The Chargers held a halftime lead in Tampa on Sunday thanks in large part to Philip Rivers’ mistake-free play in the first two quarters.
It didn’t carry over into the second half. Rivers threw two interceptions, one of which Leonard Johnson returned 83 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter. Rivers made that fateful throw while running toward the sideline under pressure and he almost certainly should have just kept running. The pick gave the Bucs a 10-point lead and seemed to suck all the life out of the Chargers. The final score was 34-24, but the game was over right there.
Rivers was able to lead the Chargers to three touchdowns in the first half, but the Bucs put the clamps on the big plays in the second half and didn’t let the Chargers get the ball into the end zone again. The Chargers dominated in time of possession — 36:41 over the course of the game — but the Tampa defense never broke after giving up way too much in the first half. Turnovers have killed the Chargers all season and they did it again on Sunday.
The Buccaneers offense didn’t need many big plays thanks to the two made by the defense, but they got the one they needed to set up a Tiquan Underwood touchdown in the third quarter. Josh Freeman hit Vincent Jackson for 31 yards to set up that score and the Bucs pretty much concentrated on working the clock from that point. Freeman wound up 14-of-20 for 210 yards, including three pass plays of more than 30 yards, and Doug Martin finished with 127 total yards on 22 touches.
The win leaves the Bucs at 5-4 and very much alive in the NFC playoff race. Their schedule isn’t easy — two games with the Falcons, road trips to Denver and New Orleans — but they’ve got a shot to make a run at the postseason. That’s a nice turnaround from the second half of last season even if it doesn’t wind up with a spot in the playoffs.