TAMPA, Fla. -- Two touchdowns on offense and one each on defense and special teams. Now that's what Greg Schiano classifies as a real team victory.
"Our guys played team football. That's what we needed to do. It's like a pitcher when he goes out there. Maybe he doesn't have his fastball that day, but he works the whole game with different pitches and battles through it," Schiano said. "That's what our team did, held each other up."
Freeman has thrown for 13 TDs with just one interception in his past five games, helping the Bucs (5-4) win four times to climb over .500 following a 1-3 start.
Normally known for playing stingy defense but sputtering offensively, Tampa Bay has scored 28 or more in five consecutive games for the first time, averaging 35 per game during the stretch.
They did it this time with help from linebacker Adam Heyward, who scooped up a punt blocked by Dekoda Watson and ran 29 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Rivers threw for 337 yards and three TDs for San Diego. However, he was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter to ruin any chance of the Chargers (4-5) coming from behind.
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The Chargers outgained the Bucs 426 yards to 279, had 23 first downs to Tampa Bay's 12 and finished with more than a 13-minute advantage in time of possession yet lost the fourth time in five games.
"It's not acceptable to play hard and not win, and that's what happened," Chargers coach Norv Turner said in response to a question about his team's effort.
"Is it acceptable? No, it's not acceptable. Is it acceptable having a blocked punt and an interception for a touchdown? No," Turner added. "That's not what we're trying to accomplish out there. We're trying to go win games, and those things are keeping us from winning."
Tampa Bay linebacker Quincy Black was carted off the field after tackling the Chargers running back Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter.
The Bucs did not make an announcement on the specific nature of the injury, but trainers examined the sixth-year pro for several minutes before immobilizing his neck and back and strapping him to a stretcher.
Schiano said Black was taken to a hospital for observation, but that the club expected him to be OK.
"We think he's going to be OK, but he's got to work through some things," said Schiano, who was the coach at Rutgers when former Scrlet Knights player Eric LeGrand broke two vertebrae and suffered a serious spinal cord injury in October 2010 during a kickoff return against Army.
The first-year NFL coach said thoughts of the paralyzed defensive lineman went through his mind when Black remained on the ground.
"I thought about it immediately. When a guy goes down and he's still," Schiano said before stopping abruptly. "The good thing was Quincy immediately moved his right arm, so that was a relief."
Freeman threw scoring passes of 3 yards to Dallas Clark and 15 to Tiquan Underwood, the latter set up by the quarterback's 4-yard run on fourth-and-inches, and a 31-yard completion to Vincent Jackson. The former Chargers receiver had five receptions for 59 yards in his first game against his old team.
Connor Barth kicked two field goals for Tampa Bay, including a 45-yarder that clinched the game after Rivers threw his second interception with San Diego trailing 31-24.
Rivers also made a huge mistake on his first interception, releasing a pass that went straight to Johnson as the quarterback was scampering out of bounds to avoid a sack. Johnson took off up the sideline, running through lineman Jeromey Clary's potential tackle near midfield and outrunning the rest of the pursuit to the end zone to put Tampa Bay up 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
"In hindsight, not only do I wish I was throwing it over his head, I probably shouldn't have thrown the ball, period. Field goal ties it up. Quick decisions, and I made the wrong one there," Rivers said.
"It's a humbling game because it shows how one play, essentially one play, can ruin a game," the San Diego quarterback added. "We killed ourselves on the interception for touchdown. We were rolling pretty good most of the game."
Jackson had three 1,000-yard seasons and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection in seven years with the Chargers, who have not been as potent offensively without him.
Facing the NFL's lowest-ranked pass defense, though, San Diego had three scoring drives of 80 yards in the first half. Rivers was 16 of 18 for 218 yards and no interceptions in the first two quarters. The Chargers held the ball for more than 8 minutes before taking a 21-17 lead on Malcolm Floyd's 3-yard TD reception with 27 seconds left in the half.
Danario Alexander scored on an 80-yard reception in which he spun out of the grasp of Johnson on San Diego's opening possession. Rivers later threw a 13-yard TD pass to Antonio Gates for a 14-7 lead.
A week after rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-32 victory at Oakland, Bucs rookie sensation Doug Martin set up Clark's first-quarter touchdown with a 42-yard reception and finished with 68 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Freeman completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards. His 54-yard completion to Mike Williams on third-and-12 set up Barth's 40-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Rivers finished 29 of 37 and was sacked twice. Alexander had five receptions for 134 yards.Notes
|San Diego (4-5-0)||14||7||0||3||24|
|Tampa Bay (5-4-0) «||7||10||7||10||34|
|TD||Danario Alexander catches an 80 yard pass from Philip Rivers (Nick Novak kick is good). Drive: 3 plays, 80 yards in 1:03.|
|TD||Dallas Clark catches a 3 yard pass from Josh Freeman (Connor Barth kick is good). Drive: 9 plays, 80 yards in 5:00.|
|TD||Antonio Gates catches a 13 yard pass from Philip Rivers (Nick Novak kick is good). Drive: 7 plays, 80 yards in 4:38.|
|FG||Connor Barth makes a 40 yard kick. Drive: 7 plays, 58 yards in 3:09.|
|TD||Adam Hayward makes a 29 yard blocked punt return (Connor Barth kick is good).|
|TD||Malcom Floyd catches a 3 yard pass from Philip Rivers (Nick Novak kick is good). Drive: 14 plays, 80 yards in 8:28.|
|TD||Tiquan Underwood catches a 15 yard pass from Josh Freeman (Connor Barth kick is good). Drive: 6 plays, 59 yards in 3:32.|
|TD||Leonard Johnson makes an 83 yard interception return (Connor Barth kick is good).|
|FG||Nick Novak makes a 34 yard kick. Drive: 11 plays, 64 yards in 6:20.|
|FG||Connor Barth makes a 45 yard kick. Drive: 6 plays, 18 yards in 2:02.|
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