REGULAR-SEASON SERIES RECORD: Chargers lead, 20-9-2, and have won the last two games in the series. They’re just 3-2 at Rich/Ralph Wilson Stadium, though, and two of those wins were over the horrid 1976 and 1985 Bills squads.
PLAYOFF RECORD: Bills 2, Chargers 1. As noted in KRC’s Historical Game of the Week, Buffalo defeated San Diego to win both of their AFL championships.
On a chilly, snowy afternoon at Ralph Wilson Stadium, the Bills knew that to slow down the league’s top-scoring team, they had to contain San Diego’s perennial Pro Bowl running back, LaDainian Tomlinson.
Easier said than done. Tomlinson ran over, around, and through the Buffalo defense for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 28 carries, including a 51-yard burst to give the Chargers a 10-0 first-quarter lead. Philip Rivers would extend that margin to 17-0 just before halftime, finding Antonio Gates in the back of the end zone with 0:24 left on the clock.
The young Chargers quarterback let the Bills back into the game on San Diego’s first possession of the third quarter, fumbling while dropping back to pass at his own 19. Chris Kelsay fell on the loose ball, and J.P. Losman hooked up with Robert Royal for a short touchdown to finally put some points on the board. The suddenly fired-up defense followed the score by forcing just their second three-and-out of the game, and when Jim Leonhard found a seam and returned Mike Scifres’ punt 32 yards to the Chargers 13, the Bills were in business. Willis McGahee bulled into the end zone from two yards out to cut the margin to a manageable 17-14 after three periods.
San Diego reasserted their control in the fourth quarter, mixing runs with short completions to burn eight minutes off the clock on a 13-play, 80-yard drive; when Tomlinson crossed the goal line to give the Chargers a 10-point lead, just 3:31 remained in the game. Losman marched the offense back down the field, getting a second chance when safety Clinton Hart fumbled an interception back to the Bills, and tossed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Peerless Price with 0:36 on the clock. Buffalo recovered the ensuing onside kick, but their chance to steal a victory slipped away when referee Ed Hochuli ruled that Sam Aiken had touched the ball before it traveled the full ten yards.
NOTES: Shawne Merriman celebrated his return from a four-game steroid suspension by creating havoc in the Bills backfield, sacking Losman twice and forcing two fumbles ... The Chargers defense kept McGahee in check; the Bills back managed just 26 yards on 16 carries ... Neither quarterback had a spectacular game, with Rivers completing 17 of 29 passes for 160 yards while Losman finished 21-of-37 for 184 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks ... Angelo Crowell fractured his lower leg in this game; the linebacker was immediately placed on IR, missing the last four weeks of the season ... The Bills failed to sell out before the television deadline for the second week in a row, marking the team’s first back-to-back blackouts since 1998 ... The Chargers improved to 10-2 – the first time in 45 years they’d started with such a lofty record – and would run the table, entering the playoffs as the AFC’s top seed. They didn’t stay long, though, as they lost their playoff opener to the Patriots (and Marty Schottenheimer lost his job shortly thereafter) ... Buffalo dropped to 5-7, but rebounded to win their next two games and finish Dick Jauron’s first season as Bills head coach at 7-9.