TAMPA, Fla. – Philip Rivers wished he had one pass back.
The San Diego quarterback made a huge mistake on a fourth-quarter interception that led to a Tampa Bay touchdown in the Chargers' 34-24 loss to the Buccaneers on Sunday.
Rivers released a pass that went straight to cornerback Leonard Johnson as the quarterback was scampering out of bounds to avoid a sack. Johnson took off along the sideline, running through lineman Jeromey Clary's potential tackle near midfield and outrunning the rest of the pursuit en route to an 83-yard TD that put Tampa Bay up 31-21 early in the fourth quarter.
"Quick decisions, and I made the wrong one there," Rivers said. "It's a humbling game because it shows how one play, essentially one play, can ruin a game. Cost a game. Just a bad play. Just a bad throw."
Josh Freeman threw a pair of touchdown passes for the surging Buccaneers, who also scored on a blocked punt.
"It's not acceptable to play hard and not win, and that's what happened," Chargers coach Norv Turner said. "Is it acceptable having a blocked punt and an interception for a touchdown? No. That's not what we're trying to accomplish out there. We're trying to go win games, and those things are keeping us from winning."
Freeman has thrown for 13 TDs with just one interception in his past five games, helping the Bucs (5-4) win four times to climb over .500 following a 1-3 start.
The Bucs, normally known for playing stingy defense but sputtering offensively, topped 30 points for the fourth straight week. They have scored 28 or more in five consecutive games for the first time in franchise history.
They did it this time with help from linebacker Adam Heyward, who scooped up a punt blocked by Dekoda Watson and ran 29 yards for a second-quarter touchdown.
Rivers threw for 337 yards and three TDs for San Diego. However, he was intercepted twice in the fourth quarter to ruin any chance of the Chargers (4-5) coming from behind.
Bucs linebacker Quincy Black was carted off the field after tackling Ryan Mathews for a 1-yard loss late in the third quarter. Trainers examined the sixth-year pro for several minutes before immobilizing his neck and back and strapping him to a stretcher.
"It was a hard hit," Mathews said. "Got up and he wasn't really moving, so after a couple seconds I knew something was wrong. It's tough to see something like. I offer my prayers, and everything go out to him and his family."
Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano said Black was taken to a hospital for observation.
"I think Quincy is going to be OK," Schiano said.
Freeman threw scoring passes of 3 yards to Dallas Clark and 15 to Tiquan Underwood, the latter set up by the quarterback's 4-yard run on fourth-and-inches, and a 31-yard completion to Vincent Jackson. The former Chargers receiver had five receptions for 59 yards in his first game against his old team.
Connor Barth kicked two field goals for Tampa Bay, including a 45-yarder that clinched the game after Rivers threw his second interception with San Diego trailing 31-24.
Jackson had three 1,000-yard seasons and was a two-time Pro Bowl selection in seven years with the Chargers, who have not been as potent offensively without him.
Facing the NFL's lowest-ranked pass defense, though, San Diego had three scoring drives of 80 yards in the first half. Rivers was 16 of 18 for 218 yards and no interceptions in the first two quarters. The Chargers held the ball for more than 8 minutes before taking a 21-17 lead on Malcolm Floyd's 3-yard TD reception with 27 seconds left in the half.
"It's not a talent issue," San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. "We've got to make plays in the fourth quarter. When we do, we win the game. When we don't, obviously, we lose."
Danario Alexander scored on an 80-yard reception in which he spun out of the grasp of Johnson on San Diego's opening possession. Rivers later threw a 13-yard TD pass to Antonio Gates for a 14-7 lead.
A week after rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns in a 42-32 victory at Oakland, Bucs rookie sensation Doug Martin set up a first-half field goal with a 42-yard reception and finished with 68 yards rushing on 19 carries.
Freeman completed 14 of 20 passes for 210 yards. His 54-yard completion to Mike Williams on third-and-12 set up Barth's 40-yard field goal in the second quarter.
Rivers finished 29 of 37 and was sacked twice. Alexander had five receptions for 134 yards.
"It's tough," Chargers running back Ronnie Brown said. "We've got to be more consistent for a whole game. It's the execution part of it. It sounds like a broken record, but at the same time it is what it is. We make mistakes at the wrong time. We've just got to get it corrected. We've got to get it right."
NOTES: Gates has 80 career TD receptions, one behind Hall of Famer Lance Alworth for San Diego's franchise record. ... The Bucs beat the Chargers for only the second time in 10 meetings all-time. ... Bucs CB Eric Wright left the game in the first half with an ankle injury and did not return.
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