SAN DIEGO (AP) — When the New Orleans Saints came to Qualcomm Stadium to stretch their legs after a long flight Saturday, Drew Brees walked to the spot in the west end zone where he suffered a career-changing injury on the last day of 2005, and said a prayer.
“It was a great time of reflecting, of just how far I’ve come and our team has come,” Brees said.
Some 24 hours later, Qualcomm was the spot of a great celebration for Brees and the Saints. They rallied with two touchdowns in the final 4 minutes, 50 seconds for a stunning 35-34 victory against Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers, who blew a 13-point lead by committing two crucial turnovers.
“This was as much a team game, a team win, as I could ever remember,” said Brees, who left the Chargers as a free agent in early 2006 and led the Saints to their only Super Bowl title four years later.
With the Chargers trying to protect a 34-21 lead, Melvin Gordon fumbled and Darryl Tapp recovered at the San Diego 13, setting up Brees’ 5-yard TD pass to Michael Thomas on fourth-and-2 to pull to 34-28 with 4:50 to go.
Travis Benjamin then fumbled after a reception and Nate Stupar recovered at the San Diego 31. Seven plays later, fullback John Kuhn scored his third TD of the game, on a 1-yard run. The PAT made it 35-34.
Rivers, who was Brees’ understudy for his first two NFL seasons, was intercepted by B.W. Webb with 1:10 to go.
After the final gun, Brees ran over to the stands and traded high-fives with jubilant Saints fans. After showering and doing postgame interviews, he came back out on the field with several family members and friends.
It was the first time Brees played at Qualcomm Stadium since Dec. 31, 2005, when he injured his throwing shoulder in his final appearance as Chargers quarterback. He had surgery and was allowed to leave as a free agent, signing with New Orleans.
That gave the starting job to Rivers.
“That last game in San Diego, I thought my career might have been over,” Brees said. “As I walked off the field, I thought it might be the last game I would ever play.”
The Saints took a chance on Brees, and four years later he led them to an NFL title.
Brees overcome two interceptions to led the Saints (1-3) to their first win.
It was the third time this season the Chargers (1-3) blew a late lead.
Chargers coach Mike McCoy was furious.
“That performance in the second half is flat-out unacceptable,” McCoy said. “From the very opening kickoff return all the way to the very end. You cannot turn the ball over at critical times when you are trying to put the game away. Two times in a row. We absolutely gave this one away.”
NO LEAD IS SAFE
The Chargers seemed to have it in control after Rivers directed a 14-play, 74-yard scoring drive capped by Gordon’s second 1-yard scoring run of the game to give the Chargers a 31-21 lead with 12:15 to play. Rivers kept the drive alive with a pinpoint, 16-yard completion to Tyrell Williams to the New Orleans 7-yard line.
The Chargers have led in the fourth quarter of each of their three losses.
WHERE IT TURNED
The Chargers took a 24-14 halftime lead after scoring on three straight possessions, getting the 53-yard TD pass from Rivers to Inman, a 30-yard field goal from Josh Lambo and a 1-yard run by Gordon.
San Diego floundered on the opening drive of the second half, making fans nervous. Dexter McCluster caught the opening kickoff of the second half 6 yards deep and bringing it out only to the 15. The Chargers went three and out, and Brees led them on a drive culminated when Kuhn scored on a 1-yard run to pull the Saints to 24-21.
ATTENDANCE: The announced crowd was 60,641 at 70,000-seat Qualcomm stadium, the second home game this year well short of capacity. The Chargers are threatening to move to Los Angeles if voters don’t approve a $1.1 billion stadium subsidy via an increase in hotel occupancy taxes.
ANTHEM PROTEST: Chargers Joshua Perry, Joe Barksdale, Chris Hairston, D.J. Fluker and Tyreek Burwell of held up their right fists during the national anthem.
INACTIVES: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates was inactive for the second straight week with a hamstring injury. Also out a second straight week was LT King Dunlap, who is bothered by migraines. … Chargers lineman Chris Hairston limped off with a groin injury late in the second quarter. … San Diego defensive end Joey Bosa, out indefinitely with a hamstring injury, has yet to make his NFL debut.
INJURIES: Chargers LG Orlando Franklin sustained a knee injury. … Chargers LB Denzel Perryman injured a shoulder in the second quarter. … Saints DE Paul Kruger suffered a back injury in the third quarter.