L.T. has been a touchdown waiting to happen for nearly two months, by running, catching or throwing. The star running back once again saved San Diego, keying yet another second-half rally to give the AFC West-leading Chargers a 21-14 win over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, their fifth straight victory.
The way they’ve been rallying and winning, even with boneheaded plays such as the one receiver Vincent Jackson made, the Chargers (9-2) might have something special going after so many seasons of false hopes and brutal play.
“I certainly hope so, because I might have a heart attack pretty soon,” said Tomlinson, who’s in the midst of an MVP-type season. “It seems like it’s magical, the way things are happening for us. It’s kind of just going right for us.”
Tomlinson rushed for two touchdowns and broke out a favorite San Diego trick by throwing for another. He has 24 touchdowns this season, and needs five in the last five games to break the NFL record of 28 set by Shaun Alexander during his MVP season of 2005.
Tomlinson threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to tight end Antonio Gates to tie the game at 14 with 9:46 left. The running back has thrown for two touchdowns this season and six in his career, three against the archrival Raiders.
The latest came four plays after Jackson nearly gave away the ball.
With the Chargers (9-2) trailing 14-7 and facing fourth-and-2 from the Raiders 40, Jackson made a diving catch of a 13-yard pass from Philip Rivers, rolled to the ground untouched, then stood up and spun the ball forward in celebration. Oakland’s Fabian Washington jumped on the ball.
“My emotions just got me for a second,” said Jackson, a second-year pro.
Referee Mike Carey originally signaled Oakland’s possession and the Raiders’ offense came on the field. The Raiders (2-9) rushed to the line of scrimmage, but umpire Garth DeFelice told them to hold up while Carey huddled with other officials.
Then it was ruled an illegal forward pass, with Carey saying that with the penalty, the Chargers didn’t have enough yardage for the first down, and it was Raiders ball.
Then he ruled the Chargers did have enough yards for a first down, at the 32.
“Once we got the yardage set correctly … they had the first down,” Carey said.
“I think we have a new rule about to happen,” Raiders quarterback Aaron Brooks said. “What’s the difference between a spike and a little flippity-flip, or whatever he did?”
Brooks felt the Raiders would have won if they had gotten the ball. Instead, they lost their seventh straight to San Diego.
“No question, the momentum turns back around in our favor,” Brooks said.
Four plays later, Rivers flipped the ball back to Tomlinson, who waited for Gates to get wide open, then lobbed to him in the end zone.
“Shoot, if I ain’t throwing it good, let him,” said Rivers, who had his worst game as a starter.
“We’ve done that plenty of enough times where you kick it to me and I just run around the end,” Tomlinson said. “So they’re thinking that was a run play and they come up to try to support the run and Gates just slipped right through them. You see the cornerbacks, they run up, and the next thing they see Gates and they’re saying, ‘Oh no!’ “
Said Gates: “When you give the ball to No. 21, the whole defense better run to him.”
After the Chargers forced a punt, Tomlinson broke a 44-yard run on first down, starting up the middle before bouncing outside. He capped the drive with a 10-yard run, easing up as he crossed the goal line untouched.
It was his 21st touchdown in seven games.
The home comeback followed the Chargers’ 42-point performance in the second half two weeks ago in a 49-41 win at Cincinnati, and their rally from 17 points down at Denver last week.
Tomlinson recorded his career-best fifth straight 100-yard game, finishing with 109 yards on 19 carries.
Rivers, meanwhile, was just 14-of-31 for 133 yards, with one interception and no touchdowns, for a rating of 44.2.
Brooks threw a 2-yard TD pass to wide-open tight end John Madsen midway through the third quarter to put the Raiders up 14-7. It came one play after Madsen stepped out of bounds after a 56-yard reception.
Brooks was 17-of-30 for 187 yards and one TD, with two interceptions.
Tomlinson came out for one play after tweaking a hamstring in the third quarter. He set Chargers single-season records with his 20th TD rushing, and 138 points. … Tomlinson’s 14 TDs against Oakland are his most against any opponent. … Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer got his 200th career win.