Niners kicking still suspect, Chargers deliver in clutch

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- It turns out the San Diego Chargers have heart,
after all.

Question on the 49ers: Given today's developments (Packers' and Saints' losses, McNabb injury), how do you like the Niners' chances of winning the NFC?
I see the 49ers as the second seed in the NFC. We've known for a long time that Green Bay doesn't play well at Minnesota, so I don't read too much into the Packers' loss today. I still think they'll be the top team in the NFC. But if any team can beat the Packers at Lambeau, it's the 49ers and their explosive offense.

Question on the Chargers: Can they keep this up and make a serious playoff push in the final six weeks?
Yes. The Chargers have shown that they're legit, and they've proven they can beat quality teams. It shows how far they've come; in recent years, they've started fast and then faded. The Chargers have all the components of a playoff team, except at QB. Drew Brees is talented but still young and inexperienced. If the Chargers keep playing like they did today, Brees will have the opportunity to get some playoff experience sooner rather than later.

Eric Allen played cornerback for 14 NFL seasons with the Eagles, Saints and Raiders.

A week after LaDainian Tomlinson questioned his team's desire
following a fourth-quarter collapse in St. Louis, the Chargers
rallied to beat the San Francisco 49ers 20-17 in overtime Sunday.

Drew Brees got the Chargers into position and Steve Christie,
one of the NFL's best clutch kickers, ended it with a 40-yard field
goal with 4:11 left in the extra period.

Christie got his chance because San Francisco's Jose Cortez was
wide right on a 41-yard attempt. It was Cortez's fourth miss in
three weeks, including two in regulation at Oakland on Nov. 3
before he won that game in overtime with a 23-yarder.

"If there was any question about their heart, I think that was
dispelled,'' coach Marty Schottenheimer said. "This team has great
heart. Just look at the games we've been in and how we've managed
to hang on and win. And yeah we lost one last week, but you know
what? Those other guys get paid, too.''

Tomlinson changed his tone 180 degrees.

"The 49ers are a good team. We kept battling and we kept
battling,'' he said. "That shows you what kind of heart this team
has, to win a game like this.''

The Chargers (7-3), who trailed 17-7 going into the fourth
quarter, rallied to snap a two-game losing streak and kept pace
with Denver for the AFC's best record.

San Francisco (7-3) blew a chance to pull into a tie with Green
Bay for the NFL's best record, and saw its three-game winning
streak end.

"We're usually better at the end of a game than we were
today,'' 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said. Cortez "has done some
good things for us this season, but he's also missed a few.''

After Cortez missed, Brees moved the Chargers from their 31 to
the San Francisco 22. He threw passes of 19 yards to Tim Dwight and
18 to Eric Parker, a rookie who made his first reception, to help
set up Christie.

"The last time I was really nervous was when I kicked an
overtime field goal in my rookie year,'' said Christie , a 13-year
veteran signed late last season because Wade Richey was so
inconsistent. "All I'm trying to do is keep my confidence.''

It was Christie's eighth OT field goal, second most in NFL
history to Jim Breech's nine.

Christie had a 44-yard attempt blocked by Dana Stubblefield as
the first-half clock expired, and kicked a 36-yarder with 5:05 to
play to pull the Chargers to 17-10.

Brees was impressive in driving the Chargers to the tying score,
a 1-yard pass to wide-open fullback Fred McCrary with 31 seconds
left in regulation. Brees completed 6 of 10 passes for 58 yards,
including a 23-yarder to Dwight.

Two plays before the touchdown, on third-and-goal from the 8,
49ers rookie cornerback Mike Rumph grabbed rookie receiver Reche
Caldwell's jersey in the end zone and was flagged for pass
interference, giving the Chargers first down from the 1.

Brees completed 29 of 50 passes for 336 yards -- all career highs
-- and two touchdowns, with one interception.

Tomlinson, the NFL's leading rusher who was working behind a
makeshift line, had 88 yards on 24 carries, giving him 1,053 for
the year. He also caught eight passes for 57 yards. Curtis Conway
had seven catches for 152 yards.

San Francisco's Terrell Owens caught a 32-yard touchdown pass
from Jeff Garcia on fourth-and-4 just before halftime, then had a
76-yard catch-and-run TD three plays into the second half to give
the 49ers a 14-7 lead.

Owens finished with seven catches for 171 yards. Garcia was
25-of-43 for 337 yards, with two TDs and one interception.

Owens, known for his controversial TD celebrations, was
relatively sedate. After his second TD, which gave the Niners a
14-7 lead, Owens stood on the ball with one foot and flexed his
right arm.

Cortez kicked a 24-yard field goal for a 17-7 lead midway
through the third quarter.

The Chargers then blew two scoring chances.

A 35-yard touchdown pass to Conway was called back after Conway
stepped out of bounds, then came back in to make the catch.

Early in the fourth quarter, Brees moved the Chargers from their
25 to the Niners 4 in just three plays, but was intercepted in the
end zone by Quincy Stewart. Schottenheimer covered his head with
his hands on the sideline.

Brees gave the Chargers a 7-0 lead with a 4-yard pass to
Caldwell late in the first quarter.

Game notes
It was the Chargers' first win over the Niners in seven
games dating to 1988. ... Chargers LB Donnie Edwards and G Bob Hallen were knocked out of the game with concussions. G Michael Keathley sprained an ankle. 49ers OT Derrick Deese sprained an
ankle. ... The Chargers also won in OT at Oakland on Oct. 20,

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