Sproles ran for 102 yards and a touchdown in his most extensive preseason work, and the San Diego Chargers scored a late touchdown and 2-point conversion to beat the Seattle Seahawks 18-17 on Monday night.
With Tomlinson a preseason no-show as he gets ready for the regular season, the most heated battle on the Chargers remains between Sproles and rookie Jacob Hester for the No. 2 job.
Score Round 3 for Sproles, the 5-foot-6, 181-pounder who's been plagued by durability questions all the way back to college.
"There has not been any question in my mind," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "You need all your guys. Darren is an explosive player. There are certain runs that he is very comfortable with. We'll get L.T. back and playing.
"Mix in Sproles and mix in Jacob and I think we will have a good group there."
Tomlinson, the two-time rushing champion, was out of the lineup as usual for the preseason. But with Hester getting more work in San Diego's first two preseason games, Sproles carried the bigger load against the Seahawks.
"I thought (Sproles) showed that he was really versatile with what he can do," said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. "It was good for him to get in there with the first group and get some work."
Sproles did most of his damage in the first half with 94 yards on 10 carries. Hester finished with 21 yards on nine rushes and scored the late touchdown that brought San Diego within 17-16 with 2:30 left in the game.
"It was a mismatch and we took advantage of it," Floyd said. "Billy put it in the right spot and he allowed me to go get it."
Both teams played their starters for most of three quarters, and will likely rest them in their final preseason games Friday.
Rivers completed 11 of 21 passes for 143 yards, driving the Chargers to the 1-yard line on their first possession before a bad snap out of the shotgun formation by backup center Jeremy Newberry was recovered by Seattle.
San Diego (2-1) overcame a fine performance by Seattle's Charlie Frye, who threw two touchdown passes starting in place of Pro Bowler Matt Hasselbeck. The Seahawks' third-stringer completed 19 of 30 passes for 219 yards with touchdown passes to Nate Burleson and Jordan Kent.
Hasselbeck, who did not make the trip, also missed last week's game against Chicago with a tight back. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren has indicated that Hasselbeck will probably not play until Seattle's season-opener at Buffalo on Sept. 7.
Frye hit Kent for a 12-yard TD nearly 4 minutes into the fourth quarter to give Seattle a 17-10 lead. Frye hurt his knee on the drive, though, and did not return.
"It has been nice to play as much as I have in the preseason," Frye said. "As you can see from last week to this week, I felt and played a lot more comfortable."
Frye played the entire game in the Seahawks' 29-26 overtime win over Chicago on Aug. 16.
"He played much better tonight," said Holmgren. "He handled things very, very well. He threw some nice balls. We know he's talented."
The Seahawks (2-1) scored on the game's third play when Frye hit Burleson in stride just past midfield. Burleson bounced off an attempted tackle by safety Eric Weddle at the 40 yard line and went in for the touchdown.
Frye led the Seahawks on a 15-play drive on their next possession, but Olindo Mare missed a 50-yard field goal.
"I felt we had real good tempo," Frye said. "We were wearing down their defense."
San Diego scored the tying touchdown in the second quarter on Sproles' 1-yard run, with a 59-yard completion from Rivers to Vincent Jackson setting up the score.
Nate Kaeding hit a 40-yard field goal to give San Diego a 10-7 halftime lead. Mare countered with a 24-yard field goal late in the third quarter to tie the game at 10-all.
Chargers Pro Bowl linebacker Shawne Merriman missed the game because of two torn ligaments in his left knee. Merriman, who also missed the previous preseason game, is considering whether to have surgery or attempt to play with the injuries.
|The Chargers take the lead late in the fourth when WR Malcom Floyd hauls in a 2-point conversion pass. (AP)|
|San Diego (2-1-0) «||0||10||0||8||18|
SEA - Pass: C. Frye (19-29, 219), Rec: N. Burleson (1-68)|
SD - Pass: P. Rivers (11-21, 143), Rush: D. Sproles (13-102)
|TD||Nate Burleson, 68 Yd pass from Charlie Frye (Olindo Mare kick is good), 13:38. Drive: 3 plays, 80 yards in 1:22.|
|TD||Darren Sproles, 1 Yd run (Nate Kaeding kick is good), 6:29. Drive: 9 plays, 87 yards in 5:29.|
|FG||Nate Kaeding 40 Yd, 1:03. Drive: 10 plays, 37 yards in 3:36.|
|FG||Olindo Mare 24 Yd, 2:42. Drive: 15 plays, 57 yards in 7:48.|
|TD||Jordan Kent, 12 Yd pass from Charlie Frye (Olindo Mare kick is good), 11:03. Drive: 9 plays, 91 yards in 4:00.|
|TD||Jacob Hester, 1 Yd run (Billy Volek pass to Malcom Floyd for 2 Pt. Conversion), 2:30. Drive: 5 plays, 69 yards in 2:12.|
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