Chargers can’t hold 13-point lead, lose 35-34
Drew Brees led New Orleans to two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, 50 seconds to rally the Saints to a stunning 35-34 victory on Sunday against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, who blew a 13-point lead by committing two crucial turnovers.
Brees overcome two interceptions to win in his return to San Diego, where he played his first five NFL seasons before being allowed to leave as a free agent. It was also the first win this season for the Saints (1-3).
After the final gun, Brees ran over to the stands and greeted Saints fans.
With the Chargers trying to protect a 34-21 lead, Melvin Gordon fumbled and Darryl Tapp recovered at the San Diego 13, setting up Brees’ 5-yard TD pass to Michael Thomas on fourth-and-2 to pull to 34-28 with 4:50 to go.
Travis Benjamin then fumbled after a reception and Nate Stupar recovered at the San Diego 31. Seven plays later, fullback John Kuhn scored his third TD of the game, on a 1-yard run. The PAT made it 35-34.
Rivers, who was Brees’ understudy for his first two NFL seasons, was intercepted by B.W. Webb with 1:10 to go.
It was the third time this season the Chargers (1-3) blew a late lead.
The Chargers seemed to have it in control after Rivers directed a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped by Gordon’s second 1-yard scoring run of the game to give the Chargers a 31-21 lead with 12:15 to play. Rivers kept the drive alive with a pinpoint, 16-yard completion to Tyrell Williams to the New Orleans 7-yard line.
It was the first time Brees played at Qualcomm Stadium since Dec. 31, 2005, when he injured his throwing shoulder in his final appearance as Chargers quarterback. He had surgery and was allowed to leave as a free agent, signing with New Orleans. That gave the starting job to Rivers. Brees led the Saints to a Super Bowl victory against Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts after the 2009 season.
The Saints beat the Chargers in 2008 in London and in 2012 in New Orleans.
Rivers threw scoring passes of 20 yards to rookie Hunter Henry and 53 yards to Dontrelle Inman as the Saints’ defense broke down on both plays.
Brees threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Kuhn. Kuhn and Mark Ingram each scored on a one-yard run.
The Chargers took a 24-14 halftime lead after scoring on three straight possessions, getting the 53-yard TD pass from Rivers to Inman, a 30-yard field goal from Josh Lambo and a 1-yard run by Gordon.
San Diego floundered on the opening drive of the second half, making fans nervous. Dexter McCluster caught the opening kickoff of the second half 6 yards deep and bringing it out only to the 15. The Chargers went three and out, and Brees led them on a drive culminated when Kuhn scored on a 1-yard run to pull the Saints to 24-21.
ATTENDANCE: The announced crowd was 60,641 at 70,000-seat Qualcomm stadium, the second home game this year well short of capacity. The Chargers are threatening to move to Los Angeles if voters don’t approve a $1.1 billion stadium subsidy via an increase in hotel occupancy taxes.
MOMENTUM CHANGE: With the score tied at 14, San Diego’s Jason Verrett deflected a pass by Brees and Craig Mager intercepted at the New Orleans 41. Lambo kicked his 30-yard field goal five plays later for a 17-14 lead.
ANTHEM PROTEST: Chargers Joshua Perry, Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston, D.J. Fluker and Tyreek Burwell of held up their right fists during the national anthem.
INACTIVES: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was inactive for the second straight week with a hamstring injury. Also out a second straight week was LT King Dunlap, who is bothered by migraines. Chargers lineman Chris Hairston limped off with a groin injury late in the second quarter. San Diego defensive end Joey Bosa, out indefinitely with a hamstring injury, has yet to make his NFL debut.
INJURIES: Chargers LG Orlando Franklin sustained a knee injury. Chargers LB Denzel Perryman injured a shoulder in the second quarter. Saints DE Paul Kruger suffered a back injury in the third quarter.
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