Surging Chargers focused on Washington, not playoff chase
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By GREG BEACHAM
CARSON, Calif. (AP) Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers spent the past two months scrapping and clawing for the chance to play meaningful games in December.
Now that they've made it, the Bolts don't want to waste that hard work against an opponent that has been slipping out of contention for the same two months.
After winning three straight and six of eight overall, the first-place Chargers (6-6) host the Washington Redskins (5-7) on Sunday with a chance to solidify their postseason intentions.
A loss would almost certainly put the Bolts in trouble again, but Rivers and his veteran Los Angeles teammates are motivated by their recent late-season experiences in San Diego.
"We haven't had a very meaningful December game the last two years, and now here we are," Rivers said. "I think it's good to acknowledge that and talk about that, because it is different. It's exciting, and it's what you spend all offseason for, is to get into December and have a chance."
Just three years ago, the Chargers hit December at 8-4. They lost three of their final four games, including a season-ending loss at Kansas City with a playoff berth on the line.
"We have a shot," Rivers said. "We know that. But we also know how quickly it can go the other way. We've by no means made it. We have four tough football games ahead of us, starting this week."
Although these teams' records are nearly identical, the Chargers are sitting atop the AFC West alongside Kansas City and Oakland, while the Redskins are already eliminated from the NFC East title race behind Philadelphia (10-2).
With six NFC teams already sitting on eight victories and four other teams between Washington and a wild-card spot, the final month of the Redskins' season likely is only about pride.
Kirk Cousins doesn't intend to let up, although the prolific passer also is playing for his long-term future, either in Washington or elsewhere. Cousins has 3,289 yards passing this season - just 3 fewer than Rivers' 3,292.
"We do have like a 1 percent chance, so I'm going to play believing that ... if we can do our part, who knows?" Cousins said. "In theory, we do still have something to play for, and that's enough for me."
Here are more things to watch in the franchises' 11th meeting:
KIRK BEWARE: Cousins' greatest challenge could be staying upright under the pressure of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram , the Chargers' dynamic pass-rushing duo. They've combined for 20 of the Chargers' 35 sacks already this season, while Cousins has been sacked 35 times behind an injury-plagued offensive line.
Los Angeles defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is an aggressive blitzer on third downs, and that has played a big role in a strong series of defensive performances by the Bolts, who haven't allowed more than 27 points in a game all season.
"I think they have had more interceptions (15) than they've allowed touchdown passes (13)," Cousins said. "I've got to believe that a lot of the credit does go to the pass rush and then works back from there."
KEENAN'S COUSIN: Chargers receiver Keenan Allen will attempt to become the first player in NFL history to make at least 10 catches for at least 100 yards and one touchdown in four consecutive games.
But LA's star playmaker also will be thinking about his cousin, Redskins receiver Maurice Harris, who made a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch against Minnesota last month in his season debut.
Harris isn't likely to have a big impact Sunday after sustaining a concussion last week, but Allen will be looking for him. "We have been doing it our whole life, so we always knew we could play at a high level," Allen said. "I just think he needs the chance, and I think he showed it against the Vikings when he did get the chance."
REED UNLIKELY: Washington's most important offensive playmaker, tight end Jordan Reed, is expected to miss his sixth consecutive game with a strained right hamstring. Reed only has 27 catches for 211 yards and two touchdowns during a lost season that coach Jay Gruden called incomplete. "Jordan is a big-time player for us and when he's not out there, it has an effect on what we do," Gruden said. "Any time you lose a player of that magnitude, as gifted as he is talent-wise, it's going to have a little bit of an effect."
QUICK TURNAROUND: Although the temptation could be strong this week, the Chargers insist they won't be looking ahead to their trip to Kansas City next Saturday for a key game in the AFC West race. "(Washington) is a playoff-caliber team," Rivers said. "Let's find a way, and then we know how exciting next Saturday will be."
Brown said Washington has "got probably a whole team on injured reserve right now" but doesn't want it to be an excuse. "I've never had all that guys get hurt on the inside like that," Brown said. "You've got to know your job ... You've got to know what you're supposed to do."
AP Sports Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed to this report.
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Updated December 7, 2017