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Three of Brees' four TDs go to Antonio Gates

SAN DIEGO (AP) -- These clearly are not the San Diego Chargers of
the recent gloomy past.

They can pass. They can catch. They can play defense. And even
with LaDainian Tomlinson hurting, they can win big.

In routing the New Orleans Saints 43-17 on Sunday, they even
showed a bit of a swagger.

"We go on the field and say, 'We can beat these guys,' "
quarterback Drew Brees said. "That's our attitude. It's such a
dramatic difference from last year. We're almost disappointed that
the bye's coming because we just want to keep going."

It was San Diego's highest-scoring game since beating the Miami
Dolphins 45-20 on Dec. 27, 1993. The Chargers have scored 85 points
in consecutive games.

Brees, the quarterback the front office didn't want coming into
this season, threw four more touchdown passes -- three to tight end
Antonio Gates -- and the Chargers (6-3) won their third straight
game and for the fifth time in six games.

Brees has thrown nine touchdown passes in two straight blowout
wins, pushing his season total to 18, against just three
interceptions. Last year he threw 15 interceptions and 11
touchdowns, was benched for five games and pulled from two others.

Brees was 22-of-36 for 257 yards on Sunday. Last week he threw a
career-high five TD passes in a 42-10 win over Oakland. He hasn't
thrown an interception in three straight games, and in six of the
last seven.

"If you have a quarterback you have confidence in, you always
believe that you can win the game," coach Marty Schottenheimer
said.

The Chargers are off next Sunday, so Tomlinson can rest his
strained groin, which has slowed him for five games.

Tomlinson hasn't cracked 100 yards in any of those games, and on
Sunday was held to just 36 yards on 17 carries, with one touchdown.

Even so, he's happy about the way Brees and the receivers,
particularly Gates and Keenan McCardell, have made the Chargers a
high-scoring threat.

"It's so much better, because guys can't just focus on me,"
Tomlinson said. "They've got many other weapons to worry about. It
feels good to look up and Drew hits Antonio way down the field, or
Keenan way down the field, for a big play, man. It's an awesome
feeling."

Brees' inconsistent play last year, when they were an NFL-worst
4-12, led the Chargers to get Philip Rivers in a draft-day deal
with the New York Giants.

Rivers made his pro debut with 4:04 left and the Chargers
leading 43-17. He handed off three straight times, then took a knee
three times to run out the clock.

The Saints (3-5) have lost four of five.

"We couldn't cover the tight end," New Orleans coach Jim
Haslett said. "I think he's one of the best tight ends in the
league, if not the best."

To put the Chargers' recent struggles in perspective, Gates
became the first Chargers receiver to catch three touchdown passes
since Tony Martin did it against Baltimore on Sept. 28, 1997. The
last Chargers tight end to catch three touchdown passes was Hall of
Famer Kellen Winslow against Kansas City on Dec. 11, 1983.

Gates might have had four TDs, but he couldn't hold onto a pass
from McCardell in the second quarter, one of several trick plays
the Chargers ran. He had five catches for 56 yards.

Gates caught touchdown passes of 7 and 2 yards on consecutive
drives late in the third quarter to give San Diego a 36-7 lead.

Gates' third TD of the day was set up when Steve Foley sacked
Aaron Brooks and forced a fumble that Stephen Cooper recovered at
the New Orleans 40. The Chargers gained 33 yards when Sedrick Hodge
was called for pass interference against Gates to give the Chargers
the ball on 2.

Brees then hit Kassim Osgood on a 12-yard scoring pass midway
through the fourth quarter.

Tomlinson's backup, Jesse Chatman, gained 22 yards on a fake
punt from the San Diego 47 on the game's opening drive to help set
up Brees' 12-yard touchdown pass to Gates for a 7-0 lead.

The Chargers started their next drive with a reverse by Tim
Dwight that gained 48 yards to the New Orleans 22. Tomlinson scored
from 1 yard out four plays later for a 14-0 lead.

Chargers rookie Nate Kaeding kicked field goals of 40 and 27
yards, and San Diego got a safety in the third quarter when tackle
Wayne Gandy was called for holding in the end zone.

Brooks threw a 6-yard TD pass to Boo Williams and Deuce
McAllister scored on a 2-yard run. Brooks was 16-of-29 for 173
yards, with one interception.

John Carney, San Diego's kicker from 1990-2000, had a 37-yard
field goal in the fourth quarter and missed a 46-yarder in the
third quarter.

"I would say it's embarrassing," Saints returner Michael Lewis
said. "We just played bad today."

Game notes
Saints TE Ernie Conwell bruised his sternum in the third
quarter and didn't return. ... Brees has thrown 122 straight passes
without an interception.