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Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Rivers gets first shot at Eli

SAN DIEGO (AP)—Philip Rivers calls it one of “those little sidebars.”

Really, though, it’ll be the featured event when Rivers and his San Diego Chargers face Eli Manning and the struggling New York Giants on Sunday at the Meadowlands.

Manning was drafted by the Chargers in 2004, then traded to the Giants within an hour for Rivers and a handful of picks that San Diego ended up spending on kicker Nate Kaeding and outside linebacker Shawne Merriman.

Manning went on to lead the Giants to a Super Bowl upset of the Patriots two seasons ago. Rivers is still trying to get to his first Super Bowl.

The Chargers (4-3) are rejuvenated after wins over AFC doormats Kansas City and Oakland. The Giants (5-3) have lost three straight, including Sunday’s 40-17 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

“It’s fun,” Rivers said Monday. “The one thing I know and I know Eli knows, all the quarterbacks know, we’re not playing one another out there. We’ve got plenty of other things to worry about on the defensive side of the ball we have to go against.

“But it is fun competing against another team led by a quarterback that you are linked to in many ways, especially being the same draft class.”

This will be Rivers’ first start against the Giants. Drew Brees was still the Chargers’ starter when Manning and the Giants came to San Diego in September 2005.

The Chargers won 45-23 that night and their fans booed and heckled Manning, still angry he had spurned San Diego 17 months earlier. Days before the 2004 draft, Manning’s family asked the Chargers not to draft Eli. The Chargers did anyway, then pulled off a blockbuster trade that helped both teams.

Rivers said he sent congratulations two seasons ago after Manning led the Giants to a thrilling Super Bowl win over the previously undefeated Patriots.

“I don’t know him real well, but certainly enjoy watching him play. It’ll be fun competing against those guys this weekend,” Rivers said.

The Chargers have popped above .500 thanks to Sunday’s 24-16 home win over Oakland and a 37-7 win at Kansas City a week earlier.

“Every week is a treat to play in the NFL, to play in an NFL game,” Rivers said. “But these are the kind of games, the reason why you play. You get to go right in the thick of all the action in the East Coast, being in New York, and play, obviously, a team that won the championship two years ago and is a very capable one and thought of highly this year. It’s a tough place to go on the road, in a game I think that will say a lot about us.”

San Diego’s win, coupled with Denver’s loss at Baltimore, pulled the Chargers within two games of the Broncos in the AFC West race. San Diego is trying to win its fourth straight division title.

“I think we’ve put two together that many expected us to win, as did we, but you’ve still got to go do it, and now this one here will be the toughest challenge we’ve had in three weeks,” Rivers said.

On Monday, the Chargers released wide receiver Chris Chambers a day after he had a key catch against the Raiders. Coach Norv Turner said they waived Chambers because of the emergence of Malcom Floyd and the need to sign a linebacker due to a knee injury to Tim Dobbins on Sunday. Dobbins could be out for two weeks.

Chambers was demoted Sunday in favor of Floyd, yet still had a big catch in the win. Chambers was obtained at the trading deadline in 2007 from Miami for a second-round draft pick, and helped the Chargers reach the AFC championship game that season.

His production dropped off dramatically this season, with just nine catches for 122 yards and one touchdown.