Chargers 41

(7-8, 3-5 away)

Buccaneers 24

(9-6, 6-1 home)

Coverage: CBS

1:00 PM ET, December 21, 2008

Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, FL 

1 2 3 4 T
SD 7 13 0 2141
TB 7 3 14 024

Top Performers

Passing: P. Rivers (SD) - 287 YDS, 4 TD

Rushing: L. Tomlinson (SD) - 21 CAR, 90 YDS

Receiving: A. Bryant (TB) - 6 REC, 127 YDS, 1 TD

Rivers directs aerial assault as Chargers stay alive in playoff hunt

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. -- Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers did everything they could to save their season.

Fast Facts

• The Chargers became the first visiting team to win in Tampa this season behind a 287-yard, four-touchdown, zero-interception performance from Philip Rivers. Rivers' four TDs are a career-high and his 136.7 passer rating is the second-best of his career on the road.

• The Chargers won the turnover battle (3-0) and outscored the Bucs 21-0 in the fourth quarter.

• Antonio Bryant has 127 receiving yards and a TD on six catches. In his last three games, Bryant has 23 catches for 435 yards and four TDs.

• With the Bucs loss, the Panthers are the only NFL team undefeated at home this season.

-- ESPN research

• Rapid Reaction

The NFL's highest-rated passer threw for 287 yards and four touchdowns Sunday, helping the Chargers beat Tampa Bay 41-24 to keep their playoff hopes alive and deal a crushing blow to the Buccaneers' chances.

After their third straight win in what amounted to elimination games for a team that began the season with expectations of reaching the Super Bowl, San Diego (7-8) got needed help when Buffalo beat Denver 30-23. The Broncos and Chargers meet next week in San Diego in a showdown for the division title.

"I can't say enough about our guys in terms of the way they've handled the last month. The way they prepared, they way they competed," coach Norv Turner said.

The Chargers have won 13 consecutive December games, including seven on the road, since a loss at Kansas City on Dec. 24, 2005.

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"I think we are playing like a playoff team. ... Hopefully it's not too late," said running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who rushed for 90 yards to join Barry Sanders and Curtis Martin as the only players in NFL history to run for 1,000 in each of their first eight seasons.

Tampa Bay (9-6), which lost its first home game and has dropped three straight, could have clinched at least an NFC wild-card spot with a win and some help. Instead, the Bucs' day ended with Jeff Garcia's face bloodied and teammates hoping other contenders falter, too.

"We've let ourselves down," said Garcia, sporting a cut on the bridge of his nose.

"When you're 9-3 at one point and you're a couple of wins away from the playoffs, and now we're fighting just to get in ... it's tough looking at it," Bucs running back Warrick Dunn added.

Rivers threw TD passes of 15 and 5 yards to Antonio Gates, the latter giving the Chargers the lead for good on the first play of the fourth quarter. Darren Sproles turned a screen pass into a 32-yard touchdown before Antoine Cason returned one of San Diego's two fourth-quarter interceptions 59 yards for a score that made it 41-24 with three minutes left.

Garcia was sacked from behind and came up bloody four plays before his pass intended for Ike Hilliard was tipped by Quentin Jammer into the hands of Cason, who raced up the left sideline untouched.

Brandon Manumaleuna caught an 11-yard TD pass from Rivers and Nate Kaeding kicked a team-record 57-yard field goal on the final play of the first half, helping the Chargers build a 20-10 lead.

Garcia, who started after sitting out last week with a strained right calf, kept the Bucs in the game by running for a third-quarter touchdown and lofting a 71-yard TD pass to Antonio Bryant for a 24-20 lead.

San Diego Chargers Tampa Bay Buccaneers Video

Watch highlights from the San Diego Chargers' 41-24 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

But it was all San Diego after that, and Rivers had a lot to do with it.

"That's the San Diego Chargers that we anticipated on being at the beginning of the year," Gates said. "Tampa Bay, with all due respect, there was nothing they could do about it once we had the rhythm like we had today."

The Chargers moved the ball almost at will much of the day, scoring on three straight possessions to build an early 17-7 lead. Tampa Bay cut into it by driving into San Diego territory and settling for Matt Bryant's 49-yard field with 17 seconds left in the half.

But Turner wasn't content with a seven-point advantage. After Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff to the Chargers 36, Rivers threw 25 yards to Vincent Jackson to set up the long field goal that Kaeding nailed with room to spare.

Jackson finished with seven receptions for 111 yards and went over 1,000 yards in a season for the first time in his career for San Diego.

Tampa Bay's defense was picked apart for the second time in three weeks. After giving up 474 yards rushing in road losses to Carolina and Atlanta, the unit rarely pressured Rivers, who was only sacked once while completing 21 of 31 passes with no interceptions.

"We just never really solved them," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "Obviously, it hurts."

Gates' TD receptions gave him eight this season and 51 for his career. He reached 50 in his 92nd game, fastest in league history for a tight end. Jerry Smith was the previous fastest, doing it in 100 games.

Garcia scored on a 7-yard run, finishing a 78-yard drive that take up the first half of the third quarter and trimmed San Diego's lead to 20-17. He did a nice job of rolling to his right to avoid pressure and finding Bryant all alone on the TD that put the Bucs up 24-20.

"It's been very disappointing over the past three weeks to play the way we have and not finish games off," Garcia said.

Game notes

Bryant had six catches for 127 yards, his sixth 100-yard game of the year. ... Tomlinson boosted his season rushing total to 1,014 yards. ... Rookie Pro Bowl selection Clifton Smith returned a kickoff 72 yards to set up Tampa Bay's first TD.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

San Diego
Tampa Bay
1st Downs2120
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
Total Yards370342
Yards per play6.45.3
Total Drives21
Yards per pass
Interceptions thrown
Sacks-Yards Lost
Rushing Attempts
Yards per rush
Fumbles lost
Interceptions thrown

Passing Leaders


Rushing Leaders


Receiving Leaders


Scoring Summary

TD05:04Brandon Manumaleuna 11 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nate Kaeding Kick) 70
TD02:39B.J. Askew 1 Yd Run (Matt Bryant Kick) 77
TD13:26Antonio Gates 15 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nate Kaeding Kick) 147
FG05:32Nate Kaeding 28 Yd 177
FG00:17Matt Bryant 49 Yd 1710
FG00:00Nate Kaeding 57 Yd 2010
TD07:41Jeff Garcia 7 Yd Run (Matt Bryant Kick) 2017
TD05:05Antonio Bryant 71 Yd Pass From Jeff Garcia (Matt Bryant Kick) 2024
TD14:53Antonio Gates 5 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nate Kaeding Kick) 2724
TD07:18Darren Sproles 32 Yd Pass From Philip Rivers (Nate Kaeding Kick) 3424
TD03:00Antoine Cason 59 Yd Interception Return (Nate Kaeding Kick) 4124