Surging Bucs beat Chargers, 34-24, for third in row
TAMPA, Fla. • Tampa Bay's suddenly potent offense got some unexpected help in rolling to another high-scoring victory over Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers.
From the Buccaneers' defense and special teams.
Josh Freeman threw a pair of touchdown passes and the surging Buccaneers scored on a blocked punt and Leonard Johnson's 83-yard interception return to beat the Chargers 34-24 for their third straight win Sunday.
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.
The Bucs, normally known for playing stingy defense but sputtering offensively, topped 30 points for the fourth straight week. They have scored 28 or more in five consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.
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.
Bucs linebacker Quincy Black was carted off the field after tackling Ryan Matthews for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter. There was no immediate announcement on the 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.
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.
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 a first-half field goal 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.