San Diego Chargers tight end Brandon Manumaleuna scores on a 9-yard touchdown pass against Bengals cornerback Johnathan Joseph in the third quarter yesterday.
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CINCINNATI -- With one wobbly pass, Philip Rivers completed one of the San Diego Chargers' greatest comebacks -- the kind that defines a young quarterback. And, maybe, a season as well.
Rivers' shovel pass under pressure finished a 42-point second half by the Chargers yesterday, setting up a 49-41 victory against the Cincinnati Bengals that left everyone at a loss for words.
Where to begin?
"Being involved in that game, it was about like it was a cartoon or something," said LaDainian Tomlinson, who tied his career high with four touchdowns.
Here's what happened: San Diego overcame a 21-point halftime deficit, matching the biggest comeback in franchise history, behind a first-year starting quarterback who kept reminding his teammates that anything was possible.
The Chargers (7-2) played as poorly as they have all season, allowing the Bengals (4-5) to score touchdowns on their first three possessions. Cincinnati led, 28-7, at halftime, but Rivers wasn't convinced.
"As he grows as a player, he's unbelievable," tight end Antonio Gates said. "He was on the sideline saying they were going to need to score more than 28 points to beat us. What more could you ask for in a leader?"
What came next was characteristic of the old Air Coryell days in San Diego, when Dan Fouts led a light-it-up offense. This time, it was Rivers running the show in his best performance yet: 24 of 36 for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
"We didn't panic," Rivers said. "We didn't point fingers like some teams around the league do."
The Bengals (4-5) have been pointing fingers for weeks. The defending AFC North champions fell three games behind Baltimore with their fifth loss in six games, one that resulted in personal bests but not much else.
Receiver Chad Johnson set a club record with 260 yards and two long touchdowns, and Carson Palmer had the first 400-yard passing game of his career. It didn't matter because Cincinnati was helpless to stop the Chargers' two offensive stars in the second half.
"It's not good," said Palmer, who was 31 of 42 for 440 yards and three touchdowns. "It's a tough situation to be in. We just have to keep fighting and we might be able to scrape into the playoffs. You never know -- 9-7 could get in."
Cincinnati would have to win five of its last seven games just to have a winning record. Given the current state of mind, that's a long shot.
"There are a lot of unhappy people," Johnson said. "There are reasons why we lost today."
Rivers and Tomlinson lead the list.
Tomlinson ran for two touchdowns in a 15-second span of the fourth quarter, taking advantage of Palmer's fumble on a sack. He ran for 104 yards and had a team-high six catches for 54 more yards.
In the past five games, Tomlinson has 15 touchdowns.