Chargers chop down Raiders

Remember that nitro-fueled, high-octane offense the Raiders just a short time ago, when the points came in droves, the turnovers were rampant and the wins seemed almost too easy? When the defense stuffed the opponent's running game and plucked turnovers out of the air with a cool ease? Those memories might be a bit blurred these days and understandably so.

            Oakland, which feasted on the fat for the first month of the season, has suddenly turned anorexic now that the Teflon shield of perfection has been lifted. And it isn't a pretty sight.

            There was the offense, failing to score a touchdown in the first half for the second consecutive week. There was the defense, surrendering more than 150 yards rushing to a single back for a second consecutive week. And there was Sebastian Janikowski, missing his mark on field goal attempts for the second straight week.

            It was enough to make a grown man cry or at least send 60,000-plus fans home disappointed, which is what happened after LaDainian Tomlinson's 19-yard touchdown run in overtime gave San Diego a 27-21 win over the Raiders on Sunday.

            Oakland, which began the season with four consecutive wins, has now lost two straight games and fell back into third place in the AFC West. A team that was the talk of the NFL for the first month is now looking very mediocre in their descent back to reality.

            ''We've got a lot of things to correct at crunch time, obviously,'' said Raiders head coach Bill Callahan. ''I thought the guys fought hard and were resilient in coming back to the point where we tied it up and took it into OT ... but we just didn't hold up.''

            It was a bad day all around for the Raiders. Punt returner and first-round draft pick Phillip Buchanon was sidelined indefinitely after breaking his left wrist while trying to make a leaping interception, while kickoff return man Terry Kirby had to be carted off the field in the third quarter after fracturing his right leg.

            But the pains from this one extended far beyond the operating room. With an offense that has suddenly become more stop than go and with a defense that apparently can't stop anyone anymore, the Raiders have serious issues.

            Most pressing is the offense, which led the league in scoring, yards per game and third-down efficiency just a short time ago. In the last two weeks, however, Oakland has done very little.

            Sure, quarterback Rich Gannon passed for more than 300 yards for the fourth consecutive game. And sure, he fired three touchdown passes to make the game interesting.

            But in the big picture, this is an offense that is struggling mightily. The Raiders drove inside of San Diego's 10-yard line on each of their first two possessions and came away with nothing. This even though the Chargers were without two of their top defensive players. Linebacker Junior Seau and defensive end Marcellus Wiley were both inactive, yet San Diego's defense managed to hang on without them.

            The inability to finish off drives was a key factor in the Raiders' loss to St. Louis a week earlier. Oakland put up close to 400 yards of offense against the Rams but only managed one touchdown and two field goals.

            Moving the ball wasn't much of a problem against the Chargers but the Raiders still had problems finding the end zone. Oakland moved the ball within San Diego's 10-yard line on each of its first two drives but came away with nothing. Janikowski hit the right upright with his 27-yard field goal attempt while Gannon's shovel pass intended for Charlie Garner wound up in the hands of Chargers' linebacker Donnie Edwards.

            That wasn't a good recipe to start the game against the Rams and it wasn't against San Diego.

            ''Whenever you don't put points on the board it's going to hurt you,'' said Raiders wide receiver Jerry Rice. ''When you get the opportunity, somehow you've got to generate some points. If you don't do that it's going to come back and haunt you. It did today.''

            The Chargers, fruitless on their first two drives, showed Oakland the way into the end zone with a steady diet of Tomlinson. The second-year running back, who touched the ball on 16 of San Diego's first 21 plays, gouged the Raiders up the middle and around the right side for 29 yards midway through the second quarter as the Chargers -- who also got a 19-yard gain on a double-reverse from Tim Dwight -- marched from their own 42 to Oakland's 9.

            From there, San Diego quarterback Drew Brees found rookie wide receiver Reche Caldwell sliding across the back of the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown. Caldwell had easily separated himself from cornerback Tory James and settled behind safety Anthony Dorsett for the score.

            Tomlinson had the Raiders' number all day, finishing with 153 yards on 39 carries. In his previous two games, against Denver and Kansas City, Tomlinson had just 126 yards combined on the ground.

            ''They did what Marty (Schottenheimer) does. They get you in a position and run the ball down your throat,'' said Oakland linebacker Bill Romanowski. ''He was tough but at times we made him look better than what he is.''

            That may be the case but Tomlinson also did well enough on his own. His four-yard touchdown run to open the third quarter boosted San Diego's lead to 14-0 and it was his 19-yard burst up the middle in overtime that provided the Chargers with the game-winning score.

            For a team that has touted the ability of its run defense all season, Tomlinson's efforts -- coming on the heels of Marshall Faulk's 158-yard performance a week earlier -- was a cold dose of reality.

            ''Marshall had two big runs but with LaDainian it was all day long,'' said Oakland safety Rod Woodson. ''We just didn't play smart. You have to play within the system. When guys are not in their gaps, you're going to get holes. Our defense really needs to pick it up. I'm really disappointed.''

            Still, it wasn't as if the Raiders didn't have their chances.

            Gannon, who was 35 of 45 for 361 yards, finally got Oakland on track with a four-yard touchdown pass to Jerry Rice late in the third quarter. After the defense held San Diego on its next possession, Gannon again came out throwing. This time he hit Rice for a gain of 30 yards to set the stage for a 17-yard touchdown to Jerry Porter.

            Again, the defense held the Chargers and Oakland got the ball back near midfield. But the Raiders were only able to get to the San Diego 30 and Janikowski, feeling the heat, sliced his 47-yard field goal attempt wide left.

            The Chargers took advantage of the miss and went back to work with Tomlinson, handing him the ball on six of their next eight plays before Brees snuck into the end zone from a yard out to help push San Diego back on top, 21-14.

            Gannon answered back, however, completing six straight passes to move the ball down to San Diego's 19. An incompletion followed by a 12-yard gain to Garner preceded Gannon's seven-yard touchdown to fullback Jon Ritchie, tying the game and setting the stage for Tomlinson's overtime heroics.

            ''The NFL's crazy, no doubt. That's why you play 16 games,'' said Raiders wide receiver Tim Brown. ''We knew 4-0 was not going to win the Super Bowl for us and 4-2 isn't going to lose it. We have lots of big games coming up. We just have to keep plugging away.''


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