During the 2006 offseason, the Chargers made changes at quarterback, opting for Philip Rivers over Drew Brees. They went from a 9-7 record to a remarkable 14-2 record, securing the No. 1 seed in the AFC. Despite their regular season success, their Super Bowl dreams were shattered with a devastating playoff loss to the New England Patriots.
Running back LaDainian Tomlinson had an exceptional year, leading the league in rushing yards and setting records for rushing touchdowns and total touchdowns. The Chargers are often recognized as one of the greatest teams to never make it to the Super Bowl. Let’s take a look at some of the most memorable moments from their 2006 season.
The Most Memorable Games of the 2006 San Diego Chargers
1. September 11, 2006 – Chargers vs. Raiders
In a memorable moment of the 2006 Chargers season, the team opened with a resounding 27-0 victory against division rivals, the Oakland Raiders. Led by LaDainian Tomlinson’s impressive performance of 131 yards on 31 carries, the Chargers dominated both offensively and defensively.
Philip Rivers, in his NFL starting quarterback debut, showcased his talent by completing eight of 11 pass attempts for 108 yards and a touchdown. The Chargers defense was relentless, recording nine quarterback sacks, with second-year linebacker Shawne Merriman contributing three of them. This shutout victory marked the second time Oakland had been shut out in their own stadium.
Head coach Marty Schottenheimer‘s impressive record against the Raiders improved to 26-7, as the Chargers extended their winning streak against Oakland to six games. Schottenheimer also achieved his 187th career victory, solidifying his place as one of the winningest head coaches in NFL history.
This moment set the stage for an exciting season ahead for the Chargers, as they started their campaign with a perfect 1-0 record.
2. Chargers Dominate Titans in Home Opener
Game two at home against the Tennessee Titans proved to be a resounding success for the Chargers. In front of a crowd of 64,344 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, the Chargers secured a convincing 40-7 victory.
Led by quarterback Philip Rivers, the Chargers offense was firing on all cylinders. Rivers completed 25 passes out of 35 attempts, accumulating an impressive 235 yards and throwing a touchdown. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson also had a standout performance, rushing for two touchdowns and tying the Chargers record for most career touchdowns with 83, alongside Lance Alworth.
The defense showcased its dominance, holding the Titans scoreless for seven consecutive quarters until Vince Young managed to throw a late touchdown pass in the fourth quarter. This streak of defensive excellence marked the most consecutive scoreless quarters to open a season since the 1977 Raiders.
With this victory, the Chargers headed into their bye week with a perfect 2-0 record, setting a strong foundation for the season ahead.
3. Chargers Defeat Steelers, 23-13
Game 5 of the 2006 San Diego Chargers season will always be remembered as a thrilling match-up against the defending Super Bowl champions, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Taking place on October 8 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, this game showcased the Chargers’ determination to rebound from their previous loss to the Ravens.
Despite a slow start, with their offense struggling and their defense conceding a touchdown run by running back Willie Parker, the Chargers fought back. Quarterback Philip Rivers connected with wide receiver Malcom Floyd for a nine-yard touchdown pass, narrowing the deficit. As the game progressed, the Chargers took control. Kicker Nate Kaeding contributed a 28-yard field goal, and Rivers found tight end Antonio Gates for a 22-yard touchdown strike, propelling the Chargers into the lead.
With Kaeding adding two more field goals in the fourth quarter, the Chargers secured a well-deserved victory, winning 23-13. The defense played a crucial role, preventing any hopes of a Steeler comeback. This victory improved the Chargers’ record to 3-1, making it a significant moment in their 2006 season.
4. Game 6 vs. Niners
In a thrilling Week 6 showdown against their state rival, the San Francisco 49ers, the Chargers showcased their dominance. With LT leading the charge, the Chargers secured a resounding 48-19 victory at Monster Park in San Francisco, California.
The game kicked off with Philip Rivers connecting with Antonio Gates for a spectacular 57-yard touchdown pass. The 49ers fought back, with Alex Smith finding Bryan Gilmore for a 15-yard touchdown pass. However, LaDainian Tomlinson quickly responded with a five-yard touchdown run to regain the lead.
