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Preview: Patriots at Chargers

A visit by the New England Patriots might be just what the San Diego Chargers need.

San Diego will be looking to rebound from back-to-back road defeats when it hosts the Patriots on Sunday at Qualcomm Stadium.

New England (4-1) is normally not an opponent that a team looks to get well against, but normal doesn't typically describe the Chargers (2-4), who have a habit of playing up - and down - to the level of their competition.

That's one reason why San Diego hasn't had a winning record after five games for the past four seasons. The four losses this season - all on the road - have been strange even by the Chargers' Jekyll-and-Hyde standards.

In defeats at Kansas City, Seattle, Oakland and St. Louis, the Chargers have been staring at first-half deficits of 21-7, 17-0, 12-0 and 17-0. Those four teams were among the worst in the league a year ago, compiling a combined record of 15-49.

Conversely, San Diego has cruised in its two home wins, annihilating Jacksonville (38-13) and Arizona (41-10).

So it's anyone's guess as to which team will show up Sunday. One issue facing the Chargers are injuries to their receiving corps. Tight end Antonio Gates is dealing with a foot injury and is listed as questionable while wideout Malcom Floyd is expected to miss the game after injuring a hamstring in last week's 20-17 loss in St. Louis.

That will put more of an offensive burden on quarterback Philip Rivers, who has done his part by throwing for a league-high 2,008 yards to go along with 12 touchdowns and five interceptions.

It might be a good time for the Chargers to try and establish their running game, which has been hindered by falling behind so early and injuries to rookie running back Ryan Mathews.

The No. 12 overall pick, Mathews has averaged fewer than nine carries a game over the past four weeks, although he is churning out a healthy 5.1 yards per clip. He had his best output since Week 1 against the Rams last week, carrying 12 times for 64 yards.

Fortunately for the Chargers, the Patriots have struggled at both stopping the run and rushing the quarterback. New England ranks in the bottom third in the league with 10 sacks while allowing opponents an average of 109.6 rushing yards per game.

The Patriots have compensated for those deficiencies with the league’s top-scoring offense at 30.8 points per game.

Quarterback Tom Brady struggled for much of last week’s game before rallying New England from a 10-point second-half deficit in a 23-20 overtime win over the Baltimore Ravens.

It was New England’s first game without Randy Moss, who was traded to Minnesota prior to the bye week. Ex-Patriots wideout Deion Branch was acquired from Seattle and looked like he had never left, hauling in nine catches for 98 yards and a touchdown.

Seven of Branch’s catches came in the fourth quarter and overtime.

New England, which lost its only game to the New York Jets in Week 2, has tightened up its defense in the past two games, allowing an average of 17 points after getting gashed for 82 points in the first three contests.

San Diego also is expected to be without kicker Nate Kaeding, who has a strained groin. The Chargers signed former Houston Texans kicker Kris Brown this week.

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