OAKLAND, Calif. (AP)—San Diego’s slow, uninspired start nearly cost the Chargers a share of first place.
And they knew it.
Antonio Gates had eight receptions for 101 yards and a touchdown, LaDainian Tomlinson ran 37 times for 164 yards and a score, and the Chargers won their fourth straight game, 23-17 over the Raiders on Sunday.
Drew Brees passed for 226 yards and also ran for a touchdown to help the Chargers (7-3) beat the Raiders for the second time in three weeks after their 42-14 win on Halloween.
“This time around, they made it much more interesting and exciting,” Chargers linebacker Steve Foley said. “I think their energy was a lot higher. They had the kind of attitude that, ‘We’re not going to lose this game at home.’
“We made too many mistakes and let them back in the game.”
San Diego figured its rematch with the Raiders would be much closer than the Chargers’ romp last month.
San Diego swept the season series for the first time in 12 years and maintained a tie for first place in the AFC West with Denver, which won 34-13 at New Orleans. The Chargers play at Kansas City next week before hosting the Broncos on Dec. 5.
“Good teams don’t always play their best, but we found a way to win. That’s the bottom line,” Chargers coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “It was the kind of game I expected it would be.”
Oakland’s Doug Gabriel had a 15-yard TD reception negated with 7:54 remaining after rookie right tackle Robert Gallery was flagged for an illegal block in the back—another mistake in a season defined by missed opportunities.
Instead, Oakland got a 31-yard field goal from Sebastian Janikowski and fell short again. The Raiders are 3-7 to start a season for only the fourth time since 1964, and owner Al Davis looked glum standing alone in the locker room watching his dejected players.
Both teams had two weeks to think about this rematch with their bye last weekend.
Kerry Collins, who spent extra time in the film room during Oakland’s week off, went 18-for-30 for 227 yards and two touchdowns and didn’t throw an interception for the first time in nine games dating to last season with the Giants. It was one of his most efficient games since taking over for injured Rich Gannon in Week 4.
He did miss two long passes to Ronald Curry in the Raiders’ final drive.
“I felt like I played better today,” Collins said. “I feel like I’m getting more and more comfortable working in this offense. I feel like I’m seeing the field better. I have a better understanding of what we’re trying to get done.”
Gates, who scored twice in the teams’ first meeting, scored his ninth TD of the year and sixth in the Chargers’ last three games on an 11-yard pass from Brees in the first quarter. Gates also drew several penalties against Oakland’s improving defense.
Brees ran untouched 6 yards for a score in the second quarter and Tomlinson — as healthy as he’s been in six weeks after dealing with a groin injury—also had a 6-yard scoring run early in the fourth quarter.
Teyo Johnson, inactive for the first eight weeks, pulled the Raiders within 16-14 on his 8-yard reception late in the third quarter. Johnson got his second career touchdown on just the first pass of the year thrown to the former Stanford star, who started five games last season as a rookie.
Curry caught a 22-yard touchdown pass from Collins late in the second quarter for Oakland, which snapped a five-game losing streak with a 27-24 win at Carolina on Nov. 7.
The Raiders showed signs of consistency on defense. They kept San Diego out of the end zone from the 1 late in the third quarter—a stand highlighted by defensive end Tyler Brayton’s deflection of a pass headed for a wide-open Gates in the back of the end zone.
The Chargers settled for Nate Kaeding’s 19-yard field goal.
The Raiders were held without a first down and to only 16 yards in the first quarter. Oakland finally got a first down 8:35 before halftime when Collins hit Porter for a 17-yard gain, which led to Curry’s touchdown.
The Raiders elevated WR John Stone from the practice squad before the game. … Oakland’s cheerleaders, the Raiderettes, were slowed getting into their locker room because the locks had been changed. … Oakland also began 3-7 in 1987, 1997 and ’03.