Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Halloween Treat

By Nick Schenck, Chargers.com

Halloween has never been so sweet.

And Drew Brees, with his career-high five touchdown passes, has never looked so good.

The fourth-year quarterback put the Chargers on the board early and often against the rival Oakland Raiders Sunday afternoon, leading the Bolts to a 42-14 romp in front of 66,210 dressed up fans at Qualcomm Stadium.

Brees broke team records in completion percentage (88) and passer rating (153.1) and threw touchdowns to four different receivers. On two different occasions, he completed at least seven passes in a row.

The only time Brees looked stumped on Sunday was after the game when someone asked him if he’d ever played a better game. And even then he didn’t have to think for too long.

“Yeah, I have in college one time,” Brees answered. “It was against Minnesota during my sophomore year. I was 31 of 36 for 522 (yards) with six TDs. But from a numbers standpoint, (today) looks pretty decent.”

In all, the Chargers’ offense was scary. They registered 33 first downs, gained 175 rushing yards and didn’t have to punt until the fourth quarter when they already held a 42-14 lead.

The offensive performance overshadowed another stellar defensive showing. Defensive coordinator Wade Phillips’ unit forced three turnovers and allowed only 22 rushing yards.

“We knew going into this game we had to stop the run with Tyrone Wheatley back there,” linebacker Randall Godfrey said. “They kept playing, but we were doing a good job of stopping the run. We went out there and played a game where all three units played well.”

After the Raiders punted on the first series of the game, the Bolts began from their 34-yard line after wide receiver Eric Parker’s 24-yard punt return.

On first down, tight end Antonio Gates lined up wide left and caught a 16-yard slant route to midfield. Two plays later, Brees made his second completion to wide receiver Keenan McCardell for 24 yards. On the following play, Brees found tight end Justin Peelle for a 17-yard touchdown that helped give the Chargers a 7-0 lead with 11:22 to go in the first period.

San Diego’s offense came back on the field less than two minutes later, marching 66 yards on nine plays to the Raiders’ 15-yard line. But Peelle fumbled after catching a short out route and safety Marques Anderson recovered it on the nine-yard line.

With 3:45 remaining in the opening period, Parker cut back down the Chargers’ sideline for a 32-yard punt return to the Raiders’ 29-yard line. Brees’ eighth-consecutive completion to start the game went to fullback Lorenzo Neal for 12 yards. An illegal contact penalty on cornerback Nnmadi Asomugha put the Chargers on Oakland’s nine-yard line. With the crowd chanting “LT,” running back LaDainian Tomlinson dove in from one yard to cap the seven-play, 24-yard scoring drive.

Down 14-0 at the opening of the second quarter, the Raiders moved into the Chargers’ red zone on three catches for 50 yards by wide receiver Doug Gabriel. Running back Tyrone Wheatley scored from five yards out to cut the Raiders’ deficit in half.

Brees and Tomlinson continued their strong play when the Chargers’ offense started their fourth drive. Tomlinson rushed four times for 21 yards, while Brees passed for 32 yards, including a 13-yard touchdown pass to McCardell. Nate Kaeding’s extra point made the score 21-7 with 4:56 remaining in the first half.

“Keenan is one of those guys that’s a good matchup for us,” Brees said. “He’s a playmaker and we want to get him the ball. You try to take him away, how are you going to cover Gates? If you try to take Gates away, how are you going to cover (Eric) Parker? If we bring Tim (Dwight) in the game, Kassim (Osgood), LT and the list goes on.”

The Bolts made the first takeaway of the game minutes later when safety Clinton Hart stepped in front of quarterback Kerry Collins’ pass intended for wide receiver Jerry Porter. Hart sprinted 13 yards to the Chargers’ 47-yard line.

Buoyed by the turnover, San Diego’s offense made quick work of the Raiders. Brees found wide receiver Eric Parker open in the middle of the field for a 22-yard gain, and on the next snap wide receiver Tim Dwight hauled in a 23-yard touchdown pass to put the Bolts up 28-7 with 36 seconds left in the half.

The Chargers opened up the second half from midfield after Dwight’s 50-yard kickoff return. Brees took over from there, completing all three of his pass attempts for 47 yards, including a five-yard scoring pass to Gates that pushed San Diego’s lead to 35-7.

After the Raiders’ fourth punt of the game, the Bolts’ offense continued their onslaught. They gained 31 yards rushing on six carries and Brees passed for 37 yards on three completions.

On fourth down from the one-yard line, Brees lofted a pass to Gates in the back right side of the end zone for his fifth touchdown pass of the game. It made the score 42-7 with 3:12 to go in the third quarter.

Kaeding’s ensuing kickoff sailed out of bounds giving the Raiders the ball at their 40-yard line. Collins then completed six of seven passes for 70 yards, finding tight end Doug Jolley for a 13-yard touchdown reception to cut San Diego’s lead to 28 points at the end of the third quarter.

The Chargers punted for the first time of the game on their next drive, but the offense returned to the field less than a minute later after defensive end DeQuincy Scott’s third-down sack of Collins.

With the game well out of reach, Oakland came close to shortening San Diego’s lead in the final 15 minutes, but cornerback Sammy Davis intercepted Collins’ pass for Gabriel in the end zone with 2:25 left in the game.

It was Davis’ first interception of the season.

“Once I got that interception, I couldn’t get up fast enough to try and get to the other end zone,” Davis said. “I was trying to get in the record books on that one, but it just didn’t happen that way.”

On Oakland’s final drive, linebacker Donnie Edwards forced running back Amos Zereoue to fumble. Rookie linebacker Shaun Phillips recovered to preserve the 42-14 win.