By Dave Thomas
After dropping two of their first three games—all games in which they had leads in the fourth quarter—the San Diego Chargers reversed the script on Sunday.
Trailing 21-13 at halftime, the Chargers came out over the next 30 minutes of play and outscored the visiting Dallas Cowboys 17-0, giving them a hard-fought 30-21 win over the NFC East leaders. With the victory, the Bolts moved to 2-2 on the season as they prepare to visit rival Oakland next Sunday in the Bay Area.
For a portion of Sunday, however, the Chargers looked like they were potentially destined to stay tied in the AFC West basement with the 1-3 Raiders.
After Dallas (2-2) linebacker Sean Lee snatched a Philip Rivers (arm was hit by a defender as he was unloading the ball) pass and took it back 52 yards for the score, the Cowboys grabbed themselves a 21-10 lead late in the second quarter. While the Chargers managed a last-second Nick Novak field goal to end the half on a positive note, many in the crowd probably thought the home team would still find a way to lose this game.
Chargers Fight Back from Halftime Deficit
Down eight points to start the second half, San Diego clawed back within a point when running back Danny Woodhead hauled in a 13-yard touchdown pass (one of two on the day) from Rivers, cutting the deficit to 21-20. To the delight of Charger fans in the crowd of more than 68,000, they had themselves a ball game once again.
The Chargers made the home crowd even happier by getting a game-winning 23-yard field goal from Novak early in the fourth quarter, then increasing the lead to nine points as future Hall of Fame tight end Antonio Gates looked like a rookie once again, catching a 56-yard touchdown pass from Rivers (401 yards passing, three TD’s).
On the play, Gates avoided a Dallas defender’s efforts at a shoestring tackle, showing off some speed from earlier in his career. The touchdown catch allowed Gates to pass the great Ozzie Newsome for fourth place all-time in catches by a tight end.
The Butler Did It
Holding a 30-21 lead, the Chargers were not able to fully rest until a big defensive play by corner Crezdon Butler as Dallas was marching for a touchdown.
Butler jarred the ball loose from wide receiver Terrance Williams as he was headed close to the end zone, allowing corner Richard Marshall to fall on the ball for the touch back. With it, the Chargers dodged a major bullet.
While Dallas would get the ball back one last time, quarterback Tony Romo (244 yards passing, two TD’s) was sacked on the game’s final play, giving San Diego a much needed win.
Rivers continues to shine early in the 2013 season. After being an interception and sack machine (for all the wrong reasons) a season ago, the veteran QB from N.C. State is looking good through four games. Rivers, who came into Sunday’s game with a 116.2 QB passer rating, only had one pick versus Dallas, and that one was a play where his arm was hit on the release. Meantime, a patchwork offensive line did a good job for the most part in giving Rivers time to find receivers, including Gates (10 receptions, 136 yards, one TD) and Keenan Allen (five catches, 80 yards). The latter played a big game in the absence of starting wide receiver Malcom Floyd (neck sprain). Lastly, much-maligned running back Ryan Mathews had his best game of the season. Although he only finished with 62 yards on 19 carries, the Fresno State product had some productive and punishing runs against the Dallas defense.
Even though San Diego spotted Dallas 21 first half points, a combination of good defense and some dropped balls by Cowboy receivers kept Dallas off the scoreboard over the game’s final 30 minutes. Linebacker Donald Butler and corner back Richard Marshall accounted for eight and seven solo tackles, respectively. Butler’s (Crezdon) big hit on Williams kept the Cowboys from potentially pulling within two points late in the game.
For more Chargers news and updates, visit Chargers Central.
Dave Thomas has been covering the sports world since his first job as a sports editor for a weekly newspaper in Pennsylvania back in 1989. He has covered a Super Bowl, college bowl games, MLB, NBA and more. His work can be found on Examiner.com.