Chargers success - divide by two

The San Diego Chargers success over the last several years is divided into two parts: the offensive production on the ground and stopping the run defensively.

Chargers Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Philip Rivers was decent in completing 17 of 29 for 160 yards and a touchdown. He did lose a fumble without getting hit in the third quarter, which fueled the Bills' rally. The conditions weren't ripe for passing, so the Chargers were content staying close to the ground. Pass protection was pretty good, although Rivers did get sacked three times. Gates is getting more involved as the season progresses.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- LaDainian Tomlinson rushed for 178 yards and two scores as he continues his impressive season. The run blocking was sensational, especially on the left side, as Tomlinson continued to run behind LT Marcus McNeill and LG Kris Dielman. Can't say enough, too, about the blocking of FB Lorenzo Neal, as he sprung Tomlinson on his 51-yard touchdown run.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Quentin Jammer got an interception for the third consecutive game and has four on the season, which ties his career high. Drayton Florence had two passes clank off his hands; he very easily could have had two picks. The safeties were OK; the pass rush was better than that. Shawne Merriman was a force in getting two sacks and a forced fumble. Shaun Phillips had another sack. San Diego's rush is among the NFL's best.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Bills never could get any rhythm running the ball, as Jamal Williams was blowing up the front line. That allowed the linebackers -- Williams had six tackles as well -- to swoop in and have big games. Donnie Edwards had a season-high 18 tackles. The Bills managed just 63 yards rushing as the run defense showed its old swagger and demonstrated that it could be getting good again down the stretch.

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- The coverages continue to be a problem, which is driving coach Marty Schottenheimer crazy. Two big returns -- one off a kick, one off a punt -- allowed the Bills to stick around in this one. Nate Kaeding had his first field-goal attempts since Nov. 5; he made one of the two in windy conditions. But again, on a team that is so efficient in every other area, the coverage teams stand out as an area in need of fixing.

COACHING: A -- Schottenheimer decided on a cold, windy day, why not just give the ball to Tomlinson? Made sense, and the Chargers made the Bills pay as they collected their 10th win. Wade Phillips has Merriman back, and that's almost unfair: the combination of Phillips' smarts and Merriman's strength. Schottenheimer's team didn't overlook the Bills on the road in a sandwich game between to AFC West rivals.

Bills Report Card:

PASSING OFFENSE: C -- J.P. Losman, who had led back-to-back victories with stellar comebacks, couldn't quite rally Buffalo this time from a 17-0 hole. His 6-yard TD pass to Peerless Price came with 30 seconds to play in a game in which he completed 21 of 37 passes but for just 184 yards. He was sacked three times and intercepted twice, and he posted a 65.6 rating. He never looked comfortable in the frigid temperatures, throwing wildly off the mark on many occasions. While he finished with two interceptions, he easily could have had five had San Diego defenders not dropped balls right in their hands. After not allowing a sack against Jacksonville, the line struggled against the NFL's No. 1 pass rush, particularly outside linebacker Shawne Merriman, who was a one-man wrecking crew with two sacks and two forced fumbles. Losman was forced to scramble six times. He did do a strong job in the red zone, going 3-for-3 on TDs. In addition to hitting Price, he threw a 5-yard TD to TE Robert Royal. WR Lee Evans struggled to get free against star CB Quentin Jammer and wound up with five catches for a mere 45 yards.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- On a cold and windy day, the Bills needed to do a better job on the ground, which would've kept them from calling 46 pass plays when adding in sacks and scrambles. RB Willis McGahee, who did so well in his return the previous week from three broken ribs, was battered around and finished with just 26 yards on 16 carries, a shockingly pathetic 1.6 yards per attempt. He did score on a strong 2-yard dive courtesy of a nice block from FB Daimon Shelton, but that was the game's highlight. Anthony Thomas chipped in 11 yards on two carries and caught four passes for 33 yards. Buffalo had just five rushing first downs.

PASS DEFENSE: C-plus -- DEs Aaron Schobel, Chris Kelsay and Ryan Denney each had big games and briefly changed the complexion of the game to start the second half. The trio was in on three sacks and a fumble recovery that sparked a 14-point explosion in a 6:51 span. In the secondary, CB Nate Clements made a couple of nice pass breakups early and helped hold Chargers WR Keenan McCardell to two catches for 24 yards. Unfortunately for Buffalo, it had no answer for star TE Antonio Gates, who made numerous clutch catches and wound up with seven receptions for 90 yards and a TD. Gates was wide open in the seam of a deep zone for a 26-yard reception, then beat Whitner off the line on a skinny post to catch a 10-yard TD pass from Philip Rivers, who threw for just 160 yards but committed no turnovers. During San Diego's game-clinching 13-play TD drive in the fourth quarter, Gates beat LB London Fletcher for 19 yards and Whitner for 10.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Bills failed to accomplish their goal of preventing star RB LaDainian Tomlinson to hurt them with big plays. The NFL's leading scorer romped 28 times for 178 yards (6.4 average), which included TD runs of 51 and 2 yards. FB Lorenzo Neal threw a key block on OLB Takeo Spikes that sprung Tomlinson for his long TD run, and LT did the rest, freezing free safety Ko Simpson with a slow-and-go move to find the end zone. The Bills needed better play at the point of attack from their tackles. Meanwhile, losing OLB Angelo Crowell early to a calf injury hurt. SS Coy Wire took his place with Keith Ellison active but still recovering from a knee injury that sidelined him for two games.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-minus -- Jim Leonhard's 32-yard punt return, thanks to a key block by Ellison, set up Buffalo's second TD, but big plays were too few from this unit to pull off what would've been a monumental upset. P Brian Moorman had a rare off day with a 33.4-yard net average, and return man Terrence McGee was never a factor after twisting an ankle on an early kickoff. The Bills couldn't successfully execute an onside kick with 30 seconds left, allowing San Diego to get the ball and run out the clock.

COACHING: D -- Knowing they didn't match up with the star-studded Chargers, Dick Jauron and his staff needed to find ways to at least slow down San Diego's key personnel. That didn't happen. Compounding matters was poor clock and timeout management. How do you burn up all three timeouts in the second half on one series? That came back to haunt Buffalo as it played another division leader tough but still came up on the short end of the score.

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