Chargers, Cowboys running out of time
Perhaps it's because he's a native Texan, but Los Angeles Chargers coach Anthony Lynn holds his team's Thanksgiving Day contest against the Dallas Cowboys at Arlington, Texas in particularly high regard.
Lynn, who played high school football at Texas small-town powerhouse Celina and college football at Texas Tech, said it's one of the two biggest days in the NFL season.
"Playing in two Super Bowls in Denver and playing (with the Broncos) on Thanksgiving Day in Dallas, it may be the second largest game in the league other than the Super Bowl," Lynn said. "It really is an honor to play in that game."
Considering how things have gone for the Chargers and Cowboys through 10 games, this could be the biggest stage either play on for the rest of the season.
Los Angeles (4-6) has won four of its last six, but is still chasing the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs and a pack of teams for a possible wild-card berth.
Dallas (5-5) is far behind NFC East-leading Philadelphia and the Cowboys are tasked with scraping for a wild card with a depleted team. Star running back Ezekiel Elliott (suspension), All-Pro left tackle Tyron Smith (back, groin) and the cornerstone of the defense, linebacker Sean Lee (hamstring), are all out of the lineup.
Both the Chargers and Cowboys clearly need a win on Thursday to bolster playoff hopes.
For Dallas, that means shaking off the sting of a 37-9 loss to the Eagles on Sunday night.
"I think the biggest thing is you have to go back to work," Dallas coach Jason Garrett said. "The challenge of the National Football League is real, play after play, game after game. Sometimes you have success and you have to build on that but also learn from what happens."
Consider Dallas to be in a "learn from what happens" phase as the Cowboys have suffered back-to-back lopsided losses at Atlanta and at home Sunday night against Philadelphia.
But Garrett said his message to the team was that they still have a chance to peak at the right time.
"The idea is just to let them know that it's all in front of us," Garrett said. "And it's just a matter of what we want to do with it. We're 5-5 right now. We can be anywhere from 11-5 to 5-11 and everywhere in between. Really the focus is trying to become 6-5 and the way you do that is focus on today and do what you need to do in the preparation on a short week."
To get to 6-5, Dallas will have to derail the Chargers' momentum.
Los Angeles intercepted Bills starting quarterback Nathan Peterman five times and recovered a fumble as the Chargers hammered Buffalo.
Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram returned the fumble recovery 39 yards for a touchdown and the Los Angeles offense outgained the Bills 429-393 in total offense.
However, the Chargers' win over the Bills might not have been all fun. Lynn was asked about an animated exchange between him and quarterback Philip Rivers in the win on Sunday.
"Phillip has a lot of fire, plays with a lot emotion," Lynn said. "I like that. I think those emotions are what make him the player that he is today. Sometimes we have different opinions on things. We talk it out. We yell it out. Whatever it takes. But at the end of the day we're on the same page."
The Chargers' defense has an advantage on paper as it attacks a Cowboys' offensive front that is struggling in Smith's absence. Los Angeles is third in the NFL in sacks with 30, led by defensive end Joey Bosa (10.5) and Ingram (8.5), both of whom rank in the top 10 in the NFL so far this season. Meanwhile, Dallas has given up 11 sacks in the last two contests.
That gives Los Angeles a chance to continue Dallas' frustration on offense. The Cowboys didn't score a touchdown on Sunday night versus the Eagles and have reached the end zone just once in the last two games.
"We have to get better there," Garrett said. "We have to do a better job of protecting the quarterback and giving Dak (Prescott) a chance. I think that will help everything."
Meanwhile, Los Angeles wideout Keenan Allen is well head of pace to notch the second 1,000-yard receiving season of his career and the first since his rookie campaign in 2013. He has 56 receptions, 22 away from a new career best, for 755 yards and three touchdowns.
Updated November 21, 2017