diego has lost five of six. On Sunday it hosts AFC North-leading Baltimore, which will be without safety Ed Reed, who was suspended for one game by the NFL on Monday for repeated hits to the head and neck area of defenseless players, and captain Ray Lewis, who remains on the injured reserve-return list with a torn triceps.

Besides their on-field struggles, the Chargers are hurting at the gate. With some 10,000 tickets still unsold 72 hours before the deadline, they appear headed toward their second local TV blackout this season. Their final three home games also are in danger of being blacked out.

It's expected that Turner will be fired at season's end if the Chargers miss the playoffs for a third straight season.

Every loss, which magnifies glaring roster deficiencies, brings more calls for general manager A.J. Smith to go, as well.

Team president Dean Spanos has declined repeated requests for interviews.

In past years, Spanos has waited until season's end to make decisions. He brought both Turner and Smith back in January despite the Chargers missing the playoffs for the second straight season after making the postseason four straight years and five of six.

Turner's contract runs through next season, at approximately $3 million, while Smith has two more years on his, at a total of about $4 million. While Spanos might be inclined to fire Turner, he might not be so quick to eat Smith's contract.

Firing Turner and keeping Smith would mean Spanos would give the GM another chance to hire a coach. Turner was an unpopular choice from the start, perceived as a coach whom Smith could control.

Turner replaced Schottenheimer, who was fired after going 14-2 in 2006 largely because of his icy relationship with the authoritarian Smith. Smith and Schottenheimer reportedly didn't speak to each other for two years.

At some point, Spanos' son, John, is expected to be promoted to oversee the franchise's football operations, although not with the title of general manager. John Spanos currently is director of college scouting.

If Smith is fired, the leading in-house candidate to replace him would be Jimmy Raye, the director of player personnel. Senior executive Randy Mueller, who serves as a national scout, is a former GM of the Miami Dolphins and New Orleans Saints. It's not known if Dean Spanos would tap him for GM.

Smith hasn't returned repeated calls seeking comment on his roster.

The biggest problems are on the offensive line, where Smith hasn't adequately replaced two top players on the left side who were forced out of the game due to injuries, and at wide receiver, where he didn't adequately replace Vincent Jackson after he signed with Tampa Bay for $55 million.

The Chargers released left tackle Marcus McNeill on March 13 after he failed a physical. McNeill, who had a neck injury, didn't get any offers and retired. San Diego felt confident having re-signed Jared Gaither after he played well in the final five games last season.

But Gaither - previously released by both Baltimore and Kansas City - has been injured most of this season. Their third option at left tackle would have been Brandyn Dombrowski, who allowed four sacks in a home loss to the Raiders last season and has missed all of this season with a foot injury. Rookie free agent Mike Harris has started five games at left tackle.

Left guard Kris Dielman retired March 1 due to the effect of a concussion and was replaced by Tyronne Green.

Due to inadequate protection, Rivers has been scrambling most of the season.

``It was a tough day,'' Turner said of the Broncos game. ``He got hit, he got banged around, he got harassed, but I thought he battled through that and obviously made big plays in the second half.''

So how long can Rivers survive?

``It's what's happened to us,'' Turner said. ``It's very difficult. Through a normal game you're going to have some plays that don't come up exactly the way you want it, you're going to have some plays where you have to get rid of the ball quicker than you like, you're going to have some plays where you're under a little bit of pressure. That's the National Football League.''

On Sunday, the Chargers had some injuries on the line.

``That put a lot of pressure on the guys up front. That pressure obviously is transferred over to Phillip,'' Turner said.

Asked how much he misses McNeill and Dielman, Rivers said: ``Those are questions that are really hard to answer because you certainly miss guys that played a lot of great ball here for many years. At the same time, I'm glad we have the guys we have. ... That is all the big what-if game. We have gone out and had the chance to win every game we've played in other than the Atlanta game that got away from us right off the bat. We just haven't played well enough to win. Individually I haven't and collectively we haven't as a team.''

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Ravens vs. Broncos Week 3: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

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Ravens vs. Broncos Week 3: Date, time, TV channel, live stream, how to watch

The Baltimore Ravens' Week 3 matchup against the Denver Broncos could have more repercussions than you think. As Case Keenum and Von Miller roll into town, a win will be vital before the team hits the road for three weeks. 

Coming off 10 days of rest, we'll begin to see what this 2018 team can do after a blowout Week 1 win to the Buffalo Bills was followed up by a dud of a Week 2 in Cincinnati

Joe Flacco and his three new receivers have been connecting on all levels, but now it's time to allow the backs to hit the ground running (pun intended). Alex Collins and Co. are averaging just 3.3 yards-per-carry, something John Harbaugh is not happy about.

"That’s a big priority," Harbaugh said Monday on getting the running game going. "We’re not, in any way, pleased with the numbers. And, we are very determined to run the ball well, because we think it fits our offense, and it’s something that opens everything else up. So, we have to get that going.”

The Ravens' receivers will need to take advantage of a weak Broncos secondary. Raiders' Derek Carr completed 29 of 32 in Week 2 thanks to the Broncos' CBs. That doesn't mean their defense is lacking entirely. There's of course outside linebacker Miller, who already has four sacks on the season, and strong safety Darian Stewart who will be the Ravens' offense' main target. 

"He’s the straw that stirs the drink, no doubt – one of the very best in the league at what he does," Harbaugh said. "We will have to have him accounted for at all times, on every play. If we don’t do that, he’ll wreck the game. That’s job [No.] 1 on offense – that’s where it starts.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Ravens could be without Pro Bowl middle linebacker C.J. Mosley after suffering a bone bruise in Week 2. He did participate in Thursday's practice, but there has been no word on his availability for Sunday's matchup. 

