In search of not only their first back-to-back win of season, but their first win on the road, the Chargers outlasted the Houston Texans for the 29-23 victory, and head into their bye week with a 4-5 record.
For the first time in his career, Philip Rivers was without Antonio Gates, his security blanket at tight end out with torn plantar fascia in his right foot. In his best Gates-like impression, Randy McMichael caught two of Rivers' four touchdown passes, including a spectacular one-handed grab in the third quarter to cut the Texans' lead to 23-21.
It was McMichael's first two-touchdown game in his nine-year career.
Filling in for the injured Malcom Floyd and Legedu Naanee, Seyi Ajirotutu caught the first two touchdowns of his career and finished with four catches for 111 yards. Ajirotutu was just moved up to the active roster Oct. 23, when linebacker Kion Wilson went on injured reserve.
Rivers completed 17 of 23 passes for 295 yards and used eight different receivers against the NFL's worst pass defense. He came in with 2,649 yards passing, an NFL record through the first eight games.
The Chargers defense had their hands full with Texans running back Arian Foster. Foster rushed 27 times for 127 yards and two touchdowns, including 4 catches for 70 yards.
The Texans twice failed on fourth down in the second half in blowing a 23-14 lead.
McMichael's second TD catch cut the lead to 23-21 with 5:55 left in the third quarter, and the Chargers stuffed Foster on a fourth-and-1 from the 17 early in the fourth quarter.
Rookie Kareem Jackson has taken much of the blame for the Texans' 32nd-ranked pass defense, but he intercepted Rivers' pass to Ajirotutu near midfield with about 12 minutes left.
Rivers atoned on the next possession, throwing over Jackson for a 28-yard touchdown pass to Ajirotutu with 5:23 left. Mike Tolbert jumped over the pile for a two-point conversion to give San Diego a 29-23 lead.
The Texans' offense stalled twice in San Diego territory in the final five minutes.
But the Texans used their timeouts and forced a 25-second, three-and-out drive with 3:06 remaining. Foster took a screen pass and gained 33 yards to the San Diego 39 just before the two-minute warning, and there was a collective sigh heard around San Diego.
On second down, the sure-handed but noticeably injured Andre Johnson couldn't handle Schaub's pass, and the ball ricocheted off his knee and into the hands of safety Paul Oliver. Officials upheld the interception after a replay review, and Rivers kneeled down in the victory formation to run out the clock.
The Chargers improved to 4-0 against the Texans after starting the game with the kind of special teams blunders that have hurt them all season.
Jacob Hester decided to catch the opening kickoff that was veering out of bounds and proceeded to step out of bounds at the San Diego 4. Texans linebacker Stanford Keglar then deflected Mike Scifres' punt, and Houston recovered at the Chargers 8.
It was the fifth San Diego punt blocked or deflected this season, and Foster scored on the next snap.
To put the Chargers' special teams woes into perspective, the entire NFL combined has yielded just five blocked punts.
Ryan Mathews was having a career first half before fumbling near midfield early in the second quarter. It was the Chargers' AFC-leading 20th turnover.
Mathews finished with nine rushes for 42 yards.
All things considered, the bye week could not have been scheduled at a better time. Staring at a 2-5 record two weeks ago, the Chargers have saved their season and head into their bye on their first win streak of the season.
San Diego will look to get healthy at a variety of positions, especially the linebacker crew and wide receiving corps. The Chargers passing attack will also welcome back Vincent Jackson as soon as Week 11.
A healthy unit and improvements in the special team and turnover departments, the Chargers are still very much alive in the AFC West.
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