The second quarter was a wild ride, with points being scored from all sides. Joe Nedney kicked a 42-yard field goal for the 49ers, but the Chargers answered back with a 33-yard touchdown strike from Rivers to Vincent Jackson. Tomlinson added another one-yard touchdown run, and Moran Norris caught a two-yard pass from Smith for the 49ers. The Niners managed to secure a safety through an intentional grounding penalty. However, Tomlinson had the last word in the second quarter, ending it with another one-yard touchdown run.
In the second half, the Chargers dominated, scoring 13 unanswered points. Kaeding kicked two field goals (24-yarder and 44-yarder), and Tomlinson sealed the game with a five-yard touchdown run.
5. Chargers’ Epic Comeback Against the Bengals
In a thrilling game at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio, the San Diego Chargers staged a remarkable comeback against the Cincinnati Bengals. Overcoming two 21-point deficits, the Chargers showcased their resilience and determination.
The game started with the Bengals dominating the Chargers, going up 21-0 in the first quarter. However, the Chargers fought back in the second quarter, with Tomlinson running a touchdown and closing the deficit to 21-7. Despite the Chargers’ efforts, the Bengals finished the first half with a commanding lead of 28-7.
Undeterred, the Chargers came out strong in the third quarter, scoring a touchdown and a long pass to make it a 28-21 game. The Bengals responded with a field goal, extending their lead to 31-21. But the Chargers showed their determination, driving down the field and narrowing the gap to 31-28 with a touchdown pass to tight end Brandon Manumaleuna.
However, the Chargers defense struggled again, allowing a 74-yard reception to Chad Johnson, putting the Bengals ahead at 38-28. Again, the Chargers fought back, scoring another touchdown to make it 38-35 at the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter started with a bang as Chargers linebacker Shaun Phillips sacked Carson Palmer, forcing a fumble that was recovered by the Chargers. Tomlinson then ran for a touchdown, giving the Chargers their first lead of the game at 42-38. The Bengals managed to come within one point with a field goal, making it 42-41. However, the Chargers sealed their victory with another touchdown pass to Manumaleuna, extending their lead to 49-41.
With this incredible comeback, the Chargers secured a memorable moment in their 2006 season. Led by Tomlinson’s outstanding performance of 108 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns, along with Rivers’ impressive passing game, the Chargers improved to 7-2, leaving a lasting mark on their season.
6. Week 11 Victory in Denver
In a thrilling game at Invesco Field at Mile High, the San Diego Chargers made history and secured a memorable win during the 2006 season. Facing the Denver Broncos, the Chargers showcased their determination and skill, led by star players LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers.
Tomlinson etched his name in the record books, becoming the fastest running back to reach 100 career touchdowns in just 89 games. He surpassed the previous mark held by Emmitt Smith and Jim Brown, who achieved this milestone in 93 games. Tomlinson’s impressive performance didn’t stop there. He continued his pursuit of Shaun Alexander‘s single-season touchdown record, scoring four touchdowns in the game to bring his total to 22, just five short of tying Alexander’s mark.
Rivers also had a standout game, completing 19 of 26 passes for 222 yards and two touchdowns. However, he did throw two interceptions, including one returned for a touchdown by Denver cornerback Darrent Williams.
The game started with Tomlinson finding the end zone from three yards out, giving the Chargers an early 7-0 lead. Denver responded with two touchdowns by Mike Bell in the second quarter, taking a 14-7 lead into halftime. After the break, Denver extended their lead with a Jason Elam field goal and Williams’ interception return, making it 24-7 in favor of the Broncos.
Undeterred, the Chargers fought back with two scoring drives in the third quarter. Tomlinson scored his 100th career touchdown with a three-yard run, followed by a 51-yard touchdown pass from Rivers to Tomlinson, cutting the deficit to 24-21.
Jason Elam added a field goal for Denver, but Rivers found Vincent Jackson in the end zone, giving the Chargers a 28-27 lead. The Chargers’ defense stepped up when Drayton Florence intercepted Jake Plummer‘s pass, setting up a one-yard touchdown run by Tomlinson, his fourth of the night and 102nd of his career. With just 1:14 remaining, Denver attempted to tie the game, but the Chargers’ defense held strong, sacking Plummer and securing the victory.
This win marked the Chargers’ first victory in Denver in seven years and propelled them to sole possession of first place in the AFC West with an impressive 8-2 record. It was a defining moment in the 2006 season, showcasing the resilience and talent of the San Diego Chargers.
