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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Chargers Dominate Chiefs To Win Six Straight

SAN DIEGO – One of the all-time great Chargers games, it was not. And none of the Chargers – past or present – much cared.

To a recharged team suddenly blazing the path to another division title and the postseason, this was one of those games on the schedule that you just want to get behind you, the game you’re expected to win big and don’t even dare to let get close. And so it was as the Chargers hammered the overmatched (and often discombobulated) Kansas City Chiefs, 43-14, for San Diego’s sixth straight victory.

Only a few minutes into the second half, it was already 35-7, Chargers. Done deal.

Next stop, December, a month in which the Chargers haven’t lost their last 14 games.

It was the Chargers’ last game of their 50th season against one of the original American Football League franchises. Assembled for the occasion were 44 of those named to the Chargers’ all-time team of 50, including 85-year-old Don Coryell, who made an appearance on the arms of Dan Fouts and John Jefferson.

Those two, and so many of the others wearing their old jerseys in pre-game festivities, helped perpetuate the Chargers’ lifelong identity as the most pass-minded team in pro football history and their reputation for high-scoring games.

Carrying on the tradition yesteryear were quarterback Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates, who connected on seven passes, two for touchdowns and another that drew a pass-interference call in the end zone. Rivers completed 21 of 28 passes for 317 yards, eventually giving way to backup Billy Volek for the first time this season.

LaDainian Tomlinson also scored twice, and over the course of the afternoon, he moved past Lincoln High product Marcus Allen and Edgerrin James into 10th place on the NFL’s all-time rushing list.

Tomlinson had the crowd chanting his name in the fourth quarter, and with a second-and-goal at the 1-yard line, head coach Norv Turner responded by sending Tomlinson back onto the field. Tomlinson had a path to the end zone, too, but committed a rare fumble before crossing the goal line.

Otherwise, the Chiefs were the ones giving away free stuff, committing three lost fumbles and an interception. Beleaguered quarterback Matt Cassel also was hit in the end zone for a safety.

Kansas City acted sort of like the woebegone team that gets invited to play in all the opposing teams’ homecoming games. Indeed, at times, the game became more of a celebration than competition.

With the Chargers leading 35-14, Nate Kaeding was given the chance for a 55-yard field goal, and he hit it for the longest three-pointer he’s ever kicked at Qualcomm Stadium. Kaeding, who added a 23-yard field goal to make it 43-14, had a 57-yarder at Tampa Bay last year.

Kaeding’s one of 11 current Chargers on the all-time team, all of whom were introduced before the opening kickoff. So is cornerback Quentin Jammer, who brought the Chargers out of some early-game malaise with an interception, sparking the blowout.

Continuing their trend of getting trickier as the season goes on, the Chargers used the “Wildcat” for a 5-yard gain and first down by Tomlinson, then a reverse to wide receiver Vincent Jackson that went for 12 yards and another first. Tight end Gates created his own razzle-dazzle, however, with a one-handed grab of Rivers' pass over the middle for a 19-yard touchdown.

The natural thought that the Chargers were now on their way was quickly dispelled by the Chiefs’ game-tying, 91-yard drive in the early second quarter. More discouraging to the Chargers was the fact that three Cassel passes in the march were caught by Chris Chambers, who was released by San Diego last month and since has been one of the league’s most impressive receivers. On third-and-four at the San Diego 7, Chambers accepted a short pass and headed for the corner, twisting his way into the end zone while in the grasp of Antonio Cromartie.

The Chargers insist that Chambers was cut largely because of the improvement shown by Malcom Floyd, and almost as if making a statement, Floyd soon was sent deep for what became a 53-yard connection from Rivers. Floyd landed a yard short of the end zone, leaving enough space for Tomlinson to add another TD to his long ledger.

Only a few minutes later, Tomlinson would get the chance to move past Edgerrin James on the list of all-time rushers, courtesy of the Chargers defense. Jammer stripped the ball from Jamaal Charles for a fumble that was recovered by linebacker Brandon Siler.

Proving much more problematic for the Chiefs was Gates, who was remarkably open when receiving the three passes that made it 21-7, the scoring play a 15-yarder he caught just outside the goal line.

And then it was open season on Cassel. On a safety blitz, Paul Oliver was right there for the catch (between his knees) when an untouched Cassel let the ball slip out of his hand. Oliver cruised 40 yards with the fumble recovery, spotting the Chargers to a three-TD lead before halftime.