Then Tomlinson got loose, the Chargers pressured JaMarcus Russell and the longest winning streak any team has held against the Raiders grew to 10 games.
Darren Sproles' long kickoff return set up Nate Kaeding's go-ahead 47-yard field goal with 1:51 to play and Tomlinson sealed the 28-18 victory Sunday with his second fourth-quarter touchdown that gave him yet another 100-yard game.
"Every year is different. They're a better team," said Tomlinson, who had 75 of his 106 yards in the fourth quarter. "We pride ourselves on now matter how we start, finishing the game strong. It didn't matter that it was against the Raiders."
Closing a game out was important for the Chargers (2-2), who lost their first two games of the season in the final minute. But those games weren't against the Raiders (1-3), who showed they can blow a lead against the Chargers as easily as they can get blown out.
"Obviously when you've won that many in a row, you've got a grasp on how to beat them," said quarterback Philip Rivers, who went 14-for-25 for 180 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.
"We just kept fighting. It wasn't our prettiest win, but our defense gave us a chance. There was no panic."
The loss marked the second straight week the Raiders (1-3) were unable to hold onto a two-score lead in the fourth quarter and might finally signal the end of coach Lane Kiffin's tenure in Oakland.
The Raiders blew a nine-point fourth-quarter lead last week in Buffalo. They led 15-0 at halftime Sunday and went into the fourth quarter with a 15-3 lead. Now with a bye coming up this week, the questions about Kiffin's job security will only intensify.
"That's not my call," he said. "I don't know what I expect. I'm not going to do anything different than I've been doing, keeping this team together the best I can."
The Raiders once again wilted as the game progressed, struggling to stop San Diego's high-powered offense and generating only one first down in the first 22 minutes of the half.
A pair of turnovers by quarterback Russell led to two touchdowns in the fourth quarter that gave San Diego its first lead on a 13-yard run by Tomlinson and a 2-point conversion.
After Kaeding missed his second field goal for the Chargers, Russell finally got the Raiders offense moving with help from a pair of penalties by defensive back Antonio Cromartie. That set up Sebastian Janikowski's 32-yard field goal that tied the game at 18 with 2:47 to go.
But before the Raiders could even finish celebrating, Sproles returned the ensuing kickoff to the 35. The Chargers were unable to get a first down, but Kaeding didn't miss this kick, giving San Diego the lead.
The Raiders' final comeback attempt was thwarted when Luis Castillo pressured Russell into an incompletion on fourth-and-5 from the Oakland 44 with 1:14 to go. Tomlinson finished it off from there with a 41-yard run.
His 1,815 yards rushing and 21 total touchdowns are the most any player has had in his first 15 games against a team. But these yards weren't easy.
"It comes to a point where they hear those same things, 'LT has run for more yards than anybody against you guys,"' Tomlinson said. "So their focus is let's stop the run. For most of the game today they did that. It's starting to get tougher."
Russell's first interception of the season on a deflected screen pass to Darren McFadden set up San Diego's first touchdown of the game when Rivers hit Antonio Gates from 9 yards to make it 15-10 on the second play of the fourth quarter.
The Raiders could have had an even bigger halftime lead. But they settled for a field goal on the opening drive after moving the ball inside the 5 and had another touchdown called back on a holding penalty against Cornell Green. They settled for a field goal on that drive as well.
"As an offense, when you get those opportunities you can't settle for 3, especially against a team as talented as the Chargers," said tight end Zach Miller, who scored Oakland's only touchdown on a 63-yard reception in the second quarter. "They're a good team so that hurt us taking those 3 points."
Russell finished 22-for-37 for 277 yards.
- Janikowski attempted a 76-yard field goal at the end of the first half but was unable to reach the goal line with his kick. The NFL record for longest field goal is 63 yards.
- Raiders DT Terdell Sands had two sacks matching his career total from his first 63 games.
- The Chargers had six sacks.
- The Raiders wore white uniforms at home for a change because of the heat.