Bolts make it two in a row
The San Diego Chargers finally are playing well.
The way Tim Tebow and the Denver Broncos are playing, though, it could be too late.
Philip Rivers threw three touchdown passes, two to Antonio Gates, and the Chargers kept their slim playoff hopes alive while beating Buffalo 37-10 Sunday to eliminate the Bills from postseason contention.
The Chargers (6-7) have won two straight following their six-game losing streak. Minutes after the Chargers game ended, Denver beat Chicago in overtime to improve to 8-5 atop the AFC West with three games to go. Also ahead of the Chargers are the Oakland Raiders (7-6), who lost at Green Bay.
”Until they say we’re done, there’s always a chance,” said safety Eric Weddle, who converted a first down on a fake punt and had an interception, both of which led to touchdowns. ”Even if we were done, we’d be playing our hearts out.”
Chargers coach Norv Turner hadn’t heard the Denver score until it was brought up in the postgame news conference.
”I’m glad you told me that because I didn’t hear the results yet and I won’t bother watching it now that you gave me the rundown,” Turner said. ”We have to take care of ourselves. We know all the math, but there’s nothing we can do about that. It’s get ready to play a game.”
The Chargers host Baltimore (10-3) next Sunday night.
Buffalo (5-8) lost its sixth straight game and was eliminated from playoff contention for the 12th straight year.
The Bills, like the Chargers, started the season 4-1. They were 5-2 after a 23-0 victory against Washington on Oct. 30 and haven’t won since.
”I think the last few weeks we made some progress. Today obviously we took a step backward,” Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. ”We didn’t do anything well.
In this matchup of desperate teams, the Chargers took control early and never let up.
Rivers was 24 of 33 for 240 yards. Ryan Mathews gained 114 yards on 20 carries, the first time he’s had three straight 100-yard games.
The Bills made it a game when Rivers fumbled while going back to pass early in the third quarter. The ball rolled into the end zone and Bryan Scott shoved aside the QB to recover for a touchdown that pulled the Bills to 16-10.
”Fortunately, it didn’t cost us today,” said Rivers, who’s had some costly turnovers this season. ”It was good to win again.”
Just like that, though, San Diego regained the momentum with the fake punt on the next drive. With the Chargers in punt formation at their 32, Weddle, the up-back, took the snap and ran 10 yards for a first down.
Vincent Jackson had consecutive catches of 16, 17 and 13 yards. Rivers scrambled for 9 yards and an apparent TD, but it came back on a holding call against right tackle Jeromey Clary. Three plays later, Gates broke free in the end zone for a 2-yard scoring catch.
”Momentum is big in the NFL,” Weddle said. ”Once we got the momentum back, we figured it was over there. Once we converted the fake punt and then scored, it was a two-score game.”
Said Buffalo coach Chan Gailey: ”We had a very small window to make that a game and we didn’t stop that drive when they faked the punt,” Gailey said. ”We didn’t stop that drive and we couldn’t get anything going offensively consistently.”
On Buffalo’s next play from scrimmage, Steve Gregory intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown and a 30-10 lead.
”We felt like we came out in the second half with some confidence and it was all gone after that pick-6.”
Rivers also threw a 26-yard scoring pass to Patrick Crayton.
Fitzpatrick was 13 of 34 for 176 and two interceptions.
The Chargers scored on their first three drives. Rivers was 6 for 6 for 63 yards on the opening possession, including a 9-yard TD pass to Gates.
Weddle intercepted Fitzpatrick when the ball bounced off the back of linebacker Na’il Diggs and returned it 26 yards to the San Diego 45, Rivers completed two more passes for 20 yards and Mike Tolbert finished the drive with a 1-yard run. The PAT was blocked and San Diego lead 13-0.
Mathews’ 37-yard run up the middle on the next drive set up Nick Novak’s 47-yard field goal for a 16-0 lead that held up at halftime.
The Bills had an impressive drive to open the second half, including Stevie Johnson’s 53-yard catch-and-run, to reach the Chargers 9. But two incompletions by Fitzpatrick and a sack by Antwan Barnes forced the Bills to settle for Dave Rayner’s 37-yard field goal.
NOTES: Gates became the 27th player in NFL history with 75 touchdown catches. He’s within five catches of overtaking Hall of Famer Charlie Joiner, the team’s receivers coach, for all-time receptions (586). … Rivers’ lost fumble was his fifth, giving him an NFL-high 22 turnovers. … Fitzpatrick set a career high with 3,013 yards passing, making him the second Bills QB with consecutive 3,000-yard seasons (Jim Kelly 1988-89, 1991-95).