SAN DIEGO (Sept. 11, 2005) -- Except for one particularly brutal series, Drew Bledsoe's reunion with Bill Parcells is off to a wild and impressive start.
Hit and harassed all afternoon, Bledsoe responded like the veteran he is, throwing three touchdown passes, two to Keyshawn Johnson, to lead the Dallas Cowboys to a 28-24 victory against the defending AFC West champion San Diego Chargers.
"It is the best feeling in the world to have a close game come down to just a couple of plays and you are able to do it," said Bledsoe, who became the 10th player in NFL history to throw for 40,000 yards.
Bledsoe threw the winning 2-yard touchdown pass with 3:06 left as Johnson beat cornerback Sammy Davis on a quick out.
"That third-down completion to Keyshawn for the touchdown ... I live for this stuff," Bledsoe said.
The Cowboys didn't get to celebrate, though, until Aaron Glenn intercepted Drew Brees ' throw in the end zone with 24 seconds left. Brees kept alive a desperation drive with a 33-yard completion to Eric Parker to the Dallas 7 with a little more than a minute left. Then Brees' fourth-down pass bounced off Parker and Glenn came down with it.
"When it got tipped in the air I knew it was going to be either me or him that was going to get it," Glenn said.
Signing the 33-year-old Bledsoe on Feb. 23 was part of a sweeping offseason makeover after the Cowboys went 6-10. While with New England, Parcells made Bledsoe the first overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.
"This game was very, very important for us, not only to win it but to win it the way that we did," Bledsoe said.
Dallas' winning drive started on the San Diego 44 after Mike Scifres' shanked punt went only 18 yards. It was kept alive when cornerback Quentin Jammer was called for holding on third-and-16 at the 37. After three carries by Julius Jones, Bledsoe hit Johnson.
Bledsoe passed the 40,000-yard mark on a 15-yard completion to Terry Glenn on the first play of the fourth quarter. Bledsoe was 18-for-24 for 226 yards, giving him 40,034 yards in his career. He was sacked four times and wasn't intercepted.
"Bledsoe was pretty accurate," Parcells said. "When we were open, he hit it, pretty much."
San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson, who wants to break Eric Dickerson's NFL single-season rushing record of 2,105 yards, was held to 72 yards on 19 carries. He scored on a 2-yard run in the first quarter, his 13th straight game with a TD rushing to tie the NFL record held by John Riggins and George Rogers.
Brees threw two touchdown passes to Keenan McCardell and was intercepted twice. He was 18-for-35 for 209 yards. McCardell had nine catches for 123 yards.
While coach Marty Schottenheimer downplayed the absence of Gates, Tomlinson said it hurt.
"I'm sure Bill said, 'If we stop the run, we have a great chance to win the game because they don't have their All-Pro tight end,' " Tomlinson said.
Brees faulted himself for the interception at the end.
"We had four shots at it. I've got to come through," said Brees, who led San Diego to a 12-4 record last season.
Bledsoe rallied Dallas after a monumentally ugly second series, when the Cowboys were whistled for three holding penalties and two false starts, although one holding call was declined after the Chargers sacked Bledsoe at the Dallas 1.
Mat McBriar punted to the 50, and Dallas forced San Diego into a three-and-out, including a 13-yard sack of Brees.
Bledsoe hit Patrick Crayton for a 32-yard gain on third-and-9 from the Dallas 21, then hit a wide-open Crayton for a 20-yard touchdown to tie it at 7.
Terence Newman intercepted Brees three plays into the next Chargers drive, at the San Diego 34. Five plays later, Bledsoe threw a 13-yard pass to Johnson, who reached back for the ball and fell into the end zone for a 14-7 lead.
San Diego tied it on Brees' 20-yard pass to McCardell.
Rookie Darren Sproles had consecutive kickoff returns of 49 and 49 yards in the second half to set up San Diego scores: a 17-yard touchdown pass from Brees to McCardell and Nate Kaeding 's 33-yard field goal.
In between those scores, Dallas' Julius Jones scored on a 5-yard run to tie the game at 21. The drive was kept alive when Chargers rookie lineman Luis Castillo was penalized for hitting Bledsoe on the helmet with his right hand. Bledsoe also had completions of 25 and 18 yards to Johnson.
With 764 career catches, McCardell tied his position coach, Hall of Famer James Lofton, for 14th on the all-time list. Chargers DE Igor Olshansky sprained his right ankle. Among the inactive players were Cowboys WR Peerless Price and Chargers rookie OLB Shawne Merriman.
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