Former Wildcat Spints for 81 Yard Punt Return

By: R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer
By: R.B. FALLSTROM, AP Sports Writer

ST. LOUIS (AP) -- If the San Diego Chargers can save LaDainian Tomlinson for the regular season, the St. Louis Rams figure they can preserve their star running back, too.

Tomlinson, the NFL MVP, didn't dress for the Chargers' 30-13 preseason victory Saturday night and hasn't been on the field in August since 2005. St. Louis' Steven Jackson, who led the league with 2,334 yards rushing and receiving last year, might as well have not dressed, either.

Jackson was on the field for the first play, a pass from Marc Bulger to Torry Holt, and then called it a night. In two games, Jackson has two receptions for 8 yards, but no carries.

The Chargers (1-1) didn't need Tomlinson, who gouged the Rams for 183 yards and two touchdowns in a 14-point victory last season. Darren Sproles returned a punt 81 yards for a touchdown in the final minute of the first half and Philip Rivers threw a 5-yard scoring pass to Vincent Jackson in the first quarter.

Two turnovers negated scoring opportunities in the first half for the Rams (1-1), with Bulger's overthrown pass intercepted in the end zone and Madison Hedgecock fumbling after a reception at the Chargers 19. Shaun Phillips stripped the ball on Hedgecock's fumble and forced a second fumble in the first half with a blind-side hit on Bulger, although the Rams recovered on that play.

Most starters for both teams played the majority of the first half.

The Rams averted a shutout on backup quarterback Gus Frerotte's 7-yard pass to Marques Hagans on fourth down with 8:26 to go. Left-footed Kevin Lovell, the backup kicker behind Jeff Wilkins, who also hasn't appeared in the preseason, hit field goals of 44 and 42 yards.

St. Louis' special teams were among the worst in the NFL last year, allowing two kickoff returns and one punt return for touchdown, and allowed a 33-yard return to Quinton Jones in the fourth quarter. One positive development: Dante Hall, who missed the preseason opener with a hamstring injury, had a 25-yard kickoff return and 12-yard punt return in the first half.

Tomlinson's backup, Michael Turner, had nine carries for 48 yards. Jackson's backup, second-round pick Brian Leonard, got a lot more work with 17 carries for 49 yards and two receptions for 18 yards.

Vincent Jackson's 5-yard scoring catch capped a 10-play, 71-yard drive after Hedgecock's lost fumble. It was ruled he was forced out of the back of the end zone by safety Corey Chavous' hit, although replays were inconclusive.

Sproles was barely touched on his punt return, which put the Chargers ahead 14-0 with 33 seconds to go in the half. Sproles missed all of last season after breaking his left leg on a punt return in the preseason opener.

The Chargers' backups added three scores in the fourth quarter, an 8-yard pass from Billy Volek to Scott Chandler, a 13-yard run by Germaine Race and Nate Kaeding's 22-yard field goal.


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