November 6, 2011

2005: Tomlinson Scores 4 TDs as Chargers Hold On to Beat Jets

The San Diego Chargers were even at 4-4 as they traveled to the New Jersey Meadowlands to take on the New York Jets on November 6, 2005. Under Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer, the Chargers had gone from 4-12 in 2003 to 12-4 in ’04 and were looking to contend once again. QB Drew Brees didn’t have the strongest arm, but it was accurate. His top receiver was TE Antonio Gates, an outstanding player but one who could have used a complementary deep threat at wide receiver. The key player on offense was RB LaDainian Tomlinson (pictured above), in his fifth season and not only a top rusher but a talented receiver out of the backfield.

The Jets had also been a playoff team in 2004 under Head Coach Herman Edwards, but were struggling thus far in ’05 at 2-5 and were coming off of their bye week. They had lost QB Chad Pennington to a shoulder injury and were utilizing unheralded second-year backup Brooks Bollinger and 42-year-old veteran Vinny Testaverde. They still had RB Curtis Martin, long one of the best ground gainers in pro football but now 32 years old. New York had yet to score more than 20 points in a game, making it difficult for the defense to compensate.

There were 77,662 in attendance at Giants Stadium, and they saw the Chargers take a two-touchdown lead in the first quarter. While the Jets drove to the San Diego 33 yard line on the game’s opening drive, they came up empty when Mike Nugent missed a 51-yard field goal attempt that was wide to the left. The Chargers responded by going 59 yards in seven plays on their first possession, including a 15-yard pass play from Brees to Tomlinson in a third-and-seven situation, capped by Tomlinson running four yards for a touchdown.

Following a three-and-out possession by the Jets, San Diego put together another scoring drive. Brees completed a pass to Gates for a 22-yard gain and had back-to-back throws to WR Reche Caldwell that gained 19 yards and set up a pass to Tomlinson for a 25-yard TD.

The Jets came right back in their ensuing possession, primarily due to a Testaverde pass to TE Chris Baker that gained 47 yards to the San Diego seven. On the first play of the second quarter, Martin ran for a one-yard touchdown and the Chargers’ margin was narrowed to 14-7. However, San Diego got the ball back and put together a 10-play, 75-yard drive that included back-to-back Brees completions of 21 yards to WR Keenan McCardell on a third-and-20 play and 29 yards to Gates that gave the Chargers a first-and-goal at the New York three. Two plays later, Tomlinson scored his third touchdown on a one-yard run, and San Diego’s lead was 21-7.

The Jets responded with an eight-play possession that covered 43 yards and included two Testaverde passes to WR Laveranues Coles that gained 13 and 19 yards. Nugent kicked a 35-yard field goal, and the score was 21-10. It was still the same at halftime, for while the Chargers moved the ball to the New York 19 yard line with just under a minute remaining on the clock, CB David Barrett intercepted a Brees pass to end the threat.

Following a three-and-out possession by San Diego to start the third quarter, the Jets were helped by a 40-yard pass interference penalty on CB Quentin Jammer and ended up with a 22-yard field goal by Nugent that narrowed the margin to 21-13. The teams traded punts before the Chargers put together a nine-play, 55-yard drive that included five carries for 28 yards by Tomlinson capped by a one-yard TD carry at the end. The score was 28-13 heading into the fourth quarter.

With Testaverde suffering from a calf injury, Bollinger took over at quarterback for the Jets and engineered a 13-play possession that covered 75 yards. New York converted two third downs, both on runs by the quarterback, and Bollinger capped the drive with a five-yard touchdown pass to FB Jerald Sowell. However, once again the Chargers bounced back when RB Darren Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff 50 yards, Brees threw a 25-yard completion to Gates, and Nate Kaeding booted an 18-yard field goal that extended the lead to 31-20.

Still, the Jets fought back. CB Justin Miller had a big kickoff return of his own, bringing the ball back 45 yards to start New York off in good field position at the San Diego 48. Bollinger threw to Coles for 11 yards and then to WR Justin McCareins for 17 more down to the 20. A sack on second down set up a third-and-18 situation, but Bollinger connected with WR Wayne Chrebet for a 20-yard gain. Bollinger then passed to Coles for an eight-yard TD, but the try for a two-point conversion failed.

It was a five-point game, however, and when Brees fumbled when sacked by DE John Abraham, the Jets had the ball back at the San Diego 30 with just over three minutes to play. New York drove to the three yard line, but DT Jamal Williams batted away a third down pass and an incompletion on fourth down with a minute remaining finished off the Jets. San Diego, which had difficulty holding late leads, escaped with a 31-26 win.

The Chargers had the most total yards (395 to 269) and first downs (27 to 19). However, they also turned the ball over twice (the Jets suffered none) and were penalized 12 times at a cost of 124 yards (New York was flagged five times for 35 yards).

LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 107 yards on 25 carries with three touchdowns and caught three passes for 46 yards and a score, giving him four TDs on the day. Antonio Gates also had a big performance as he caught 8 passes for 132 yards. Drew Brees went to the air 27 times and completed 20 for 270 yards with a touchdown and one intercepted.

For the Jets, Vinny Testaverde completed 6 of 11 passes for 98 yards while Brooks Bollinger (pictured at right) was 11 for 20 and gained 106 yards with two touchdowns. Laveranues Coles had 6 pass receptions for 64 yards and a TD. Curtis Martin gained 72 yards on 21 attempts and scored a touchdown.

“It was nice,” said Tomlinson afterward. “So many times we've been on the losing end of games like this. I figured one game would have to go our way.”

The Chargers won their next three games but then lost three of the last four to fall out of contention and end up in third place in the AFC West with a 9-7 record. New York finished at the bottom of the AFC East with a 4-12 tally.

LaDainian Tomlinson went on to score a total of 20 touchdowns while gaining 1462 yards on 339 carries with 18 TDs and catching 51 passes for another 370 yards and two touchdowns. His 1832 yards from scrimmage ranked fifth in the NFL. He was selected to the Pro Bowl for the third time.

Antonio Gates also had a Pro Bowl-year, in addition to being a consensus first-team All-NFL selection, as he caught a career-high 89 passes for 1101 yards and 10 touchdowns. Drew Brees threw for 3576 yards with 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions but, due to a shoulder injury suffered in the season finale that required surgery, the Chargers allowed him to depart as a free agent and he signed with New Orleans.

Brooks Bollinger, who performed so well in a relief role against the Chargers, played the most at quarterback for the Jets in 2005, which was by far his most active NFL season. He completed 56.4 % of his passes (150 of 266) for 1558 yards with seven touchdowns and six interceptions and had a passer rating of 72.9. Bollinger played three more seasons in the NFL, with the Vikings in 2006 and ’07 and Dallas in 2009, and threw a total of just 85 more passes. He went on to spend two seasons with the Florida Tuskers of the United Football League.