SAN DIEGO (AP)—It had been a while since the San Diego Chargers looked this good.
After a stretch in which they’d faced questions about everything from Philip Rivers’ shaky passing to coach Norv Turner’s leadership abilities, the Chargers raced past the floundering Baltimore Ravens 32-14 on Sunday.
Rivers quieted the boo-birds and rediscovered Antonio Gates, throwing two of his three touchdown passes to the All-Pro tight end.
LaDainian Tomlinson didn’t find a lot of holes against the Ravens’ tough defense but did become the 23rd player in NFL history with more than 10,000 yards rushing.
Outside linebacker Shawne Merriman was so fired up that he started into his spasmodic “Lights Out” sack dance after merely tackling Willis McGahee early in the game. Then again, it sure beat getting knocked on his rear end as Merriman had been a week earlier by Maurice Jones-Drew in a loss at Jacksonville.
It was such a laugher in the final minutes that fans were folding giveaway placards into paper airplanes and launching them from the upper decks. Merriman caught one and bowed to the crowd.
“We’re coming together. We’re ready to rock,” said center Nick Hardwick, who returned after missing four starts with a foot injury. “We know what we’ve got to do to make it to the playoffs and make a good push in the playoffs and we’re ready to get started on it.”
The Chargers (6-5) won for the fifth time in seven games following their shocking 1-3 start and took over sole possession of first place in the AFC West following Denver’s loss at Chicago.
The Ravens (4-7) set a franchise record with their fifth straight loss and tumbled into a last-place tie in the AFC North with Cincinnati. Quarterback Kyle Boller was sacked four times.
These teams finished with the best records in the AFC last year and would have met for a Super Bowl berth if not for pratfalls in their playoff openers. The Ravens lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion Indianapolis Colts, and the Chargers melted down against New England.
Baltimore hasn’t been the same since, and the Chargers, especially Rivers, have been wildly inconsistent in Turner’s first season as head coach.
Rivers, who came in leading the NFL with 17 turnovers, didn’t throw an interception for only the third game this season.
The Chargers were booed after going three-and-out on their first possession, including a predictable run by Tomlinson on first down. Rivers was booed several times after overthrowing receivers but won over the crowd during the second quarter, when San Diego surged to a 22-7 lead.
“We’re just as mad as anyone when we don’t convert or make something happen,” Rivers said.
“I think it’s unfortunate because I don’t think people understand,” said Turner, who’s 64-87-1 in three NFL head coaching stints. “That team is second in the league in rush defense. I don’t think any game has been won on the first play of the game and certainly has never been won on the second play of the game.”
Safety Ed Reed bit hard on a pump fake and Rivers found Gates wide open in zone coverage for a 35-yard touchdown pass midway through the quarter. Rivers hit an equally open Chris Chambers on a 5-yard scoring toss just before halftime.
Gates caught a 25-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter. He finished with six catches for 105 yards.
“We gave them two lollipops,” Pro Bowl linebacker Bart Scott said.
“When you have a couple of blown coverages on one of the best tight ends in football, it’s always going to go that way,” linebacker Ray Lewis added.
Rivers was 25-of-35 for 249 yards. Tomlinson carried 24 times for 77 yards and had six catches for 45 yards.
“It was just a good day for us,” Gates said. “It’s something to build on.”
Tomlinson had a quiet day until his 36-yard run early in the third quarter pushed the reigning league MVP past 10,000 career yards rushing. He raised his career total to 10,048 and tied Emmitt Smith as the fourth-fastest player to do so, in 106 games.
Tomlinson came out after the run, and the milestone was acknowledged on the video screen. Fans started chanting “L.T.! L.T.” and the running back, in his seventh season, pointed to the crowd and bowed.
It was the first sack in five games for Merriman, who had an NFL-high 17 last year.
McGahee scored on a 1-yard run in the first quarter and Boller threw a 13-yard TD pass to Le’Ron McClain in the third.