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Bucs-Chargers: What to watch for

Cornerback Brent Grimes, returning an interception during last month’s victory over the Bears, has a history of success against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Cornerback Brent Grimes, returning an interception during last month’s victory over the Bears, has a history of success against Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers.
Published Dec. 4, 2016

Bucs coach Dirk Koetter is seeking the "California sweep" today, with wins at San Francisco and San Diego in the same season. In their first 40 seasons, the Bucs totaled just four regular-season wins in California — over the 49ers in 1980, the Chargers in 1996, the 49ers in 2010 and the Raiders in 2012 — as well as their Super Bowl win against the Raiders in San Diego in January 2003. So two in one season would be quite an accomplishment. Here are five other things to watch in today's Bucs-Chargers game:

1 Can Brent Grimes intercept a pass from Philip Rivers? Again? Rivers has thrown 147 career interceptions, but no individual player has more than Grimes' four, all in three games over the past three seasons. That's the cornerback's most against one quarterback, edging former Buc Josh Freeman (three) and the Saints' Drew Brees (two), whom Grimes will face twice in the next four games.

Rivers has been around long enough that three other Bucs can claim interceptions against him while with other teams — CB Alterraun Verner, LB Daryl Smith and S Major Wright.

Just to balance that, Rivers is one of just 13 quarterbacks to throw four touchdown passes and no interceptions against the Bucs, doing so in a 2008 win. He has had three such games in his 176-game career; the other two were against the Jaguars.

2 Can Doug Martin rush for 100 yards against San Diego? Martin hasn't cracked 100 yet this season in his five games, topping out at 87 in last week's win against Seattle.

The Chargers are one of just four teams that haven't given up a 100-yard rushing game this season, along with the Patriots, Cowboys and Giants. Those other three teams are a combined 28-6, as many losses as the 5-6 Chargers have. The Bucs just missed that group, allowing the Bears' Jordan Howard to rush for exactly 100 yards in their win over Chicago.

San Diego hasn't allowed anyone to rush for more than 82 yards — that's an NFL low — but the three teams that got 70-yard games against the Chargers all came away with wins.

Most 100-yard games allowed this season? It's easily the 49ers, who have given up eight, double the next-worst run defense, as the Colts and Raiders have allowed four each.

3 Can Robert Ayers stay perfect in San Diego? The defensive end started his NFL career in Denver as an AFC West rival of the Chargers, and he's 4-0 in his career at Qualcomm Stadium. Overall, he's 6-3 against San Diego, including a playoff win in 2013.

"Philip Rivers is one of my favorite quarterbacks to play against," said Ayers, who got a sack and forced fumble against him in 2011. "He's a super-fiery guy, super-competitive, brings a lot of passion to the game, like most defensive guys are and how I'd like to think I am."

4 Can the Bucs really win four in a row? Tampa Bay has only had one four-game win streak since the start of 2009, over seven-plus seasons. The last one came in 2012 and coincided with the last time they played the Chargers. Six Bucs playing today were in that victory against San Diego — Doug Martin, Demar Dotson, Gerald McCoy and Lavonte David as starters, with Keith Tandy and Luke Stocker as backups. Four years is a long time.

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5 How many fumbles can the Bucs defense force? Here's a major opportunity — Tampa Bay's defense is tied for the NFL lead with 11 forced fumbles, and the Chargers offense is tied for the league lead with 11 fumbles lost.

Travis Benjamin's three lost fumbles are the most by any NFL receiver, and only one running back has lost more than Melvin Gordon, who has two this season and lost four as a rookie last year. QB Philip Rivers, too, has lost three fumbles.

The Bucs offense needs to be careful, too — QB Jameis Winston is tied for the league lead with four lost fumbles; Doug Martin, who lost one last week, led all NFL running backs with five last season.