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Fake punt launches Chargers
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SAN DIEGO – Buffalo had scored 10 unanswered points and crept within six during a pivotal third quarter.
The Chargers faced a fourth-and-2 in their own territory, appearing to go two possessions without a first down to open the half.
Instead, Eric Weddle took the snap as the up man in punt formation and slipped around the left end for 10 yards, igniting a 78-yard touchdown drive.
Nine seconds later, Steve Gregory darted in front of a Ryan Fitzpatrick pass, catching it at full speed and flying into the end zone, vaulting San Diego to a 30-10 lead.
“I just got a good read on the quarterback,” said Gregory, who hadn’t scored a touchdown since playing for Syracuse in college. “I was able to make a good break on the ball, caught it and nothing but grass in front of me.”
Weddle, the team’s starting free safety and one of the leaders on defense, played personal protector on punt team for the third game, a position that used to be Jacob Hester’s. Hester now plays “wing,” a blocker on the right side of the line.
The play design on the fake punt called for Randy McMichael, the wing on the left side, to spring Weddle by sealing the edge with a block, but the defender lined up much wider than expected. Just before the snap, Weddle wondered if he may have to cut inside instead and run over another player, but the play turned up as planned.
“The personal protector’s the one running it,” Hester said. “He kind of asked all of us in the huddle. We kind of looked at the defense and everybody was in agreement. We thought we could run it, and it was there. Ultimately it’s Eric that made the decision.
“You don’t see many starting safeties as good as he is doing that. All the onus was on Randy and he did a great job.”
Said Gregory: “I told him, his 40 must be like a 4.9 on that one, but he got around the edge (laughs). He did what he needed to do.”
It was the second consecutive week Weddle launched a sudden run of touchdowns. His interception late in the first half against Jacksonville helped the Bolts slip back-to-back touchdowns in just before intermission, gaining a 24-14 lead.
“We get the momentum back, that’s the biggest thing,” Weddle said of his decision. “For a minute there we were up six and we were getting ready to punt. Momentum is big in the NFL.”
Weddle also made his seventh interception of the season Sunday on a pass that ricocheted off Na’il Diggs’ helmet, tying him with New England’s Kyle Arrington and Green Bay’s Charles Woodson for the NFL lead. Weddle is within three picks of the Chargers’ team record with three games to play.
Marcus Gilchrist picked off Tyler Thigpen late in the fourth quarter in the Bolts’ first three-interception game since Nov. 28, 2010, against Indianapolis. San Diego’s defense has allowed three points in its last six quarters.
POWER GAME THRIVES: Ryan Mathews’ rushing totals the last three games: 137, 112, 114.
The two latter numbers represent games in which the Chargers led by multiple scores as early as the second quarter and were able to dictate the flow of the game.
“(Having a big lead) makes a big difference,” Mike Tolbert said. “When you’ve got Ryan going as good as he’s been going the past few weeks, it’s one of those things where you can pretty much do anything you want to do.”
Mathews now is within 57 rushing yards of 1,000 in his second season. He’s also caught 45 passes for more than 400 receiving yards and has at least one carry of more than 30 yards in three consecutive games.
“With Ryan running the way he is, it opens up the passing game for Philip (Rivers), Vincent (Jackson), Malcom (Floyd) and Antonio (Gates),” Tolbert said. “The offense is clicking pretty good right now.”
Tolbert bulled his way to a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter, his eighth score of the season. He’s now tied for the team lead with Vincent Jackson.
100, 200, 400: Nick Hardwick started the 100th game of his career Sunday, Takeo Spikes played in his 200th career NFL game and the Chargers won their 400th game in franchise history.
“I thank God for that, man. I think that the real reason why I’ve gained a lot of success is that I’ve never looked back at what I’ve accomplished. I’m always trying to worry about, ‘What can I do better?’” Spikes said.
“For me to take a little time out and reflect on this 200th game – I think somebody told me there’s only eight other linebackers to be able to do that in the history of the game. It’s a true testament to what I do throughout the offseason.”
BOLTS: Malcom Floyd’s 24th catch of the season was his first that did not result in a first down, but it set up a manageable down-and-distance after a second-and-18 and led to a 9-yard Antonio Gates touchdown … Mike Tolbert has eight special teams tackles in the last two games, including three against Buffalo … Philip Rivers posted back-to-back three-touchdown, zero-interception games for the first time in his career … Nick Novak’s 47-yard field goal in the second quarter is his 10th of the season beyond 40 yards, tied for the team record. He’s now 20-of-22 inside of 50 yards.
KICKOFF WEATHER: Cloudy, 59 degrees.
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