WEMBLEY, England -- After last year's low-scoring mudfest, the NFL was hoping for some offensive fireworks this time at Wembley Stadium.
Drew Brees went 30-for-41 for 339 yards and three touchdown passes against his former team to lead the Saints to a 37-32 win over the Chargers, putting New Orleans back at .500 and dropping San Diego to 3-5.
The Saints (4-4) held off a late comeback by the Chargers, who came from 37-20 down early in the fourth quarter and were driving for the tying touchdown when linebacker Jonathan Vilma picked off a pass by Philip Rivers with just over a minute to go. Brees took a safety in the final seconds to complete the scoring.
Last year, the New York Giants slogged to a 13-10 win over the Miami Dolphins in London on a rain-soaked field. This time, 83,226 fans at England's showcase venue witnessed high-scoring, offensive football at its best -- with a furious finish to boot.
The game turned into a shootout between Brees and Rivers, his former backup in San Diego, as both teams had more than 400 yards of offense.
Brees, who played his first five seasons for the Chargers before signing as a free agent with New Orleans before the 2006 season, faced his former teammates for the first time.
"This game was not about me proving a point or proving anybody wrong or saying they shouldn't have let me go," Brees said. "We beat a very good team today that needed a victory as badly as we did."
The Saints bounced back from last week's loss to the Panthers and coped just fine without star back Reggie Bush, who underwent surgery on his injured left knee earlier this week.
"It was an important win," coach Sean Payton said. "I thought our players did a good job of handling some of the distractions, and some of the things that come up after a tough loss, and certainly the injuries. We were able to put that aside and still play a good team and get a win today, and that's encouraging."
San Diego's defense never found a way to contain Brees.
Coming into the game leading the NFL with 2,224 yards passing, Brees exploited the Chargers' vulnerable secondary.
"We really just opened up the playbook today and called all the things we feel good about," he said.
But Rivers came up with big numbers too, completing 25 of 40 attempts for 341 yards and three touchdowns to bring his season total to 19 TDs. But while Brees went without an interception, Rivers' one pick on a late drive proved crucial.
"The whole experience was a lot of fun, except the outcome of the game," Rivers said. "It's a tough one to swallow, and 3-5 with a 13-hour flight ahead of us doesn't make it any better."
The Chargers also got a big game from LaDainian Tomlinson, who shrugged off a recent toe injury to rush for 105 yards on 19 carries and catch a touchdown pass. It was only his second 100-yard effort in 12 games, and the 47th of his career.
But it was Brees' performance that Tomlinson wanted to talk about.
"I was sitting on the sideline watching him working his magic, and I kept on just thinking 'When is he going to miss one?"' Tomlinson said.
The Chargers, who trail Denver (4-3) in the AFC West, go home for a bye week.
"I think mentally and physically that will help us," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "We have an eight-game season coming up. We'll get back and get ready for that."
New Orleans running back Deuce McAllister, starting in place of Bush and playing in the shadow of a reported recent positive drug test, ran for 55 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
The Chargers hurt themselves with penalties, getting flagged 14 times for 134 yards. They also had a touchdown called back by a penalty and what looked like a 73-yard touchdown pass went through the hands of Vincent Jackson on their opening drive of the second half.
The Saints were the "home" team and the London crowd responded by giving them loud support and waving black New Orleans pennants.
After last year's muddy mess, there were fears that London's notorious wet weather could ruin things again. There was a steady rain Sunday morning and early afternoon, but the showers ended by game time. The field was slippery and torn up in places, but not enough to stop these two high-powered offenses.
"I thought it was what the fans here wanted to see," Chargers defensive end Luis Castillo said. "I thought they wanted a high-scoring game. I thought they wanted to see the ball being thrown. I thought they wanted to see amazing athletes making amazing plays, and that's what they got."
After the teams traded field goals in the first quarter, they scored 34 points in the second quarter. Brees threw TD passes to Devery Henderson (12 yards) and Lance Moore (30 yards), while Rivers responded with 12-yard scoring throws to Tomlinson and Antonio Gates. McAllister had a 1-yard TD run as the Saints led 23-17 at the half.
The Saints went up 30-17 in the third quarter on Brees' 1-yard pass to Mark Campbell. Rivers had a 5-yard TD pass to Brandon Manumaleuna negated when guard Kris Dielman was flagged for holding. The Chargers settled for a 24-yard field goal by Nate Kaeding, making it 30-20.
Mike Carney went over from 1 yard to make it 37-20 for the Chargers. After a 31-yard field goal by Kaeding, the Chargers recovered an onside kick and Rivers threw a 14-yard TD pass to Jackson with 7:29 to play to get within a touchdown.
On the next drive, Brees appeared to be intercepted by Eric Weddle, who stepped in front of Billy Miller. After a review, however, it was ruled that Weddle did not have control of the ball when he hit the ground.
- The pre-game entertainment featured a British flavor with a performance by rock band Stereophonics.
- American R&B singer Ne-Yo sang the national anthem, with British soul diva Joss Stone performing God Save the Queen.
- 19-year-old British swimmer Rebecca Adlington wore her two Beijing gold medals around her neck as she served as honorary captain of the Saints for the coin toss.
- A pre-game tailgate party outside Wembley featured New Orleans-based jazz bands and a Mardi Gras parade.
- The game was broadcast live in the UK on both Sky Sports and BBC2.
- Former NFL receiving great Jerry Rice was in the commentary booth for BBC.