The former No. 1 pick making his first start since Nov. 8, 1998 passed for 167 yards and a touchdown in the opening half as the unbeaten Chargers handed the Atlanta Falcons their first loss of the preseason, 28-14.
Jamal Anderson, coming back from a knee injury, played the first two quarters for the Falcons and seemed to have no problems. He rushed six times for 17 yards and dragged along would-be tacklers on a couple of runs.
Atlanta had a miserable night, managing as many turnovers seven as points.
Leaf connected on his first nine throws and finished his stint 14-of-20, including a 14-yard touchdown to Jeff Graham and three completions of at least 21 yards. Overall, Leaf is 32-of-50 (64 percent) for 350 yards during the preseason, with two touchdowns and one interception. He has overseen six scoring drives in 17 possessions.
"Ryan looked real sharp and had a good feel for the ball game," coach Mike Riley said. "He had quite a few nice drives."
Leaf lost the starting job midway through his rookie season and didn't play at all last year after shoulder surgery. Besides going through rehabilitation, he served a four-week suspension for insubordination.
But Leaf got a chance to recapture the No. 1 job when 14-year veteran Jim Harbaugh struggled in the first two preseason games. Riley would like to have a starter in place before the final exhibition game.
Leaf credited the offensive line for giving him plenty of time to throw and said his shoulder feels fine.
"I could throw it 36 more times if I wanted to," he said.
The Chargers' victory was marred by injuries to starting defensive end Raylee Johnson and quarterback Moses Moreno, who took over for Leaf in the second half.
Johnson went down after scooping up a fumble by Chris Chandler in the final minute of the first half. Just a couple of yards short of the end zone, the defensive player was blindsided with a low tackle by Falcons fullback Bob Christian.
San Diego safety Rodney Harrison went after Christian, feeling he had delivered a cheap shot to the knees though no penalty was called. Johnson had to be taken off the field on the cart; there was no immediate word on his condition.
Moreno completed 4-of-6 passes for 61 yards, throwing a 20-yard touchdown to Mikhael Ricks. Then, while trying to slide at the end of a scramble, Moreno was hit in the head by Falcons safety Johndale Carty and had to leave the game with a concussion. Carty was flagged for unnecessary roughness.
Harbaugh, who was supposed to get the night off, and JaJuan Seider finished up at quarterback for the Chargers, who got their other points on five field goals two by John Carney and three by Jose Cortez.
Chandler threw a 62-yard touchdown pass to Tim Dwight but also fumbled twice after blindside hits. The Falcons fell apart in the second half, fumbling on two of their first four offensive plays.
Tony Graziani, battling for the No. 2 job behind Chandler, didn't help his chances with three interceptions. He was picked off in the end zone on first-and-goal at the San Diego 1, but also was hurt by several dropped passes.
Graziani had one bright spot: a 55-yard touchdown pass to Eugene Baker with 51 seconds remaining.
The Chargers improved to 3-0 in the preseason for the second time in three years. The Falcons (3-1) were trying for their first 4-0 mark since 1990.
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