CLEVELAND -- Even a minus-10 degree wind chill couldn?ft stop the Chargers?f hot streak.
The Bolts battled through blizzard conditions Sunday to gain their eighth win in a row, and their 11th of the season, by a 21-0 margin over the Cleveland Browns, who lost their eighth straight game in front of a sparse crowd at frigid Cleveland Browns Stadium.
Due to drifts of snow and low visibility, the Bolts?f offense consisted of almost entirely running plays. Quarterback Drew Brees finished with a career-low six pass attempts, completing four of them, while running back LaDainian Tomlinson gained a game-high 111 rushing yards on 26 carries with two touchdowns.
Running back Jesse Chatman chipped in with 14 carries for 48 yards, and fullback Lorenzo Neal had four rushes for 16 yards.
With the temperature at 18 degrees, the Browns started the contest from their 30-yard line, gaining 30 yards before punting. Unfortunately for the Chargers, Derrick Frost?fs 34-yard punt dribbled off cornerback Drayton Florence?fs leg. Defensive back Dyshod Carter recovered for Cleveland on the Bolts?f five-yard line.
On the Browns?f first play from scrimmage, quarterback Luke McCown scrambled to his right and rifled a pass that linebacker Donnie Edwards caught in the end zone for his team-high fourth interception of the season. His career high for interceptions in a season is five.
?gThey ran a bootleg pattern, where everything is going one way and the backside tight end starts to drag across,?h Edwards said. ?g(McCown) was looking for (tight end Steve Heiden). I had him covered pretty well. And I kind of baited him a little bit because he thought I was going to continue to run across. But I kind of knew he was going to stop because I had him covered. When he stopped, I stopped...It was right there for the taking.?h
With 9:42 left in the first quarter, the Chargers?f offense took the field. Drew Brees connected with wide receiver Eric Parker on first down for a nine-yard gain to the 29-yard line. Four plays later, defensive end Ebenezer Ekuban sacked Drew Brees for a two-yard loss to force a punt.
During the punt, linebacker Sherrod Coates ran into Mike Scifres for a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. From the Bolts?f 48-yard line, LaDainian Tomlinson gained 35 yards on five straight carries. Two Cleveland penalties brought the Chargers to the Browns?f two-yard line, where LaDainian Tomlinson dove in for his 15th touchdown of the season that made the score 7-0 after Nate Kaeding?fs extra point.
Due to an illegal block penalty on their kickoff return, the Browns began their third drive from the 10-yard line. After losing two yards on first down, running back Lee Suggs broke off a 26-yard run, which was the longest the Bolts had allowed all season. Cleveland moved to the Bolts?f 45-yard line on six plays, where Suggs converted the team?fs second fourth down of the game on a two-yard run. From the 21-yard line, the Browns attempted a 39-yard field goal, but Phil Dawson missed wide right.
With 2:24 left in the first half, the Chargers?f offense scored its second touchdown when Drew Brees found tight end Antonio Gates for a 72-yard score on the drive's first play. Antonio Gates jumped in the end zone to celebrate, but the ball came up short when he attempted a lay-up over the goal post.
?gThat lay-up was just having fun,?h Antonio Gates said, laughing. ?gIt was cold out there, and I was so happy that I scored and that we had executed the play that it was just one of those things where you really don?ft have any idea what the ending is going to be. I was up in the air and didn?ft know what to do.?h
Down 14-0 with 2:24 remaining in the first half, Cleveland advanced 22 yards on four plays, but McCown?fs pass fell incomplete on third down to set up Frost?fs third punt of the contest.
The Browns had one final offensive series before halftime, but it ended in one play when defensive end Shaun Phillips sacked McCown on the Cleveland 31 to run out the clock.
To open the second half, Dawson attempted an onside kick out of the Browns?f regular kickoff formation. The play backfired, though, when safety Hanik Milligan recovered the ball on the Browns?f 42-yard line. The Chargers rushed 11 consecutive times for 42 yards, and LaDainian Tomlinson dove in for a one-yard touchdown to give the Bolts a 21-0 lead after Kaeding?fs PAT.
With 8:25 to go in the third quarter, McCown launched a 39-yard pass on first down that wide receiver Dennis Northcutt caught on the San Diego 24. After an incomplete pass on the following play, Suggs gained eight yards on two consecutive carries.
A personal foul penalty on safety Terrence Kiel gave the Browns a first down on the Chargers?f eight-yard line. A four-yard loss on first down followed by two incomplete passes set up the Browns' third fourth-down conversion of the game. McCown passed to wide receiver Antonio Bryant, who was wide open in the end zone. The pass ricocheted off Bryant?fs chest, though, prompting a mass exodus of Browns fans from the stadium.
From their five-yard line with 5:23 left in the third quarter, the Chargers kept to the running game. Chatman gained 20 yards on five carries in a row before Drew Brees?f incomplete pass to Antonio Gates set up Scifres?f punt from the Chargers?f 25-yard line.
The Browns punted for the fourth time of the game on their next drive, and the Chargers took over on their 21-yard line after Frost?fs 27-yard punt.
The Chargers gained 18 yards before punting with 11:18 remaining in the contest. Northcutt returned Scifres?f kick 38 yards to the San Diego 30, but the Browns failed to score again when McCown?fs pass to Bryant on fourth-and-5 fell incomplete.
The Chargers punted on their following two possessions. After McCown misfired on fourth-and-13 from the Cleveland 21 with 2:23 left in the game, Drew Brees knelt down on four consecutive plays to run down the clock and secure the win.
Sidenotes and quotes
*With their 11th win, the Chargers have equaled their second-highest regular-season win total in team history. Their next opponent is the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome. The Colts, 11-3, have already clinched the AFC South title. They beat the Baltimore Ravens 20-10 on Sunday.
?gThat?fs going to be a really big game,?h LaDainian Tomlinson said of facing the Colts. ?gIn fact, we?fre already looking forward to it. It?fs going to be huge. I?fm pretty sure it?fs going to be a playoff atmosphere. We?fre excited about that game.?h
*The shutout was the Chargers?f first since beating the Colts 31-0 on Nov. 29, 1993.
*The Bolts committed a season-low one penalty for eight yards.
*LaDainian Tomlinson is tied for second in NFL history with at least one touchdown in 11 consecutive games. He is only two games shy of the league record. This season, he has 16 touchdowns.
*LaDainian Tomlinson recorded his third multi-touchdown game of the season. It was also his third in the past four games.
Nevertheless, after the game, LaDainian Tomlinson spoke more about the harsh weather than his stats.
?gThat was the first time I?fve ever been that cold during a game,?h LaDainian Tomlinson said. ?gIt was incredible. I?fm glad I live in San Diego.?h
*Edwards made his fourth interception in the last four games.
*Antonio Gates has 12 touchdown receptions this season, which ties four other players for the most touchdown receptions by a tight end in NFL history.
*Drew Brees finished with 85 passing yards, one touchdown and a 149.3 passer rating.
*Parker had a team-high two receptions for 18 yards.
*The Browns, out of the playoff race with a 3-11 record, converted two of their five fourth-down attempts.
*Safety Clinton Hart injured his groin in the second quarter. After returning briefly, he sat out the rest of the game.
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