- Aug 18, 2005
September 26, 2005
Paraphrasing what a good number of the 65,373 fans inside Qualcomm Stadium shouted all through the night: Eli, um, stinks.
It was not exactly true, as the man who refused to make this his home had his best game as a professional quarterback.
However, there was a chant that did ring out consistently that was more appropriate and certainly with a more lasting emphasis:
"LT, LT, LT."
In a game that resuscitated a season, there was finally the realization that LaDainian Tomlinson lives.
SEAN M. HAFFEY / Union-Tribune
LaDainian Tomlinson prepares to throw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell over a surprised New York Giants defense.
And so, the Chargers do too.
The team that had charitably lost its first two games righted itself last night before giving away another one, winning a game for the first time this season, 45-23 over the New York Giants.
"That's the kind of win you want to have every week," quarterback Drew Brees said, "especially in this situation – 0-2, people doubting our confidence."
The Chargers scored more points than any team in the NFL had so far this season and the most by any Chargers team since 1993. They rushed for more yards than they had in 41 years and the third-most in franchise history.
So now the fans can forget about Eli Manning, a winless season and the demand for the offensive coordinator's head.
Where grimaces were, grins abounded last night.
"People don't understand how much of a burden is off our shoulders right now," right tackle Shane Olivea said. " . . . There was just so much pressure on us. It feels so good to get that one."
K.C. ALFRED / Union-Tribune
Chargers linebacker Marques Harris sacks New York quarterback Eli Manning in the fourth quarter, one of two Chargers sacks on the evening. Manning still passed for 352 yards.
For a night, it could be overlooked that the Chargers secondary is more adept at drawing flags than making plays. It could be tossed aside that rookie defensive Luis Castillo again got a tad rambunctious and smacked a quarterback. It could be all but ignored that the Giants cranked out 424 yards, well more than either Dallas or Denver had in the season's first two weeks.
"We still went out there and made errors," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "We kicked it around, and they got some big plays on us that we need to eliminate."
But all is forgiven for now because not only did Tomlinson finally get passes thrown to him, he threw a pass, and he for the first time this season touched the ball more than 19 times.
"They worked me today," a smiling Tomlinson said. "So I'm happy with that."
Tomlinson ran 21 times for 192 yards and three touchdowns, caught six passes for 28 yards and threw a 26-yard touchdown pass to Keenan McCardell.
"We expect that from him every game," cornerback Quentin Jammer said. "The past couple games he hadn't been getting his touches. He's the best player in the game. You've got to get the ball in his hands. He showed tonight what he can do when he gets it."
Tomlinson wasn't the only one creating excitement.
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had the offense moving – side to side, down the field, back and forth – to keep the Giants from the direct routes to Brees that the Cowboys and Broncos had in the first two weeks.
The Chargers faked this way and that, shifted the line, ran the no-huddle, ran a reverse.
And there was Tomlinson's pass to McCardell 6½ minutes into the third quarter that gave the Chargers a 28-20 lead and helped stanch a Giants' surge that had taken them from down 21-3 6½ minutes into the second quarter to 21-20 at halftime.
"That was very important," Tomlinson said. "We definitely wanted to come out and put some points on the board. They did a great job in the second quarter. It seemed like they had the momentum."
The Giants' (2-1) only score of the second half would be a field goal 2:46 into the fourth quarter.
The Chargers went up 35-20 on Brees' 14-yard pass to Antonio Gates with 2:59 remaining in the third. It was the first touchdown of the season for Gates, who for the second straight week led the team with six receptions (for 92 yards).
Tomlinson's final touchdown, a five-yard run, gave the Chargers a 42-23 lead. And Nate Kaeding's 44-yard field goal gave the Chargers their most points since a 45-20 victory over Miami on Dec. 27, 1993.
The Chargers scored the first three times they had ball, taking a 21-3 lead without the Giants putting up much fight.
Tomlinson scored from a yard out at the end of the Chargers' first drive. Keenan McCardell defied inertia to adjust midair for a 15-yard pass from Drew Brees for the second touchdown. Tomlinson ran 3 yards off tackle for the third touchdown.
Afterward, he skipped from the field waving his arms. The crowd obliged his request they make more noise. The Giants appeared done.
Tomlinson had carried nine times for 77 yards; Brees had completed 10 of his 11 passes for 125 yards. The Giants had totaled 91 net yards.
But as dominant as they were to that point, the Chargers were suddenly reeling.
Thanks in part to a Tomlinson fumble as he fought for extra yards, the Giants scored 17 points in nine minutes to pull to 21-20 at halftime.
Overcoming early struggles with the crowd noise and with his offense, Eli Manning had bettered his career high for passing yards (previously 201) with 206 yards by halftime. He finished 24-of-41 for 352 yards.
In the locker room at halftime, the Chargers contemplated two ideas.
They knew the Giants had not been able to stop them offensively, and they knew they did not want to walk off a field having vomited up another loss.
"That's a taste no one wanted in their mouths," linebacker Steve Foley said. " . . . We had a little more energy, a little more to work for."