San Diego stars keep the beat

Through the gloom in Buffalo, the Chargers stars shined bright and led the way. LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Shawne Merriman all had great showings in helping the Chargers improve their record to 10-2.

LaDainian Tomlinson was great again, rushing for over 100 yards for a career-best sixth consecutive game and continuing his assault on the scoring record. L.T. authored the play of the game – a 51-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter. He also passed Frank Gore and Larry Johnson to take over the league lead in rushing, upping his total to 1,324 yards.

"I never expect it," Tomlinson said of gaining 100 yards every week. "Even though they struggle against the run some everyone plays us different. There were times when we didn't get nothing. You had to keep plugging."

"The running game seemed to give us a little shot of adrenaline," head coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "When you've got number 21 in the backfield, it's very easy to call running plays."

Antonio Gates was brilliant as well, catching seven passes for 90 yards and a score. Philip Rivers threw to him three times on third down and he picked up the first down every time. Gates also had a good game as a run-blocker, an aspect of his game, which has improved greatly.

"They were important catches to keep drives alive," Schottenheimer noted.

"That's two weeks in a row he's had a huge impact," Rivers noted of his tight end. "He always has a huge impact, even if he's not getting it; he's one of those players like LT who has a huge impact."

Then there's Shawne Merriman, who returned from his four-game steroids suspension just in time stymie the Bills' modest winning streak. Lights Out finished with six tackles, two sacks and two forced fumbles in what was a dominant performance. His return helped the defense get back to the stingy brand of football it was playing prior to his suspension – the Bills gained but 230 yards on the day.

"His ability to provide pressure for us is pretty significant," added Schottenheimer. "He is a guy you have to account for on every snap."

"It makes it a lot easier on them guys when you put a little more pressure up front and the quarterback is forced to release the ball early," Merriman said of his contribution.

The Chargers needed the aforementioned trio to play like they did, because the Bills provided a stiff test. Buffalo's defense was as fast as advertised, sacking Rivers three times and getting penetration on a regular basis. Their special teams lived up to their reputation, too, with Jim Leonhard's 32-yard punt return setting up their second touchdown.

But in the end, the Bills could not keep pace with the Chargers' group of explosive playmakers. That outcome was highly predictable, as San Diego may be the best in the league at winning games it is supposed to win. The Chargers have played eight games against teams that currently have losing records and have won all eight.

The reason the Chargers are such a steady team is because when one player goes down, the others rally to pick the team up. When Merriman was out, Tomlinson and Gates helped spark an unprecedented scoring spree which kept the team undefeated in his absence. Upon his return, Merriman helped compensate for the absences of fellow defensive starters Luis Castillo and Marlon McCree – both of whom should be back next week.

As the Chargers continue their march towards the playoffs, much has been made of the team's reserves filling in admirably when called upon. But while the role players have remained in step, it is the star players who have kept the beat. With two divisional home games now on deck, Chargers fans can only hope the beatings keep coming.

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