7. Week 14 Victory against Denver Broncos
In a game held at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California, on December 10, the San Diego Chargers showcased their dominance. Facing the newly appointed rookie Denver quarterback Jay Cutler, the Chargers took an early lead and maintained it throughout the game. By halftime, San Diego was leading 28–3, sending a clear message of their intent.
Though Broncos made a comeback in the third quarter, closing the gap to 28–20, San Diego quickly regained control in the fourth quarter. With 20 unanswered points, they sealed a convincing victory with a final score of 48–20.
This triumph not only secured the AFC West Division title for the Chargers but also propelled them to the best record in the AFC (11–2). Their achievement was further highlighted by the losses of both the Kansas City Chiefs and the Indianapolis Colts on the same day.
Additionally, during this game, running back Tomlinson made history by breaking the NFL single-season touchdown record. With his seven-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter, Tomlinson surpassed the previous record of 28 touchdowns set by Shaun Alexander of the Seattle Seahawks.
This memorable moment from the 2006 San Diego Chargers season showcased the team’s strength, resilience, and the extraordinary talents of Tomlinson.
8. Week 17 Victory against Arizona Cardinals
In a crucial game at Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego, California, the San Diego Chargers showcased their dominance. Despite facing injuries to key players, including Rivers and Tomlinson, the Chargers emerged triumphant with a 27-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals. This victory secured home-field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs for the Chargers, who already earned a first-round bye.
Rivers displayed incredible resilience by throwing two touchdown passes despite an injured right foot. Tomlinson, who had already wrapped up his first NFL rushing title, ran for 66 yards, solidifying his place as the league’s leading rusher with 1,815 yards. The Chargers’ remarkable performance in this game exemplified their determination and set the stage for their impressive 14-2 season record.
9. Divisional Playoffs – Patriots vs. Chargers
In the divisional playoffs, the New England Patriots faced the San Diego Chargers, who had an undefeated home record in the regular season. The Chargers had a star-studded roster, featuring eleven Pro Bowlers, six All-Pro players, and league MVP running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who shattered numerous league records. Despite outgaining the Patriots in rushing yards (148-51) and total yards (352-327), and intercepting three passes from Tom Brady, the Chargers’ fortunes took a turn for the worse due to four turnovers of their own.
The game had its fair share of dramatic moments. In the second quarter, Chargers receiver Eric Parker‘s punt return set up a touchdown drive by Tomlinson, giving the Chargers a 7-3 lead. However, a crucial interception by Patriots linebacker Donnie Edwards and a touchdown reception by Jabar Gaffney just before halftime narrowed the Chargers’ lead to 14-10.
The third quarter saw Brady throwing his second interception of the game, but the Chargers were once again forced to punt. A muffed punt by Parker provided an opportunity for the Patriots, leading to a field goal by Stephen Gostkowski that reduced the Chargers’ lead to 14-13. The game continued to intensify as linebacker Rosevelt Colvin intercepted a pass from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, resulting in another Patriots field goal.
With the Chargers holding an eight-point lead (21-13), the Patriots staged an incredible comeback. A fourth-down interception by Marlon McCree was stripped by Troy Brown, and the Patriots capitalized on the turnover with a touchdown pass to Reche Caldwell and a two-point conversion by Kevin Faulk, tying the game at 21-21. In the closing minutes of the game, Brady’s accurate passing set up Gostkowski’s third field goal, giving the Patriots a 24-21 lead with only 1:10 left on the clock.
With no timeouts remaining, the Chargers launched a final drive but fell short as Nate Kaeding’s field goal attempt missed, sealing their devastating loss. The game concluded with a controversial celebration by the Patriots, mocking the “Lights Out” dance of Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman and stomping on the Chargers’ midfield logo.
The 2006 season of the San Diego Chargers was marked by unforgettable moments of triumph and heartbreaking losses. The team showed immense resilience, led by standout performances from LaDainian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. However, their season was ultimately marred by contentious defeats and unfavorable decisions, culminating in that infamous playoff game against the Patriots.
The game was a roller-coaster ride, with crucial interceptions from Donnie Edwards and Rosevelt Colvin, the stunning comeback by the Patriots, and the fateful missed field goal by Nate Kaeding that sealed the Chargers’ fate. As we reflect on this season, we are left with a poignant question: What could the Chargers have achieved had a few pivotal moments swung in their favor?
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