After all, trailing the lowly Cleveland Browns isn’t the ideal place for a team that would like to think it ranks among the NFL’s elite.
Tomlinson had another monster game, scoring three touchdowns late in the second half and finishing with 172 yards on 18 carries to lift the Chargers to a sloppy 32-25 win Sunday.
The Chargers also got a big effort from several defensive backups who were filling in for players missing due to injuries and, in outside linebacker Shawne Merriman’s case, a four-game suspension for a positive drug test.
Schottenheimer “gave us a mouthful, a tongue-lashing,” Tomlinson said. “We deserved it, though. I’d be lying if I told you we weren’t getting frustrated because we were. But we kept our poise when we needed to.”
The star running back had a whopping 9.6 yards per carry, gaining 47 yards on his first nine carries and 125 on his last nine.
Tomlinson had consecutive 100-yard rushing games for the first time this season. Last week he ran for 183 yards, had 57 yards receiving and scored three times in a win against St. Louis. He has three 100-yard rushing games this season, plus 14 touchdowns.
With Cleveland’s offense sputtering against a defense missing its two best pass rushers, Phil Dawson kicked a club-record six field goals—from 37, 20, 42, 30, 36 and 35 yards.
The Chargers (6-2) were trailing 12-10 when Tomlinson broke a 41-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left in the third quarter. The Chargers had great field position after pinning the Browns on their 2 and forcing them to punt.
“Give me a little hole I can squeeze through into the secondary,” said Tomlinson, who scored on runs of 7 and 8 yards in the fourth quarter. “Once I get into the secondary, things could get very interesting.”
Browns coach Romeo Crennel said the Chargers kept freezing their inside linebackers.
“I thought they wore us down,” he said.
Tomlinson’s big day helped offset the Chargers’ 12 penalties for 113 yards.
Until Tomlinson’s first TD, the Chargers hadn’t scored on offense since Nate Kaeding kicked a 29-yard field goal on the game’s opening drive.
“I knew we were far better than that,” Schottenheimer said.
They did get a defensive touchdown when Marques Harris, making his second start in place of injured outside linebacker Shaun Phillips, recovered Charlie Frye’s fumble in the end zone in the second quarter.
On the way back to the bench, Harris did a cartwheel and a backflip to celebrate his first NFL score.
“It’s hard, at 240 pounds, doing that, especially with a helmet and shoulder pads on,” Harris said. “But when you’re excited, you can do a lot.”
At one point, the Chargers had four backup linebackers on the field.
“That shows the strength of our defense, the guys who can step up and come in and actually do a good job and not just be out there taking up space,” Harris said. “A great team has good depth. The game’s not going to stop for certain players.”
The Browns (2-6) finally scored a TD with 1:11 left when Braylon Edwards caught a 4-yard pass from Frye.
Cleveland tight end Kellen Winslow was booed every time his name was announced at the same stadium where his Hall of Fame father of the same name starred for the Chargers from 1979-87, and some fans cheered when he got hurt late in the game. He returned a few plays later.
During the week, Winslow hyped his matchup with Chargers All-Pro tight end Antonio Gates as a heavyweight match, then went on to say he was the best tight end in the NFL.
Winslow and Gates talked and shook hands while both offenses milled around during a long review in the second quarter.
Winslow had 78 yards on a career-high 11 catches, which tied for second-highest in franchise history. Gates had two catches for 22 yards.
The Browns were trying to win consecutive games for the first time in more than three seasons. For a while, it looked like they might succeed.
The Browns led 12-10 after a first half that was as wacky as it was tedious, with five field goals and only one TD.
Dawson kicked his fourth field goal of the half, from 30 yards, with 1 second left. It came at the end of a frantic two-minute drill that began when San Diego’s Keenan McCardell fumbled after a catch.
San Diego had taken a 10-6 lead on Harris’ fumble recovery. With the ball on the Browns 18, Frye dropped back, was hit by Randall Godfrey, stumbled and lost the ball. Harris went to pick it up and kicked it toward the end zone, where he jumped on it.
“I thought we were going to come out and win,” said Frye, who injured his thumb in practice late in the week. “Mistakes—they’re going to kill you.”
The Browns came right back and pulled to 10-9 on Dawson’s 42-yard field goal.