LaDainian Tomlinson and the San Diego running game have been struggling all season, so if the Chargers were going to beat the Buffalo Bills on the road Sunday, they needed a big game from Philip Rivers.
Rivers was responsible for all three of San Diego's turnovers, including a fourth-quarter interception deep in the red zone on a drive that could have given the Chargers the lead. Instead, San Diego fell to the Bills, 23-14, at Ralph Wilson Stadium.
The Bills (5-1) got the statement victory they were looking for while the Chargers (3-4) fell south of .500, a place no one expected them to see prior to the season, when they were considered one of the favorites to win the AFC.
Rivers placed the blame on his shoulders.
"No question about it," he said. "You get a lot of credit when the team wins, but when it goes the other way you look bad. . . . I felt like I was playing pretty good up to that point. You don't ever want the turnovers to happen but they did. The only way I know to fix it is to work hard, make corrections and play."
Tomlinson, the All-Pro running back, rushed for just 41 yards on 14 carries and had a long of just 9 yards.
"You have to have opportunities," Tomlinson said. "The run game comes with opportunities and gaining some momentum and obviously we don't have any momentum in the run game."
When asked if the Chargers needed to give him more opportunities, Tomlinson declined comment. Tomlinson has rushed for 446 yards on the season and eclipsed the 100-yard mark just once, in Week Four against Oakland.
With Tomlinson struggling to find a rhythm, the offense falls into the hands of Rivers to make plays. He was 22 of 29 for 208 yards and two touchdowns but the three turnovers were costly.
The first came in the second quarter after Rian Lindell missed a 52-yard field goal. It was third-and-4 from the San Diego 48 when the ball slipped out of Rivers' hand and was recovered by Marcus Stroud at the Chargers 38. That gave the Bills a short field and they converted with a 2-yard touchdown pass from Trent Edwards to Lee Evans.
"It just slipped out, there's really no explanation for it," Rivers said.
Kawika Mitchell's interception was the turning point. The Chargers trailed, 20-14, and had the ball first-and-goal from the Bills' 9 when tight end Antonio Gates ran a double move route. The Bills pressed Gates tighter than expected and defensive end Copeland Bryan pressured Rivers into a hasty throw.
"Philip never saw the outside linebacker," Chargers coach Norv Turner said.
Mitchell stepped in front of the pass and returned it 32 yards to the Bills' 31. Lindell then tacked on a 44-yard field goal.
"If we ran it 10 more times, I'd throw it 10 more times and get it intercepted all 10 times," Rivers said. "The backside 'will' linebacker, which is usually a guy you don't have to worry about when you're throwing it that far to the right, he just flew over there."
The Chargers got the ball back with 3:13 left, but on second down Mitchell's helmet struck Rivers' elbow, causing him to fumble. It was recovered by Bryan at the Chargers' 22, ending any potential comeback.
"I can't turn the ball over and expect us to win," Rivers said.