TAMPA, Fla. -- One minute into the game, Tampa Bay Buccaneers cornerback Leonard Johnson looked like the right player for Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers to pick on, but it was the rookie who wound up with the winning pick in a 34-24 win at Raymond James Stadium.
Johnson intercepted Rivers' pass intended for wide receiver Eddie Royal and sprinted 83 yards for a touchdown to give Tampa Bay a 31-21 lead with 13:22 remaining in the game.
"I just grabbed that ball and went running. I think I was running slow as hell," Johnson laughed. "I was just really excited for that moment."
Rivers never intended to give Johnson the opportunity.
"There is a story to every interception, but the intention was to throw it over (Johnson's) head. Eddie (Royal) was there and I saw (Johnson) the whole time. (The ball) just kind of stayed in my hand longer than I wanted it to, and took a nose dive to him," said Rivers. "In hindsight, I wish I would have thrown it over his head, but I probably just shouldn't have thrown the ball period. Make it, kick a field goal and tie it up. This game is played in quick decisions and I made the wrong one there."
It was retribution for Johnson, who had been fooled by Chargers receiver Danario Alexander for an 80-yard touchdown that gave San Diego a 7-0 lead just over a minute into the game.
The win was the Buccaneers' first over San Diego in six tries in Tampa.
"I was just upset because I'm a consistent tackler and I didn't take (Alexander) down. It hurt me, knowing I'm better than that," said Johnson. "My teammates all got around me and told me to forget about it and move on to the next play," said Johnson.
The Buccaneers entered the game last in the NFL in pass defense and first against the run.
"Coach always talks about 'next fight,'" said defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, talking about Johnson. "He made a mistake. But he can't worry about that mistake. He's just got to play the next play. Keep playing, keep playing, and he made a play. It was big."
LeQuan Lewis, who was signed off the practice squad this week, added another pick of Rivers with 3:19 remaining to set up Buccaneers' kicker Connor Barth's 45-yard field goal to seal the game just over two minutes later.
The wheels came off entirely for the Chargers, who have lost four of their past five games. The 5-4 Buccaneers have won three in a row and four of five to rebound from a 1-3 start.
San Diego had a 14-7 lead at the end of the first quarter and went up 21-17 just before halftime when Rivers found Malcom Floyd for a 3-yard touchdown.
The Buccaneers scored 14 straight, first on a 15-yard grab by Tiquan Underwood before Johnson's 83-yard score. Adam Hayward had a 29-yard touchdown off a blocked punt in the second quarter.
Entering the fourth quarter, Rivers had been nearly perfect, carving up the Buccaneers' secondary and completing 21 of 25 passes for 267 yards, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, this after going 18 of 20 last week. Rivers finished Sunday's game 29 of 37 for 337 yards, three touchdowns, and two costly interceptions. Rivers now has 12 interceptions this season.
"Those things are happening on the run and in live action," said Rivers. "It's a humbling game because it just shows how one play -- essentially one play -- can ruin a game and cost a game."
Hayward, a special teams captain, scooped up a blocked punt by teammate Dekoda Watson, running it in to give Tampa Bay its first lead of the day at 17-14. Chargers punter Mike Scifres was injured on the play.
The Buccaneers' red-hot offense, coming off its best month ever, lacked its recent sharpness but did just enough to keep pace with Rivers and the Chargers.
Quarterback Josh Freeman completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions. Coming off a record-setting performance last week against the Raiders, Bucs rookie running back Doug Martin had 120 total yards. Martin ran for 68 yards on 19 carries and caught three passes for 51 yards.
"He's all-around. Some guys are great at running the ball and don't particularly have great hands. Other guys are really good at catching the ball but they're not really good at sticking their head up in the hole and pushing out, getting those dirty yards. Doug kind of does the all-around thing," said Freeman.
Martin set up the Bucs' first score of the game with a 42-yard catch. Freeman then hit tight end Dallas Clark for a 3-yard touchdown pass on a designed bootleg play
Former Chargers receiver Vincent Jackson, who joined the Buccaneers as a free agent in March when he signed a $55 million deal, faced his former team for the first time. Jackson caught five passes for 59 yards, including a 31-yard grab to set up Underwood's score.
Notes: The Bucs defeated the Chargers for the first time since a 25-17 win in San Diego in 1996. ... In the third quarter, Bucs linebacker Quincy Black was involved in a helmet-to-helmet hit with Chargers running back Ryan Mathews. Black was on the field for several minutes, before being lifting onto a board and carted off. He motioned to fans as he left the stadium. ... Chargers defensive tackle Aubrayo Flanklin left the game in the first half with a knee injury. Outside linebacker Melvin Ingram also left the game with a knee injury. ... Hayward's 29-yard return was Tampa Bay's first score off a blocked punt since Ronde Barber did it in Green Bay on Nov. 8, 2009. ... Johnson has three interceptions in the past three games.