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Chargers-Cowboys: What we learned

The SportsXchange

SAN DIEGO - Team was the theme for the San Diego Chargers, who held the Dallas Cowboys scoreless in the second half for a 30-21 victory Sunday before a crowd of 68,601 at Qualcomm Stadium.

"An outstanding team effort," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "That's what this game is all about. I'm proud of the football team and the coaches."

Quarterback Philip Rivers passed for three touchdowns and 401 yards, but it was the San Diego defense that was the talk of the locker room after it pitched a shutout in the second half.

"They did a good job," said Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who completed 27 of 37 passes for 244 yards and two touchdowns. "We had way too many missed opportunities more than anything. We had a few different times we could have moved the chains that would have put us into a third-down situation, (but) we didn't throw and catch like we needed to. That hurt. A couple of the penalties pushed us back. And then we've got to finish on that last opportunity to get into the end zone."

The dagger for the Cowboys came on their final possession, when they had a first-and-goal at the Chargers' 7 with 2:50 remaining. Romo hit Terrance Williams with a short pass at the 2, but Williams, as he was being tackled by Eric Weddle, tried to stretch into the end zone. He fumbled into the end zone instead, where Chargers cornerback Richard Marshall scooped it up.

San Diego proceeded to run out the clock and earn its third decision over the Cowboys in the past four meeting.

Team.

"Guys stepped up," Rivers said.

Rivers helped seal the win on a 56-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates with 6:54 remaining, capping the scoring and handing the Cowboys (2-2) a disappointing setback. Gates finished with 10 catches for 136 yards.

"We've got to get better," said Dallas running back DeMarco Murray, who finished with 70 yards rushing on 14 carries. "I thought we had a lot of positives in this game. We didn't have a lot of opportunities, but on the same side we have to capitalize on every opportunity we get. We didn't do that."

The Chargers (2-2) outgained the Cowboys 506-317 in total offense and owned an advantage in ball control at 34:03 to 25:57. Dallas had the ball for only 3:23 of the third quarter.

"They are a great offensive football team," said Dallas linebacker Sean Lee, who returned an interception for a 52-yard touchdown to stake the Cowboys to a 21-10 lead and recorded 15 tackles and assisted on three more. "They played well. They made some big plays in the second half that hurt us."

The Chargers opened the second half with their best series of the game, driving 80 yards in 10 plays and finishing with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Danny Woodhead, who had five receptions for 54 yards and two touchdowns, and pulling them to within 21-20 with 9:39 remaining in the third quarter.

San Diego got a 23-yard field goal from Nick Novak before Rivers and Gates hooked up to close the deal.

What the Chargers said

"Obviously, the offense played lights out the entire game and in the second half they didn't get stopped. It gave us a chance. For the defense, we just wanted to come down and play tight coverage and get a stop by any means necessary and win the game. And that's what we did." -- Free safety Eric Weddle

What the Cowboys said

"The started to speed it up a little bit (in the second half). The went with a quick game. A couple of big plays they were able to hit, but it was the pace. They sped up and dictated a couple of things." -- Middle linebacker Sean Lee

What we learned about the Chargers

1. Forget face-paced, scurry-huddle offense. The Chargers are winning with good 'ol-fashioned ball control. It's not smashmouth and certainly not sexy, but it's working -- the Chargers are 2-2 and finding ways to close out games. They prevailed despite a patch-work offensive line that was missing three of five starters. The Chargers' offense also delivered the wicked brand of ball control in the third quarter, holding the rock for 11:37 to 3:23 for the Cowboys.

2. Rivers to Gates isn't dead yet. Antonio Gates and Philip Rivers rekindled a combination that was a wrecking ball for the AFC West for several years before foot injuries became a chronic setback for Gates the past two seasons. Gates streaking downfield under a perfectly lofted pass over linebacker Sean Lee has vintage Chargers. With no single dominant receiver, Gates can become the equalizer in the route tree that safeties and linebacker must account for going forward.

What we learned about the Cowboys

1. Cornerback Morris Claiborne might be hindering the pass coverage. Claiborne, a first-round pick last season, has battled injuries since the day he was drafted. He's fighting a bum shoulder but was plagued by poor judgment and was behind Vincent Brown and Keenan Allen all game, and Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers quickly picked him out as a weak spot in the secondary. Claiborne is a poor tackler, and when he's not aggressively jamming receivers and bumping them through their routes, he's not an asset.

2. The play-calling situation bears watching. Bill Callahan is in his first season with the play sheet for the Cowboys, and there appears to be some disconnect with quarterback Tony Romo on occasion. After showing great balance blowing out the Rams last week, the Cowboys were mystifying in the second half, when they hit snooze and had a total of seven offensive snaps in the third quarter. The offense stalled again with the running game being limited to 92 yards DeMarco Murray rushed for 70 yards).
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