SAN DIEGO (AP)—These clearly are not the San Diego Chargers of the recent gloomy past.
They can pass. They can catch. They can play defense. And even with LaDainian Tomlinson hurting, they can win big.
In routing the New Orleans Saints 43-17 on Sunday, they even showed a bit of a swagger.
“We go on the field and say, ‘We can beat these guys,’ “ quarterback Drew Brees said. “That’s our attitude. It’s such a dramatic difference from last year. We’re almost disappointed that the bye’s coming because we just want to keep going.”
It was San Diego’s highest-scoring game since beating the Miami Dolphins 45-20 on Dec. 27, 1993. The Chargers have scored 85 points in consecutive games.
Brees, the quarterback the front office didn’t want coming into this season, threw four more touchdown passes—three to tight end Antonio Gates—and the Chargers (6-3) won their third straight game and for the fifth time in six games.
Brees has thrown nine touchdown passes in two straight blowout wins, pushing his season total to 18, against just three interceptions. Last year he threw 15 interceptions and 11 touchdowns, was benched for five games and pulled from two others.
Brees was 22-of-36 for 257 yards on Sunday. Last week he threw a career-high five TD passes in a 42-10 win over Oakland. He hasn’t thrown an interception in three straight games, and in six of the last seven.
“If you have a quarterback you have confidence in, you always believe that you can win the game,” coach Marty Schottenheimer said.
The Chargers are off next Sunday, so Tomlinson can rest his strained groin, which has slowed him for five games.
Tomlinson hasn’t cracked 100 yards in any of those games, and on Sunday was held to just 36 yards on 17 carries, with one touchdown.
Even so, he’s happy about the way Brees and the receivers, particularly Gates and Keenan McCardell, have made the Chargers a high-scoring threat.
“It’s so much better, because guys can’t just focus on me,” Tomlinson said. “They’ve got many other weapons to worry about. It feels good to look up and Drew hits Antonio way down the field, or Keenan way down the field, for a big play, man. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Rivers made his pro debut with 4:04 left and the Chargers leading 43-17. He handed off three straight times, then took a knee three times to run out the clock.
The Saints (3-5) have lost four of five.
“We couldn’t cover the tight end,” New Orleans coach Jim Haslett said. “I think he’s one of the best tight ends in the league, if not the best.”
To put the Chargers’ recent struggles in perspective, Gates became the first Chargers receiver to catch three touchdown passes since Tony Martin did it against Baltimore on Sept. 28, 1997. The last Chargers tight end to catch three touchdown passes was Hall of Famer Kellen Winslow against Kansas City on Dec. 11, 1983.
Gates might have had four TDs, but he couldn’t hold onto a pass from McCardell in the second quarter, one of several trick plays the Chargers ran. He had five catches for 56 yards.
Gates caught touchdown passes of 7 and 2 yards on consecutive drives late in the third quarter to give San Diego a 36-7 lead.
Gates’ third TD of the day was set up when Steve Foley sacked Aaron Brooks and forced a fumble that Stephen Cooper recovered at the New Orleans 40. The Chargers gained 33 yards when Sedrick Hodge was called for pass interference against Gates to give the Chargers the ball on 2.
Brees then hit Kassim Osgood on a 12-yard scoring pass midway through the fourth quarter.
Tomlinson’s backup, Jesse Chatman, gained 22 yards on a fake punt from the San Diego 47 on the game’s opening drive to help set up Brees’ 12-yard touchdown pass to Gates for a 7-0 lead.
The Chargers started their next drive with a reverse by Tim Dwight that gained 48 yards to the New Orleans 22. Tomlinson scored from 1 yard out four plays later for a 14-0 lead.
John Carney, San Diego’s kicker from 1990-2000, had a 37-yard field goal in the fourth quarter and missed a 46-yarder in the third quarter.
“I would say it’s embarrassing,” Saints returner Michael Lewis said. “We just played bad today.”
Saints TE Ernie Conwell bruised his sternum in the third quarter and didn’t return. … Brees has thrown 122 straight passes without an interception.