Mosley's absence was felt immediately against the Bengals, but the defense has had plenty of time to plan accordingly. A veteran presence was brought back to fill the void in Albert McCllelan as the team will have to keep a close eye on the Broncos' dynamic running back duo in undrafted rookie Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman.

Lindsay in currently third in the NFL in rushing yards (178) and has 35 receiving yards for one touchdown. His 100-plus yards in two games makes the 24-year-old the first undraftetd rookie to ever reach that achievement. Over two games, Freeman has rushed 23 times for 99 yards and one touchdown. 

Against the Ravens, quarterback Case Keenum has a 62.2 career rating in three starts with the Vikings, Texans and Rams. He still has a 2-1 record, however, against Baltimore. In his last six road starts, he's put up 13 touchdowns, five interceptions and a 100.8 rating.

Defensive tackle Willie Henry (abdomen), tight end Hayden Hurst (foot) and defensive tackle Michael Pierce (foot) did not participate in Thursday's practice. Linebacker Matthew Judon (hamstring), Mosley (knee) and tackle Ronnie Stanley (elbow) were limited. 

Cornerback Adam Jones (thigh), inside linebacker Brandon Marshall (knee), nose tackle Domata Peko Sr. (not injury related) and tackle Jared Veldheer (concussion) did not practice Thursday for the Broncos. Safety Dymonte Thomas (abdomen) was limited. 

The two have met 13 times  – including two postseason games – with the Ravens leading the series 7-6. Ahead of Sunday's matchup, here's everything you need to know to watch.

RAVENS VS. BRONCOS WEEK 3 HOW TO WATCH:

Who: Baltimore Ravens vs. Denver Broncos

What: Week 3 regular season

When: Sunday, Sept. 22, 2018, 1:00 p.m. ET

Where: M&T Bank Stadium

TV Channel: CBS

Live Stream: Watch Now with FuboTV - Try Free Trial

Radio: WBAL New Radio 1090 and 98Rock

Weather: 67 degrees, cloudy

RAVENS 2018 REGULAR SEASON SCHEDULE:

Week 1: Sun., 9/9 vs. Bills, 1:00 p.m. (W: 47-3)

Week 2: Thur., 9/13 @ Bengals, 8:20 p.m. (L: 34-23)

Week 3: Sun., 9/23 vs. Broncos. 1:00 p.m.

Week 4: Sun., 9/30 @ Steelers, 8:20 p.m.

Week 5: Sun., 10/7 @ Browns, 1:00 p.m.

Week 6: Sun., 10/14 @ Titans, 4:25 p.m.

Week 7: Sun., 10/21 vs. Saints, 4:05 p.m.

Week 8: Sun., 10/28 @ Panthers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 9: Sun., 11/4 vs. Steelers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 10:  BYE week

Week 11: Sun., 11/18 vs. Bengals, 1:00 p.m.

Week 12: Sun., 11/25 vs. Raiders, 1:00 p.m.

Week 13: Sun., 12/2 @ Falcons, 1:00 p.m.

Week 14: Sun., 12/9 @ Chiefs, 1:00 p.m.

Week 15: Sun., 12/16 vs. Buccaneers, 1:00 p.m.

Week 16: Sat., 12/22 or Sunday 12/23 @ Chargers, TBD

Week 17: Sun., 12/30 vs. Browns, 1:00 p.m.

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Despite the optics, Ravens do have a weekly game plan for Lamar Jackson

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USA TODAY Sports

Despite the optics, Ravens do have a weekly game plan for Lamar Jackson

When the Ravens' offense takes the field on gameday, your eyes are probably searching for No. 8.

Since trading back into the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, one of the biggest questions facing the Ravens is how they would utilize the dynamic talents of Lamar Jackson in the present. 

The former Heisman Trophy winner has seen action in each of the Ravens' regular-season games at both QB and receiver. But fans looking for that instant spark, like what Browns rookie Baker Mayfield provided Thursday night, have yet to find No. 8.

While the use of Jackson and Joe Flacco at the same time allows for a playbook with more versatility, it continues to be a feeling-out process for both the Ravens and fans. 

“A lot of thought goes into that. We’ll see," offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said on the process of deciding when to use Jackson. 

"Every game will be different with Lamar. He’ll play a little bit more in some, a little bit less in others, depending on who we’re going against, what style we’re going against and all those things.”

 “It’s week to week, gameplan to gameplan, game to game during the game," head coach John Harbaugh added during a Monday press conference. "There are more plays than five in the gameplan for him. We’ll just try to do what we can do with all the weapons we have to try to put as many points up as we can. That’s really what we’re trying to do with all our guys. I put him in the same category that way.”

In Week 1 against the Bills, Jackson took over the reins in the third quarter, going 1-of-4 for 25 yards and one sack. He added 39 rushing yards, averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry.

Then, in Week 2 against the Bengals, the rookie rushed two times for just six yards averaging 3 yards-per-carry. 

Jackson has yet to break through in the regular season, but there is absolutely zero reason for concern. 

He is simply an additional tool the Ravens are keeping in their back pocket for now, and while their reasoning behind using him on particular plays may appear sporadic, there's a method behind the madness. 

"There are a lot of different reasons why Lamar goes into a game at a particular time. It may not look like it, but it is well thought out.”

The Ravens' Week 3 opponent  — the Denver Broncos — expect to see Jackson on the field Sunday. When asked how much they're are preparing for him, Super Bowl 50 MVP Von Miller admitted the challenge he creates for a defense.

"I mean, like you said, it's tough to prepare for a guy like Lamar Jackson," Miller said on a conference call with media Wednesday. "There's not a receiver that can throw like him. It's hard to replicate that on the scout team. It's definitely a challenge." 

The good news for the Ravens and Jackson is that there's still a whole lot of football left to figure it all out. 

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