http://www.signonsandiego.com/sports/chargers/20051031-9999-1s31chargers.html Chargers beat Chiefs, get back to .500 with strong efforts by Gates, Brees and Merriman By Kevin Acee UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER Antonio Gates ascended the throne. The future of the Chargers defense stormed into the present. Drew Brees took a game into his hands. And so the Chargers won on an afternoon that determined the focus of this season can shift from what might have been to what will be. "We're 1-0," head coach Marty Schottenheimer told his team in the locker room after the 28-20 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs. "We won the first game of a nine-game season," Schottenheimer said later. "Those other seven are gone." The game was not beautiful in its latter stages, but the Chargers offense would not be stopped early and the defense did enough throughout to get the team back to .500 midway through the season. "It was huuuuge," safety Bhawoh Jue said. "If we'd lost we would have been 3-5 this late in the season – with Denver playing so good, and (Kansas City) would have been 5-2. It would have been a heck of an uphill climb. Now we're in the race." The Chargers put the horror of last week's agonizing defeat – much like the three before it – behind them. "It was very important coming off a loss like we did in Philly, where we felt like we controlled it," receiver Keenan McCardell said. "We had to show the league we could bounce back from something like that. And we did. It was great to start fast." LaDainian Tomlinson's third touchdown pass of the season – this one 17 yards to Eric Parker in the end zone – gave the Chargers a 14-0 lead four seconds into the second quarter. They led 21-3 at halftime, with the other two touchdowns coming on Gates' receptions of 19 and 20 yards. The Chiefs had a real chance to get back in the game and seize momentum after one of Brees' rare miscues in the third quarter. Up 21-10, the Chargers were driving easily, as they did much of the game, when Brees overthrew McCardell and the ball sailed into the hands of Greg Wesley at the Chiefs' 20-yard line. Wesley returned the ball to the Chargers' 30, but a late hit by Jared Allen moved the ball back to the 44. The Chiefs quickly got to the 11. But on third down rookie linebacker Shawne Merriman hit quarterback Trent Green from behind. The ball dropped to the ground, and Shaun Phillips fell on it at the 22. After the Chiefs pulled to 21-13 three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Chargers effectively sealed the victory by moving 53 yards in five plays. That drive concluded with a 35-yard pass play in which Gates broke a tackle at the 32-yard line and ran into the end zone with 9:10 remaining. Chiefs tight end Tony Gonzalez, heretofore considered the game's best at the position, later observed of Gates: "One of the best games I've ever seen by a tight end." The Chiefs scored their final touchdown with 2:12 remaining, but the Chargers' Kassim Osgood fielded the onside kick that followed. The Chargers offense was not pleased it had to punt after that, culminating a second half in which it did so four times against the one drive on which it scored. "You can't give the other team an opportunity when we have them 21-3 to come back and make it almost a 21-17 game," Brees said. "Our defense played championship football. Our offense played winning football. We didn't play championship football." Still, Brees was 25-for-43 for a season-high 324 yards and three touchdowns. Only once had Brees thrown more times in a victory. He'd attempted more passes just four times and thrown for more yards just four times. He appeared as in control of this game as any before it, making numerous decisions at the line of scrimmage and deftly avoiding a fairly relentless rush. "It's my job to get us in good plays, or more importantly, out of bad plays," Brees said. "That's what I did." The Chargers defense, which held the Chiefs to two first downs and a total of 55 yards on 17 plays in their first five drives, was not pleased it gave up so many yards at the end. The Chiefs gained 182 yards in the fourth quarter. Green threw for 312 yards in the second half. But the Chargers allowed just a field goal on two Chiefs drives that began in Bolts territory. The Chargers defense clawed at Green all day, sacking him three times in the second half. Merriman, the Chargers' first pick in the draft, finished with two sacks and five tackles. Luis Castillo, their second first-round pick, had 1½ sacks and five tackles. "They hit (Green) too many times, and that's a credit to the guys on the other side of the field wearing that lightning bolt on their helmet," Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil said. Earlier, Vermeil said of the Chargers, "They sort of got the monkey off their back today. We had a chance to come back in the fourth quarter, and they didn't allow it. That's a good football team." Evidently, the message the Chargers were trying to send was received. "It was important to let people, especially in our division, know that we haven't gone away," Chargers right guard Mike Goff said. It was also one they needed to know for sure themselves. "Everybody is sitting there telling us how we're the best 3-4 team in the league," right tackle Shane Olivea said. "That ain't going to get us in the playoffs. That's going to keep me home in January. We have to win."