Tomlinson seemed to be trying to jump out of Candlestick Park while hurdling the goal line on one of his four touchdown runs Sunday—and his elevation was the Chargers’ inspiration.
Tomlinson set a franchise record while seemingly spending most of the afternoon in the end zone, and Philip Rivers passed for a career-high 334 yards and two more scores in San Diego’s 48-19 victory over San Francisco.
Tomlinson got his third score 33 seconds before halftime, capping San Diego’s 35-point first half and essentially finishing off the 49ers (2-4) with an astonishingly high leap over the goal-line pile.
“It was pretty awesome,” said Rivers, who went 29-of-39 as the Chargers rolled to their first 4-1 start since 2002. “Little things like that … it wasn’t the touchdown necessarily, but seeing him do that sparks those guys on the sidelines.”
“It was the highest vertical leap I have ever seen a guy take,” coach Marty Schottenheimer said. “It was like he almost cleared everybody who was in front of him, blocking and defending. That was pretty impressive stuff, but those things with L.T. become a bit commonplace.”
Tomlinson rushed for just 71 yards, but surpassed Lance Alworth’s Chargers record with his 84th career touchdown in the first quarter. He added three more on similarly short runs, each punctuated with a ball flip and a wave.
Tomlinson thought nothing of his safety before the jump.
“I think my lineman was standing up, so I knew I had to get over him,” Tomlinson said. “I recall seeing Walter Payton do that, and even Emmitt Smith— guys I look up to. Each time I do it, my wife is killing me. She’s … ‘Stop doing that.’ I’ll just wait and see what she says when I come home.”
In his sixth pro season, Tomlinson is heading toward the feats of such greats. The three-time Pro Bowl running back scored four TDs on three runs and a reception against the Jets last season, but had never rushed for four scores in a game.
Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson caught scoring passes, and Rivers was practically perfect. With a poise beyond his five career starts, he easily picked apart a defense that already has allowed 194 points this season.
San Diego scored 35 first-half points against the 49ers before finishing the club’s highest-scoring performance since 1986, matching a 48-point game against Buffalo last season.
Schottenheimer didn’t play it safe for a change, either: Rivers and Tomlinson stayed in the game with a 22-point lead in the final minutes, finally adding L.T.’s last TD with 4:20 to play.
And San Diego seemed to need plenty of points for a change: In the 49ers’ fourth home game in five weeks, Alex Smith kept one of the NFL’s top defenses on its heels with a strong first half before fading late.
“The bright spot on defense is that we can stop the run, but other things seem to give us trouble,” said 49ers coach Mike Nolan, who hinted defensive changes could be coming. “We should be able to get more rush than we did.”
Bryan Gilmore and fullback Moran Norris caught scoring passes as the Chargers gave up more points in the first half alone than they allowed in any of their first four games. But San Diego shut out San Francisco in the second half, with Smith finishing 20-of-31 for 214 yards.
San Francisco’s offense has been better than expected heading to the club’s bye week, but the defense has been just as bad as feared. Two weeks after giving up 41 points to the Chiefs, the 49ers seemed lost from the moment top cornerback Walt Harris was ruled out with a hamstring injury.
“We take pride in being the strength, and we’re not showing it now,” linebacker Jeff Ulbrich said. “I know it’s killing us, all the guys on this side of the ball.”
Gates turned a short catch into a 57-yard score on the Chargers’ opening possession when three Niners missed tackles, but San Francisco responded with a 74-yard drive capped by Smith’s needle-threading TD throw to Gilmore.
San Diego had a 91-yard scoring drive later in the first quarter capped by Tomlinson’s first TD, and Jackson blew past rookie third-string cornerback Marcus Hudson for a 33-yard TD catch early in the second.
Rivers was 14-of-15 with a perfect passer rating shortly before Ronald Fields sacked him in the end zone for a safety 3:12 before halftime. But Smith’s next pass was tipped and intercepted by Luis Castillo.
San Diego’s 35 points were the second-most ever allowed by a San Francisco defense in a first half. … Rivers passed for 235 yards in the first half—7 fewer than his total last week against Pittsburgh. … The Chargers punted once and kicked off 10 times.