It was 5 years, 6 months and 13 days ago that the San Diego Chargers drafted Eli Manning, shortly followed by Philip Rivers being drafted by the New York Giants. One may be inclined to insist that this meeting, the first where Manning will go head to head with Rivers, as a chance at redemption for teams. One could argue that the Chargers need to humiliate Eli on his home turf to assert their claim to draft day victory. On the other side, Eli may need to prove that San Diego is not a winner, as he so famously proclaimed prior to the 2004 NFL Draft.
Eli and his Giants have already arrived in San Diego in 2005, a time for personal feuds. While Charger fans screamed for the head of "Sheli" and "Daddy's Little Girl", and LaDanian Tomlinson threw a touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell, Manning ignored the heavy rush the Charger defense, including Shawne Merriman, on his way to a strong 352 yards and two touchdowns. San Diego ended up winning the game, 45-23, but those were different teams. Gone from New York are Jeremy Shockey, Plaxico Burress, Michael Strahan, et al. Gone from San Diego are Drew Brees, Donnie Edwards and Keenan McCardell.
But that is the point, is it not? These are different teams then they were in 2005, and most importantly, these are different teams than they were prior to the 2004 NFL Draft.
So why don't we get past the petty feuds of 2004. Its 2009, almost a new decade, the NFL has changed, you would be shocked now to hear the Chargers and Giants being #1 and #4 in the draft, respectively. Instead, lets look at the matchup this week for what it is, two teams desperate to win this week and stay in the playoff race.
San Diego (4-3) is yet to defeat a team with a winning record, while New York (5-3) has lost three in a row after winning their first five, but only one of their victories were against a winning team (33-31 victory against the Cowboys in Dallas). The Chargers need to show the football world they can hang with a team better than the Dolphins, while the Giants need to regain some form of confidence going into their bye week.
After defeating the NFL versions of FCS teams in the Raiders and Chiefs, the Chargers need to know and need to show they can still create a pass rush, this time against the FBS Giants. With a pash rush, in combination with a suddenly windy day, the Chargers should be able to force some terrible throws from Manning into their inconsistantly ball hawking secondary.
After embarrasing losses to the Saints, Cardinals and Eagles, the Giants need to start running effectively again in order to take the pressure off of Manning, preventing the Shawne/Shaun pass rush of the Chargers from getting in a rhythm. Running the ball should not be a tough task against a Charger team without their All-World nose tackle Jamal Williams, but they must keep up with the run, even while Philip Rivers is tearing apart the more-than-suspect secondary of the Giants.
Ultimately, the loser of this game should be throwing the white flag of defeat in their division, while holding slim hopes of a wild card birth. Meanwhile the winner will have proven skeptics wrong and should be breathing new life for the rest of the season.
This is the first time Philip Rivers will have a chance to beat the team who once decided they would rather have the son of a Pro Bowler and brother of a future Hall of Famer over the son of a coach, even if it cost them dearly. That sure doesn't sound like much of a story line, and it should not be. This game is about much more than Rivers vs Manning or the city of San Diego vs Manning, this is about the Super Bowl, this is about the playoffs, this is about a winning season, this is about a single, crucial, inter-conference matchup, pitting two underachieving teams against each other.
San Diego 38, New York 35.