- The Washington Times - Monday, December 14, 2009

ARLINGTON, Texas | The December trends hold: Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers are perfect, while Tony Romo and the Dallas Cowboys are perfectly miserable in the most important month of the regular season.

Rivers broke a fourth-quarter tie with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Gates, then followed with a drive that ate up more than seven minutes and ended in a field goal, giving San Diego a 20-17 victory Sunday that keeps the Chargers rolling and the Cowboys reeling with the playoffs approaching.

San Diego (10-3) won its eighth straight and are on the verge of clinching the AFC West. The Chargers are 16-0 in December since Rivers became their starting quarterback.

“You don’t want to fade out in December. You want to be peaking,” Rivers said. “We’ve been able to do that the past few years. We just hadn’t sustained it into January. Hopefully this will be the year we keep this thing going into 2010.”

San Diego’s last 11 December wins have come under Norv Turner, whom Cowboys owner Jerry Jones decided not to hire last time his coaching job was available. Jones picked Wade Phillips instead and hasn’t gotten his money’s worth in December. Phillips is 3-8 after this loss, and he has lost a total of seven games over three Septembers, Octobers and Novembers.

Players talked all week about wanting to win to boost Phillips’ job security, but they kept failing during pivotal moments on offense and defense.

Now the Cowboys (8-5) are stuck with consecutive losses for the first time this season and are headed to New Orleans to face the undefeated Saints on Saturday night. They also might be without star linebacker DeMarcus Ware, who was hospitalized after spraining his neck during the fourth quarter.

“Even though it might not look like we’re playing the best football, you can turn that around in a hurry,” Romo said. “I suspect this football team will do that.”

Although this game was decided late, it tilted in San Diego’s favor in the first half, when the Chargers held the Cowboys to a single field goal over drives that featured first downs 16, 3 and 27 yards from the end zone.

Dallas’ first good scoring chance ended with a field goal that put it ahead 3-0. On the next deep drive, Marion Barber got to the 1 on first down, then was stuffed on three straight runs. The Cowboys moved him from fullback to halfback on the fourth-down play, but it didn’t fool anyone.

“He’s not getting paid to block,” said linebacker Tim Dobbins, who was in on all three tackles from the 1. “We knew it was going to be a flip or a dive. I don’t even know what they were thinking. I don’t know if they watch film or what.”

Throwing from his end zone, Rivers was intercepted, giving Dallas another short field. They wasted it when Folk missed a 42-yarder, making it five straight games with a miss. He has missed more kicks this season than his first two years combined.

“You’ve got make a certain percentage; he’s not making that percentage,” Phillips said.

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