(SportsNetwork.com) - Tom Brady and the New England Patriots will attempt to bounce back from a rare loss by doing what they usually do, beat the San Diego Chargers and Philip Rivers.
The Patriots have never lost to Rivers and the Chargers with Brady under center, winning five consecutive when the two veteran Pro-Bowlers duel.
Both clubs are currently in the thick of the AFC playoff race. The 9-3 Patriots had their seven-game winning streak snapped last weekend at Green Bay but are still in good position heading into December. By winning out, New England will clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC and secure a first-round bye for the fifth consecutive season.
The 8-4 Chargers, meanwhile, are currently the top wild-card team in the AFC and sit just one game behind Denver for the top spot in the West thanks to answering a three-game mid-season skid with an equally long winning streak, which extended to three with a heart-stopping 34-33 win in Baltimore in Week 13.
Trailing by 10 points with just over six minutes remaining, Rivers led San Diego back and capped the rally with a 1-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Eddie Royal with 38 seconds left in the game.
Rivers completed 34-of-45 passes for 383 yards, three touchdowns and an interception for the Chargers, who outscored Baltimore by a 21-10 margin in the fourth quarter.
"These are the kind of games you have to win to get into the postseason," said Rivers. "And these are the kind of games you've got to win if you do get in."
Keenan Allen caught 11 passes for 121 yards and two touchdowns for San Diego while Royal hauled in nine passes for 81 yards.
"The players never gave up and we just kept plugging away," said Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "That's what good teams do. The character of our team once again showed up, and when you've got a great quarterback like Philip Rivers, you got a chance to win every game just as long as there's time left on the clock."
Brady, on the other hand lost his Week 13 battle against one of the few people on the planet who are actually his peer, Aaron Rodgers.
A-Rod threw for 368 yards and two touchdowns and kept two NFL-record streaks alive in a 26-21 win last Sunday at Lambeau Field as the Packers remained perfect (6-0) at home this season.
Rodgers has now thrown 360 consecutive passed and 31 touchdown passes at Lambeau since his last interception on the field over two years ago, both NFL bests.
Brady was 22-of-35 for 245 yards with two touchdown passes to Brandon LaFell. Rob Gronkowski had seven catches for 98 yards and Brandon Bolden added a 6-yard touchdown run in the loss, New England's first since falling 41-14 in Kansas City on Sept. 29.
"I just wish we would have won this one," Brady said. "We put a lot into this one, and this was a great test for us. I think the guys knew how important this was for our season."
The Pats are 20-14-2 all-time against San Diego and have won five of six overall. The lone Chargers win in that span came when Matt Cassel was filling in for an injured Brady in 2008.
The two teams haven't met since 2011, a 35-21 New England win when Brady tossed for 423 yards and three scores. The Patriots haven't been to San Diego since 2010, a 23-20 Pats win fueled by a Gronkowski TD and three Stephen Gostkowski field goals.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Much like last week with Brady versus Rodgers, all the hype is centering on the QBs because both have been so good for so long.
Brady, however, has always gotten the best of Rivers in the past, winning all five of his starts against the San Diego signal caller while compiling a 91.4 passer rating in those encounters. Conversely, Rivers has managed just five touchdowns with eight interceptions and a less-than-stellar 73.4 passer rating in those games.
Even though the two are never directly playing against each other, Rivers' lack of success against Brady's Pats is a narrative that will follow the North Carolina State product until he excels in this kind of environment.
"We've never played this Patriot team," a terse Rivers said when queried about his lack of success against Brady. "We're 0-0 against this group. There's a lot of guys in that locker room that have never played the Patriots in their life."
Rivers is currently third in the AFC with a 102. 8 passer rating, slightly ahead of Brady's 101.1, He also has an AFC-best 69.1 completion percentage but is behind Brady in both passing yards (3,243 to 3,218) and TD passes (28 to 25).
"It's great to have him on our football team," McCoy said of Rivers. "He's been very efficient. He's done a great job of leading not only the team, but the offense week in and week out."
However you slice it, both QBs are great. Brady has the best December winning percentage in over 70 years at 45-7 and Rivers is in second with a 30-6 mark.
Since losing to Kansas City to fall to 2-2 on the season, New England is 7-1 and has been scoring well over 30 points per game. Perhaps the biggest contributor to that has been the health of Rob Gronkowski, who is feeling good after a myriad of injuries in recent seasons and has an NFL-best 910 receiving yards for a tight end.
Gronk's nine TDs, meanwhile, are equal to his counterpart with the Chargers, veteran Antonio Gates, one of the best pass-catching TEs in NFL history.
"Rob has done a good job for us and been on the field a lot, plays in a lot of situations, been productive in the passing game and the running game," New England coach Bill Belichick said.
The Pats mentor also had some flattering words for the ageless Gates, who remains one of the tougher matchup problems in the league.
"Gates seems timeless," Belichick said. "He's a hard guy to defend. He's got great size, athleticism, hands, does a real good job setting up his routes, beating man or zone coverage."
The x-factor in the game could be the running backs. San Diego is back to leaning on Ryan Mathews, who returned a few weeks ago after missing seven games with a sprained knee. The talented Mathews gives San Diego far more balance and makes opposing defenses pause before putting an extra defensive back on the field.
"It's great to have him back," McCoy said of Mathews. "He's worked extremely hard to get back where he is today."
The Pats, meanwhile, brought back LeGarrette Blount two weeks ago after he was released in Pittsburgh and the big man hasn't missed a beat since he was with the Pats in 2013, averaging 68 yards a game and scoring two TDs.
Belichick is generally ahead of the curve when it comes to the little things that helps a team win.
Instead of flying from Green Bay back to Foxborough and then out to San Diego, the future Hall of Fame coach eliminated the East Coast to West Coast trek which always seems to be an issue by flying directly from Wisconsin to the Southern California.
It's that kind of attention to detail that sets the Patriots apart and expect them to win a 10th game for the 14th consecutive season on Sunday, the first organization to turn that trick since the San Francisco 49ers reached double digits in every year from 1983-98.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Patriots 27, Chargers 20