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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chargers Win Seventh Straight

CLEVELAND — Once they warmed up, the San Diego Chargers looked like they do every December.

LaDainian Tomlinson scored his 150th career TD and stiff-armed Hall of Famer Jim Brown for eighth place on the career rushing list as the Chargers won their seventh straight and 15th in a row in December by beating the Cleveland Browns 30-23 on Sunday.

Antonio Gates set a career high with 167 receiving yards for the Chargers (9-3), who dragged their cleats early and only led 13-7 at halftime. But Philip Rivers led San Diego on touchdown drives of 85 and 83 yards in just over nine minutes in the third quarter to open a 27-7 lead.

Tomlinson’s 4-yard TD run with 5:58 left in the third put the Chargers up by 20, and placed the running back in elite company among NFL greats.

Tomlinson reached 150 TDs faster than any player in league history, hitting the milestone in his 137th game. Emmitt Smith needed 160 games to reach 150 and Jerry Rice didn’t score his 150th until his 167th game.

In the fourth quarter, Tomlinson burst up the middle for 11 to give him 12,315 yards, three more than Brown, who attended the game. Tomlinson finished with 64 yards on 20 carries and has 12,321 yards. Tony Dorsett (12,739) is seventh all-time.

Rivers threw two TD passes — both on short routes — as the Chargers continued their surge following a 2/3 start.

With Dallas and Cincinnati looming on the schedule, San Diego couldn’t afford to overlook the Browns (1-11), who have lost seven straight amid mounting injuries.

At halftime, San Diego seemed to be in trouble.

At the end of the third quarter, the Chargers had little concern.

San Diego thoroughly dominated the Browns in the third, outgaining Cleveland 208-10 — 164-0 in passing yards — while holding the ball for 12:06.

Rivers was 7 for 8 in the quarter with four completions going to Gates for 114 yards. The highlight of San Diego’s aerial assault came when Gates, the former Kent State basketball star, boxed out Abram Elam and Hank Poteat for a 56-yard reception.

Cleveland quarterback Brady Quinn threw three TD passes for the Browns, who have lost a franchise-record 10 straight home games and must get ready to play an angry Pittsburgh squad on Thursday. The Steelers lost at home to Oakland 27-24 on Sunday.

The Browns made the score look respectable by scoring 16 points in the fourth as Quinn hit running back Jerome Harrison for two TDs.

Phil Dawson’s 49-yard field goal with 39 seconds left made it 30-23, but Tomlinson recovered an onside kick with 38 seconds remaining.

Quinn went 25 of 45 for 271 yards.

Nate Kaeding kicked field goals of 32, 42 and 22 yards for the Chargers, who amassed 286 total yards in the second half.

Leading just 13-7 at half, the Chargers quickly went to work against the Browns’ banged up defense, which was missing four starters because of injuries. Rivers completed a short pass to the lightning-quick Darren Sproles, who did the rest and zigzagged his way 31 yards into the end zone.

The Chargers were sleepwalking during the first, giving up an early TD while barely resembling a team pushing for a playoff spot.

San Diego trailed 7-3 and was in danger of falling further behind when Dawson missed a 43-yarder.

Rivers needed just 13 seconds to give the Chargers their first lead. He threw a short pass in the flat to backup fullback Mike Tolbert, who ran away from linebacker Jason Trusnik, picked up a nice down-field block and went 66 yards for the TD.

The Browns drove inside San Diego’s 5 and were poised to tie it or take the lead when Quinn was stripped from behind by linebacker Shaun Phillips and the Chargers recovered.

Browns Stadium was less than half full at kickoff and any late arrivals missed the Browns’ first TD, Quinn’s 11-yard pass to Mohamed Massaquoi. Running the no-huddle, Quinn was 6 for 6 for 61 yards on the scoring drive, Cleveland’s first for a TD on the opening possession of game since Nov. 11, 2007 — a span of 35 games.