LB Shawne Merriman (Donald Miralle/Getty)
Sunday proved to be the perfect tonic for the Chargers. Philip Rivers finished with a passer rating of 119.8; L.T. topped the 10,000-yard barrier; the defense netted two turnovers and four sacks; and the Chargers routed the Baltimore Ravens, 31-14, to reclaim sole possession of first place in the West.
LaDainian Tomlinson gained 122 yards from scrimmage on 30 touches (24 runs, six receptions). However, it was a 36-yard jaunt early in the third quarter that worked the crowd into frenzy. Not only did the play convert a third-and-1, but it allowed L.T. to become the 23rd player in NFL history to top 10,000 rushing yards. Tomlinson hit that number in 106 games, tied with Emmitt Smith for fourth fastest.
Tomlinson finished with 77 yards rushing on 24 carries. Significant is that L.T. became the first running back to out-rush Willis McGahee in a head-to-head matchup this season, 77-59.
While Tomlinson stole the headlines, Philip Rivers facilitated the victory. Rivers hit 25 of 35 passes (71 percent) for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He connected with seven different players for the second consecutive week did not turn the ball over. He did exactly what Marty Schottenheimer didn’t let him do last time these teams met –- make the Ravens pay for loading up to stop the run.
Rivers’ favorite target was Antonio Gates, who chipped in his fourth 100-yard game of the season (105) and his second multi-score game (two). The four 100-yard games ties a career high. Gates was wide open for touchdowns of 35 and 25 yards.
Vincent Jackson caught five passes for 65 yards, his best numbers since week three. Chris Chambers also caught five balls, good for 22 yards and a score. Rookie Craig Davis caught only one pass but made it count, converting a fourth-and-3 with a 4-yard grab that sealed the victory for San Diego.
The Chargers defense did its part to fluster the Ravens, keeping the game close while the offense warmed up and then slamming the door once San Diego took the lead. Shawne Merriman led the charge, leading the team with seven tackles and picking up his first sack since week six. Shaun Phillips also snapped his snap slump, splitting a takedown with Ryon Bingham.
A shakeup in the secondary worked out well for Ted Cottrell. Antonio Cromartie supplanted Drayton Florence in the starting lineup and Eric Weddle returned to his dime-back role after missing last week with a knee injury. Weddle knocked down a couple of passes, although one ricochet was hauled in by Derrick Mason.
Nate Kaeding connected on all four field goal attempts, something he had not done since Sept. 17, 2006 against the Tennessee Titans. Kaeding has hit 87 percent of his field goals this year. The Chargers did miss an extra point for the second time in three games when Mike Scifres dropped a good snap. Weddle also serves as a holder and could be called on to fill that role in the future.
Boosting the Chargers’ spirits all the more is that the Kansas City Chiefs and Denver Broncos both lost their respective games. The Chiefs fell at home to the Oakland Raiders, 17-20, and the Broncos lost in overtime to the Chicago Bears, 34-37. The Chargers have a two-game lead over the Chiefs and a one-game lead over the Broncos. San Diego won in Denver earlier this season, 41-3, and the teams will meet again in San Diego on Christmas Eve.
Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the Scout.com network. He has followed the Chargers for more than 14 years and covered the team since 2003.