Philip Rivers walked into the huddle unfazed by another fourth-quarter deficit and poised to prove why the San Diego Chargers made him their $93 million man.
Rivers answered a pair of go-ahead scores by Oakland by leading two touchdown drives and Darren Sproles scored the game-winner on a 5-yard run with 18 seconds left to give the Chargers their 12th straight victory over the Raiders, 24-20 Monday night.
This might have been the toughest one of the bunch. JaMarcus Russell had given Oakland a 20-17 lead with a 57-yard touchdown pass to rookie Louis Murphy with 2:34 left. But despite having two backup linemen in the game, Rivers calmly led the Chargers down the field for the winning score.
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“One thing I know is no team in this league can practice 2-minute situations as much as we do,” Rivers said. “It’s a little different executing it on Murphy Canyon Road as it is in Oakland. … I said: ‘Well, we’ve done this a million times, let’s go score. All we need is three.”‘
Rivers was six for seven for 79 yards on the winning drive before Sproles silenced the crowd with his run up the middle. This marked the Raiders‘ 11th straight loss in prime time and perhaps the most painful, considering how close they came.
Raiders offensive lineman Cornell Green let out Oakland’s frustration with an expletive-laden outburst as he left the field, screaming that the Chargers got lucky to win.
“Our football team played its guts out and didn’t finish the game,” coach Tom Cable said. “That’s the bottom line.”
They took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski before Rivers drove the Chargers down and gave them the lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. Then Russell’s fourth-down pass to Murphy looked as if it would provide an emphatic end to a pair of losing streaks. Instead, it was just a footnote to Oakland’s league-worst 73rd loss since the start of the 2003 season.
The Chargers offense looked overmatched for much of the night against newly acquired Richard Seymour and the Raiders defense. Injuries to center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez in the third quarter made moving the ball even tougher for San Diego and the frustration led Rivers to commit a personal foul that thwarted one drive.
But the two last drives were the reason why the Chargers gave Rivers the big six-year contract extension with $38 million guaranteed last month. He finished 24 for 36 for 252 yards, playing his best when it counted most.
“People talk about quarterbacks that handle pressure, that respond and lead their teams from behind,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said. “He’s done it continuously and he’s done it in some real difficult situations like tonight. It’s great to get the win here.”
Russell nearly had overcome a rough night with that one pass to Murphy. Russell was 12 for 30 for 208 yards and two interceptions, including one on a desperation heave following Sproles’ TD.
Oakland got a big boost from Seymour, who arrived from New England two days ago and didn’t even go through a full practice with his new team. He sacked Rivers twice in the first half and helped Oakland keep longtime nemesis LaDainian Tomlinson in check.
Tomlinson, who averaged 119 yards rushing per game against Oakland coming into the game, managed only 55 on 13 carries and rolled his ankle. But Sproles helped out with two long kickoff returns, five catches for 43 yards and the winning touchdown.
“It was like two completely different games with what we did in the beginning and those last two drives,” Raiders Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “We were good with the run and good with the pass and then in the fourth quarter we had a couple of breakdowns. That’s what hurt us.”
The Raiders dominated the play in the first half, outgaining the Chargers 217-74, but were still tied at 10 because of two turnovers, and a replay review that went against Oakland.
With the offensive line creating big holes, Darren McFadden and Michael Bush ran the ball down the field on the opening drive before Russell threw an interception from the San Diego 25 to Quentin Jammer.
The Raiders finished the job on the second drive, getting a 30-yard pass from Russell to Zach Miller to set up Bush’s 4-yard run. McFadden fumbled on the next drive, setting up Tomlinson’s 1-yard run to tie it, his 20th career rushing touchdown against Oakland.
Oakland was on the wrong end of a replay review at the end of the half, when an apparent 19-yard touchdown pass to Murphy was overturned because the ball came loose as he hit the ground. Oakland settled for a 37-yard field goal by Janikowski with 40 seconds left.
“By definition in our rule book, he’s going to the ground and has to maintain possession of the ball throughout the entire act of the catch,” referee Carl Cheffers told a pool reporter. “And in this case, he lost possession and the ball hit the ground. Therefore, it’s incomplete.”
Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards, setting up Nate Kaeding‘s 47-yard field goal on the final play of the half.
Tomlinson’s lost fumble in the first quarter was his first since Oct. 22, 2006, against Kansas City. … Former first-round pick Michael Huff had an INT and a fumble recovery for Oakland, matching his total from his first three seasons.