That’s when beleaguered coach Norv Turner, criticized all season by outsiders because of his team’s many blunders, may have saved the Chargers’ season with what was described by his players as an emotional speech.
“I think that was the turning point of the game, not what we did on the field,” said tight end Antonio Gates, whose 48-yard touchdown catch late in the third quarter put the Chargers ahead in a game they’d win 33-25 on Sunday.
“He came out and expressed how he feels about this team, expressed how he believes in this team. We took that as a challenge. It meant something to him,” Gates said.
“You could tell the emotion he had because he was getting pretty red,” fullback Mike Tolbert said.
The Chargers (3-5) snapped their three-game losing streak and beat the Titans (5-3) for the eighth straight time dating to 1993. The Titans lost quarterback Vince Young to a sprained left ankle late in the game after losing wide receiver Kenny Britt to a right hamstring injury in the first quarter.
Quarterback Philip Rivers said he thinks Turner gets unfairly criticized for his perceived lack of emotion.
“He has plenty of passion and gives us plenty of motivation,” Rivers said. “But this halftime was his best, as fiery as he’s been. That’s why it’s so emotional. It’s been tough. We don’t deserve any sympathy. We’ve done it to ourselves.”
Playing with an injured toe, Gates took advantage of yet another mismatch. He got behind linebacker Will Witherspoon to haul in the go-ahead, 48-yard pass TD pass, his ninth of the season, for a 24-19 lead.
Gates was late coming out of the locker room after halftime because he was getting his foot re-taped.
“They were the most complete team we’ve played,” Turner said. “That’s what makes this win that much more special to me.”
Young was hurt while scrambling with less than six minutes to play and had to be helped off the field. Kerry Collins moved the Titans to the Chargers 15 before Chris Johnson dropped a pass on fourth-and-2 with 30 seconds to go.
“It was just a dropped ball, that’s about it, a play I was supposed to make,” Johnson said. “I make it nine out of 10 times but it was just a dropped ball.”
Said Collins: “We just couldn’t hook up for whatever reason. It’s unfortunate because we fought our butts off to get down there.”
Young had played well after returning from a sprained left knee and ankle that kept him out of a win against Philadelphia a week earlier. Young completed 10 of 21 passes for 253 yards and two touchdowns.
Rivers had his fifth 300-yard game of the season, tying his career high from last season. He completed 27 of 36 passes for 305 yards, with two TDs and one interception. His 2,649 yards are the most ever by an NFL quarterback in the first eight games of a season, bettering the old mark of 2,580 by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for the Chargers in 1982.
Rivers also threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles with 6:51 left. The Chargers botched the point after, which would have given them a nine-point lead.
Young’s 71-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Nate Washington pulled the Titans to 27-25 with 11:43 left. The conversion pass to Johnson failed.
Chargers rookie running back Ryan Mathews sustained cuts and scrapes when his helmet came off in the third quarter but he returned.
The Chargers trailed 19-7 late in the second quarter before getting three straight scores.
Mathews scored on a 7-yard run 1:55 before halftime and Kris Brown kicked a 34-yard field goal midway through the third quarter to bring the Chargers within two. Gates’ TD catch gave San Diego its first lead since the first quarter.
Brown kicked a 36-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter for a 27-19 lead. On the Titans’ first play from scrimmage, Young hit Washington for the long touchdown.
The Titans took their 19-7 lead on a 29-yard TD run by Johnson with 4:43 left in the second quarter. He started right and then cut back to his left, avoided two tackles and then picked up a key block from Young, who took out cornerback Antoine Cason at about the 15 to clear the way to the end zone. Young then slung Johnson over his shoulder and carried him toward the bench.
Another Chargers special teams blunder led to a 2-0 Titans lead less than two minutes into the game. Nick Schommer blocked Mike Scifres’ punt, with the ball bouncing out of the end zone and into the stands for a safety.
Rivers led the Chargers on an 83-yard, 15-play drive capped on a 1-yard run by fullback Mike Tolbert for a 7-2 lead.
The Titans got Rob Bironas’ 21-yard field goal and a 1-yard TD pass from Young to tight end Craig Stevens on consecutive drives to take a 12-7 lead.