PASSING OFFENSE: D -- Drew Brees was so-so. After throwing but seven interceptions last year, he tossed two in his first four quarters of this year. To be fair, the Cowboys blitzed the heck out of him as they dared the Chargers to beat them with the pass. Not having All-Pro TE Antonio Gates made that a tad easier. Brees wasn't awful (18-of-35 for 209 yards and two touchdowns), but he had four chances to win the game at the end and came up short.
RUNNING OFFENSE: D -- The Chargers, with one of the better backs in the league, just did get past the century mark in rushing. RB LaDainian Tomlinson was limited to only 19 carries, and while he had 72 yards and a score, it wasn't enough. Seems the Chargers got away from running the ball, scared by the Cowboys loading up in the box. Run-blocking was decent - Mike Goff's pancake block on Tomlinson's run was a beauty - but the ground game wasn't called on enough.
PASS DEFENSE: F -- Once again, the Achilles' heel of the Chargers' team is its pass defense. Drew Bledsoe threw for three touchdowns and 226 yards -- for a nifty QB rating of 143.4. Quentin Jammer had two killer penalties, and Sammy Davis got beat for the game-winner by Keyshawn Johnson. It's "Groundhog Day" with this bunch. The pass rush wasn't bad, as four different players had a sack each, but someone must step up defending the pass, or the Chargers' dream of being an elite NFL team will take a serious blow.
RUN DEFENSE: C -- The Chargers have set the bar so high here, that whenever a team gains more than 100 yards on the ground, eyebrows raise. Julius Jones rushed for 93 yards and a score. The defense seemed to wear out as the game wore on, with the holes getting larger for Jones to run through. Again, it was a decent showing by the Bolts, but they hang their hat on their run defense; and by those standards, they fell short.
SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Keep an eye on Darren Sproles; as he nearly broke two kickoff returns for touchdowns. He had returns of 49 and 46 yards; a mere shoestring tackle away from a score on both. But P Mike Scifres killed the Chargers' chances of winning with a dreadful 18-yard punt that gave the Cowboys great field position to start their game-winning possession.
COACHING: F -- Still can't figure out why Tomlinson wasn't used with the game on the line. Coach Marty Schottenheimer said they didn't run from the Dallas 7-yard line because of all the Cowboys in the box. But Tomlinson has made a career out of making people miss, and what's wrong with a pitch or short swing pass to let the NFL's best back do his thing in space? Remember, in the old days, a stubborn Schottenheimer would have run anyway; not backing down to someone trying to take away his best option. It looks as if Cowboys coach Bill Parcells spooked Schottenheimer out of using his best weapon.
COWBOYS REPORT CARD:
PASSING OFFENSE: A-minus -- At least for one game, Drew Bledsoe and the team's aging and thin receiver corps proved they could get the job down. Bledsoe completed 18-of-24 passes for 226 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. Keyshawn Johnson had five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns. Bledsoe was sacked four times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C-plus -- The Cowboys ran for 109 yards. It would have been more if 42 yards weren't called back because of penalties. Running back Julius Jones also grew tired at the end of the game, but he still managed 93 yards on 26 carries against a tough run defense.
PASS DEFENSE: B minus -- Keenan McCardell and Drew Brees seemed to pick the defense apart early. But the rush began to get to Brees as the game worn on. Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn, two free agent cornerbacks, proved worth their salaries. Both had interceptions. Henry led the Cowboys with 12 tackles and five pass deflections.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- LaDainian Tomlinson is considered by many to be the best back in football. The Cowboys, playing in the 3-4 defense for the first time, held him in check, limiting him to 19 carries and 72 yards.
SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- Changes must be made on the kickoff coverage unit after allowing returns of 49 and 46 yards to Darren Sproles, which set up 10 Chargers points. Punter Matt McBriar was average at best with 33-yard net on three attempts.
COACHING: B -- Sean Payton was solid as a play-caller. Coach Bill Parcells preached mental toughness all off-season. The Cowboys proved plenty tough with a comeback victory on the road against the Chargers.