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Linebacker Stephen Cooper #54 of the San Diego Chargers celebrates after breaking up a third down pass attempt in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Qualcomm Stadium on November 22, 2010 in San Diego, California. The Chargers won 35-14.
The deluge has followed the drought again and the Chargers know it.
They've gone from turning the ball over to protecting it. From poor special teams to good. From reckless penalties to smart football.
And now from losing to winning.
On Monday night, what was once a lethargic start to the season officially zoomed to warp speed when quarterback Philip Rivers and the rolling Chargers trounced the Broncos 35-14 at Qualcomm Stadium for their third consecutive win and first in three division games.
A month ago, this team was looking for a spark. Now it's hoping to contain a familiar fire — a midseason hot streak that could burn through the winter.
“There's two sides to that,” said Rivers, who threw for 233 yards and four touchdowns. “We can't just assume that we're just going to stay on a roll and find our way in January. We have to make sure we do it because we're, in a lot of ways, in playoff football already. We almost can't afford a step back at this point.”
After the defense conceded a methodic opening touchdown, the Chargers (5-5) went on a 35-0 run in what Rivers described as the team's “most complete win of the season.”
He had some help from veteran wide receiver Patrick Crayton, who was spectacular after the catch.
In the first quarter, Crayton used a right stiff arm to gain an extra 10 yards at the end of a 49-yard reception. Mike Tolbert, who rushed for a career-high 111 yards, then plunged in the go-ahead touchdown three plays later. In the second quarter, Crayton maneuvered past Pro Bowl safety Brian Dawkins on a screen catch and dashed 45 yards, putting the Chargers ahead 21-7.
Crayton's day was cut short when injuring his left wrist while extending for the score. He finished with three catches for a team-high 105 yards and is scheduled to have an MRI Tuesday morning.
“He's just got a knack for the playing this game,” coach Norv Turner said. “He understands coverage. He understands leverage, and he is a very big, strong, physical receiver.”
Coming off a bye week, the Chargers demonstrated progress on special teams, protecting punter Mike Scifres and even mixing in a fake in the first quarter. Scifres, whom Rivers characterized as one of the top four deep-ball throwers on the team, hit Tolbert for a 28-yard gain. That preserved a drive that ultimately tied the game at 7-7.
After Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton and running back Knowshon Moreno marched the Broncos down the field to start the game, the defense was stout while sticking to its game plan. Cornerback Antonio Cason was being targeted early and often, and he rebounded with a second-quarter interception and a team-high seven tackles.
Outside linebacker Shaun Phillips was a menace, running down Orton three times, including twice in the Chargers' five sacks.
It was the Chargers' seventh straight win in November dating back to last season. In the past four years, they have ended their regular-season campaign with winning streaks of 11, five, six and 10 straight games to race into the playoffs.
“It's a familiar feel, but it's hard to keep talking about we have done,” Cason said. “We need to keep taking care of our business now. ...We're going pretty good, and we can't relax at any second.”