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Brees, Tomlinson lead way for Chargers

9/8/2002

CINCINNATI (AP) -- Drew Brees already has a legacy.

Have the Bengals' playoff hopes already been dashed or are the Chargers a legitimate playoff contender?
The Bengals' playoff hopes were dashed many months ago. But the Chargers are an up-and-coming team (and one of my sleeper teams this season). I love how they conducted business in the offseason. With the signing of first-round draft choice Quentin Jammer, they have three good cornerbacks. San Diego has the potential to be a good team.

Eric Allen played 14 seasons in the NFL for the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

In his first NFL start, Brees threw two touchdown passes, led a
95-yard drive and got in a few licks on Cincinnati Bengals
defenders Sunday while leading the San Diego Chargers to a 34-6
victory.

The 23-year-old quarterback did it all with pronounced cool on a
90-degree afternoon.

"Seriously, my heartbeat was probably like 40,'' Brees said.
"I have a resting heart rate of 38, which is pretty incredible. I
swear it was right around there. I was just relaxed out there,
having a good time.''

The record-setting passer from Purdue appeared in only one game
as a rookie, but looked experienced well beyond his year. He was
15-of-19 for 160 yards and made gritty plays that impressed
teammates -- throwing a downfield block on a reverse, running over a
safety on a scramble.

"You don't see that too often,'' said Curtis Conway, who caught
one of the touchdown passes. ``That's one of the big things about
him. He's a football player, not one of those wimpy quarterbacks.''

He wasn't the only star. LaDainian Tomlinson had 114 yards on 21
carries, and one of the NFL's toughest run defenses of the last few
years clamped down on Corey Dillon, who had only 10 yards on nine
carries.

"I've never seen an offensive explosion like that,'' linebacker
Junior Seau said. "Brees was poised. We're looking for great
things from him. It was a treat seeing our offense going up and
down the field.''

While Marty Schottenheimer's coaching debut with San Diego was
an overwhelming success, the Bengals' debut with Gus Frerotte as
the starting quarterback couldn't have gone any worse.

In all respects, the NFL's worst team since 1991 played down to
its distinction.

It was the most lopsided home-opening loss in franchise history
and the Bengals' worst opening loss overall since a 45-14 drubbing
in Denver in 1991, the start of their dismaying run.

"I'm embarrassed,'' linebacker Brian Simmons said. "I don't
know what to call it, but it wasn't a professional football game.''

Frerotte was flagged for delay of game before his first play,
and was intercepted by Alex Molden at the Bengals 11 on his second
throw of the game.

The Bengals' fifth different starting quarterback in the last
five seasons was 18-of-31 for 198 yards, most of them coming well
after the game was decided.

"I've still got a lot of optimism,'' Frerotte said. "We're
planning to move the ball. We're planning on having big games.
People were booing. They can say what they want -- we're not going
to let this stuff go on.''

The crowd of 53,705 -- more than 11,000 below capacity -- loudly
booed and jeered the home team as it fell behind 20-0 in the first
half.

Brees, a second-round draft choice, gave the Chargers the type
of leadership they were looking for out of 1998 top pick Ryan Leaf.

He threw a 1-yard touchdown pass to Josh Norman and led a
crushing 15-play, 95-yard touchdown drive in the second quarter
that lasted 7 minutes, 55 seconds. The Bengals had the ball for
only 7:53 in the entire half.

The Chargers also had a 12-play touchdown drive in the second
half that lasted 8 minutes, 31 seconds. By that time, the Bengals'
defense was so worn down that it was easy pickings.

Brees, who set most of the Big Ten's passing records, had only a
handful of first-game mistakes -- a short throw to an uncovered
receiver, a broken play here or there.

He also showed some first-game exuberance. On Conway's reverse
in the second quarter, he led the blocking wedge, pointed at
cornerback Artrell Hawkins and threw a block at his legs.

His gutsiest moment came during the 95-yard touchdown drive just
before halftime that essentially finished off Cincinnati.

On second-and-8 from the Bengals 16, Brees couldn't find a
receiver and took off. Instead of going into a protective hook
slide, he dropped his shoulder and bounced off safety Mark Roman,
who lowered his head to make the hit.

Brees was finally dragged down by linebacker Takeo Spikes at the
1, and Tomlinson took it from there.

Game notes
Chargers SS Rodney Harrison strained his groin, TE Justin Peelle hurt his right ankle, and G Toniu Fonoti hurt his right
shoulder. The extent of their injuries wasn't immediately known.
... Bengals DT Tony Williams hit the front of a television camera
on the sideline after one Chargers touchdown. A Bengals official
apologized to the Dayton television station and offered to pay for
a broken lens cap. ... Neil Rackers made field goals of 21 and 54
yards, the last one tying for second-longest in Bengals history.