- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

OAKLAND, Calif. | The Oakland Raiders had just pulled ahead when LaDainian Tomlinson pulled his Chargers teammates together by the bench and told them they were going to win this game.

Philip Rivers got in the huddle and said the same thing. Coach Norv Turner instructed his players not to panic. San Diego had practiced the 2-minute drill so many times in recent months, they all knew it wasn’t over.

Rivers answered a pair of go-ahead scores from Oakland by leading two touchdown drives and Darren Sproles scored the game-winner on a 5-yard run with 18 seconds left to give the Chargers their 12th straight victory over the Raiders, 24-20 Monday night.

“L.T. came over and said, ‘We’re going to win this football game,”’ right tackle Jeromey Clary said.

“That kind of got us going again,” Sproles said.

JaMarcus Russell had given Oakland a 20-17 lead with a 57-yard touchdown pass to rookie Louis Murphy with 2:34 left. Despite having two backup linemen in the game because of injuries and nobody in reserve, Rivers calmly led the Chargers down the field for the winning touchdown.

“One thing I know is no team in this league can practice 2-minute situations as much as we do,” Rivers said. “It’s a little different executing it on Murphy Canyon Road as it is in Oakland. … I said: ‘Well, we’ve done this a million times, let’s go score. All we need is three.’”

Rivers was 6 for 7 for 79 yards on the winning drive before Sproles silenced the rowdy, sellout Coliseum crowd with his run up the middle — sending the Raiders to their 11th straight loss in prime time.

Offensive lineman Cornell Green revealed Oakland’s extreme frustration with an expletive-laden outburst as he left the field, screaming all the way to the locker room that the Chargers got lucky to win.

“Our football team played its guts out and didn’t finish the game,” coach Tom Cable said. “That’s the bottom line.”

The Raiders took a 13-10 lead early in the fourth quarter on a 35-yard field goal by Sebastian Janikowski before Rivers drove the Chargers downfield and gave them the lead with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Vincent Jackson. Then Russell’s fourth-down pass to Murphy looked as if it would provide an emphatic end to a pair of losing streaks. Instead, it was just a footnote to Oakland’s league-worst 73rd loss since the start of the 2003 season.

The Chargers offense was overmatched for much of the night against newly acquired Richard Seymour and the Raiders defense. Injuries to center Nick Hardwick and guard Louis Vasquez in the third quarter made moving the ball even tougher for San Diego and Rivers was clearly affected. His penalty for taunting thwarted one drive.

But the last two series showed why the Chargers last month gave Rivers a six-year contract extension worth $93 million with $38 million guaranteed. He finished 24 for 36 for 252 yards, playing his best when it mattered most.

“People talk about quarterbacks that handle pressure, that respond and lead their teams from behind,” Turner said. “He’s done it continuously and he’s done it in some real difficult situations like tonight. It’s great to get the win here.”

Russell nearly had overcome a rough night with that one pass to Murphy. Russell was 12 for 30 for 208 yards and two interceptions, including one on a desperation heave following Sproles’ TD.

Oakland got a big boost from Seymour, who arrived from New England two days ago and didn’t even go through a full practice with his new team. He sacked Rivers twice in the first half and helped Oakland keep longtime nemesis Tomlinson in check.

Tomlinson, who averaged 119 yards rushing per game against Oakland coming in, managed only 55 on 13 carries and rolled his ankle. Tomlinson’s first-quarter fumble was his first since Oct. 22, 2006, against Kansas City.

But Sproles helped out with two long kickoff returns, five catches for 43 yards and the winning touchdown.

“It was like two completely different games with what we did in the beginning and those last two drives,” Raiders Pro Bowl cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha said. “We were good with the run and good with the pass and then in the fourth quarter we had a couple of breakdowns. That’s what hurt us.”

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