Falcons ready to face hard-luck Chargers


Falcons ready to face hard-luck Chargers

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Quarterback Philip Rivers and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt of the San Diego Chargers celebrate after the game with the Kansas City Chiefs at Qualcomm Stadium on December 29, 2013 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 27-2 in overtime. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

After donning their road-warrior capes to open the season, the Falcons must guard against a letdown against the dangerous San Diego Chargers.

After playing four of six games on the road, including a 10-day road trip to Denver and Seattle, the Falcons (4-2) are set to face the hard-luck Chargers (2-4) at 4:05 p.m. Sunday at the Georgia Dome.

The Falcons are early 6.5-point favorites is their first meeting with the Chargers since they steamrolled them 27-3 in San Diego in 2012.

The players had a few days off and are set to return to practice Wednesday.

“We’ll go back into the process of re-setting and getting ready for San Diego,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said.

The Chargers, who are more-rested after beating Denver on Thursday, have been in all of their games. Their losses have been come by one-score games. They’ve been edged out by Kansas City (six), Indianapolis (four points), New Orleans (one point) and Oakland (three points).

“It’s always nice to have an extra day of preparation for an opponent,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said. “We don’t have an opportunity to play Atlanta very often. It’s a very talented football team. Very explosive on offense. Sound on defense.”

There are some connections between the teams. McCoy and Falcons defensive coordinator Richard Smith were on the Denver staff in 2011 and 2012. Also, Falcons defensive end Dwight Freeney played for the Chargers in 2013 and 2014.

“Having worked with Richard Smith before, their coordinator and knowing what their defensive staff likes to do will be a challenge for our team,” McCoy said.

The Chargers, who snapped Denver’s 15-game road winning streak against AFC West teams, are led by veteran quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Melvin Gordon.

Rivers has completed 135 of 231 passes (67.2 percent) for 1,647 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Gordon has rushed 116 times for 393 yards and six touchdowns.

There’s a changing of the guard at tight end for the Chargers. Eight-time Pro Bowler Antonio Gates is making way for rookie Hunter Henry, who’s off to a solid start in his NFL career.

Gates, 36, is battling back from a hamstring injury. He missed two games after suffering the injury against Jacksonville on Sept. 18. He played against Oakland and had two key third-down catches in the Chargers win over Denver.

Henry, who played at Arkansas, has 19 catches for 310 yards and leads the team with three receiving touchdowns. He’s one of four Chargers with a reception of 50 yards or more.

The Chargers are led in receiving by wide receiver Travis Benjamin, who has 31 catches for 411 yards and two touchdowns. Tyrell Williams has 24 catches for 386 yards and two touchdowns.

But it’s the play of rookie defensive end Joey Bosa, who had a long holdout, that has the Chargers feeling optimistic about their defense.

The Chargers drafted Bosa third overall in the NFL draft. He missed all of training camp while his contract was being negotiated and a suffered a hamstring injury shortly after he reported Aug. 28.

He had two sacks in his debut against Oakland. He was solid at the point of attack and had two quarterback hits against Denver.

San Diego cornerback Casey Hayward, who played at Vanderbilt and is from Perry, likely will cover Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones, with some help from the safety. Jones leads the NFL with a 21.2 yards per catch average.

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