SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers doesn't ease up, even in a meaningless exhibition game.
The San Diego Chargers' $93 million quarterback chased Dallas Cowboys safety Barry Church for about 70 yards before making a touchdown-saving tackle after a turnover on Saturday night. He even popped the ball loose, although the play had been whistled dead.
It was the highlight of what was otherwise mostly a stinker, won 16-14 by the Cowboys on a safety with 3:46 left.
The Chargers were leading 7-0 late in the second quarter with the ball on the Cowboys 18 when Rivers threw a short pass to Darren Sproles. The running back fumbled when hit by linebacker Bradie James. Church scooped up the ball and ran up the left side of the field, weaving in and out of traffic. Rivers raced in and brought him down at the San Diego 8.
"It was just the competitor in me," said Rivers, who had scored on a 1-yard sneak late in the first quarter. "I don't know how you are going to let a guy score. They are still keeping score. I know it's a preseason game, but still."
Said coach Norv Turner: "I just knew he was going to do that. I'd prefer that he didn't do it. He's a football player out there and he did what he did."
Asked what Turner said to him on the sideline after the play, Rivers said: "He didn't, other than, 'You're done.' "
Church knows he's going to catch grief from his teammates for being caught from behind by a QB.
"Oh yeah. It was Philip Rivers. He wears knee braces. I know it's going to be bad," Church said. "It showed a lot of heart and a lot of fire. He wants to win. He's a great quarterback and he will win in this game."
Church said he was thinking touchdown until he got to about the 30-yard line and his legs started giving in.
"I thought the blocker was going to come and I was trying to set him up to keep going outside, but I couldn't even move my legs. My legs felt numb. I was gassed. When he hit me, it was over. I just went down."
Chargers rookie running back Ryan Mathews called the play "crazy. I didn't want him to get hurt. But it was a good play."
Cracked Dallas quarterback Tony Romo: "I'd have got him far before then."
The Cowboys (2-1) scored three plays later to tie the game.
They won on the safety it when linebacker Victor Butler sacked Chargers rookie quarterback Jonathan Crompton and forced a fumble at about the 5-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone and was recovered by San Diego rookie left tackle Ryan Otterson.
"The guys kept fighting," Dallas coach Wade Phillips said. "I didn't think we were playing our best to start out with, but we kept fighting and made plays at the end of the game."
The Chargers (1-1) committed two turnovers in their first four series. The Cowboys' first-team offense was mostly dreadful, gaining only 49 yards. Romo was 4 of 11 for 30 yards with a touchdown and an interception, finishing with a rating of just 37.3, although the Cowboys did score their first offensive touchdowns in three exhibition games.
There were overthrows, underthrows and dropped passes on both sides. Cowboys backup linebacker Jason Williams had all but intercepted a pass by Billy Volek when teammate Brandon Williams accidentally slammed into him, knocking the ball loose.
Three plays after Church's 80-yard return, Romo threw a 9-yard touchdown pass to Miles Austin to tie the game at 7.
"It was good to score," Romo said. "We needed a touchdown, I think for our confidence for the season, but also in this game as we struggled a bit at the beginning."
Mathews had another strong game for San Diego, gaining 53 yards on 12 carries and catching one pass for 13 yards.
Otterson allowed the sack that led to the game-deciding safety. It came several hours after the Chargers announced that veteran left tackle Tra Thomas retired, leaving them woefully thin at a crucial position due to Marcus McNeill's holdout.