- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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SAN DIEGO -- In San Diego, the focus is entirely on whether this team can start fast. Stumbling into the season has been the San Diego Chargers’ clear bugaboo in the Norv Turner era that started in 2007. A 2-5 start has become commonplace.
So after a 20-17 win Sunday over the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers have to be pleased with a 2-1 record. They have a chance to pump up their early-season record in the next two games. They host winless Miami next week and then play at Denver (1-2) in Week 5. A 4-1 record for San Diego at the bye is very much a possibility. The Chargers would be thrilled with that start.
In the scope of the big picture, the Chargers are in good shape. However, that doesn’t mean all is perfect in San Diego. Telltale signs of a slow start for San Diego are still present.
It starts with quarterback Philip Rivers. He has been far from perfect. The Chargers’ inability to knock out opponents early this season is a result of Rivers’ uncharacteristically sloppy start. Turner admits his quarterback is trying to “do too much” in certain situations.
Rivers has been intercepted twice in all three of the Chargers’ games. It is the first time in his career that he has been intercepted twice in three straight games. He has never been intercepted three times in one game and his highest season total for interceptions is 15. Rivers committed three of the Chargers’ four turnovers last week in a 35-21 loss at New England. Had Rivers been cleaner in that game, the Chargers would have had a chance to win.
The Chargers should have rolled the Chiefs on Sunday. But San Diego’s inability to close drives and it penchant for committing turnovers sullied another strong effort. There was no way the Chargers should have had to secure the win in the final minute on an Eric Weddle interception after a poor decision by Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel.
“Happiest moment of the day for me,” San Diego defensive tackle Antonio Garay said. “Good job, Weddle.”
Garay should been pleased much earlier.
All summer, Turner preached the importance of eliminating turnovers. He concluded that was the main reason why his Chargers teams, which were 6-8 in September in his first four seasons in San Diego, started slowly. San Diego has eight turnovers this season.
Rivers knows he must work to eliminate his problems.
“Certainly, I want to play better and I’m going to work like crazy to do that,” Rivers said.
His teammates are clearly behind their leader.
“He’s playing football. He’s a chance-taker,” San Diego running back Mike Tolbert said. “When you have a quarterback like [Rivers], he needs to throw the ball how he wants to, try to fit the ball in tight gaps, and sometimes it’s going to get [intercepted].”
Added Turner: “I have been around Philip long enough to know he will go on a stretch, and it will start soon, where he’ll go six or eight games without throwing an interception.”
Other than the turnovers, Rivers has been good. He is still making big plays. He completed 24 of 38 passes for 266 yards and he moved the offense.
The following is a look at some other key aspects of Sunday’s game:
Chiefs didn’t quit: Todd Haley’s players are still playing for him. All last week, there was talk that Haley could be on the hot seat. The Chiefs were blown out by a combined score of 89-10 in their first two games.
At halftime Sunday, you could feel the burn under Haley’s seat. An offensive specialist, Haley’s team did not convert a first down in the first half Sunday. Not one. It was the first time that happened in the NFL since the Jets shut down Tampa Bay in December 2009.
The Chiefs had 34 yards of offense in the first half. Yet, they came alive in the second half. It was the first time this season that the Chiefs -- who are playing without running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki, both out for the year with knee injuries -- showed life offensively.
Winless Kansas City engineered drives of 18 and nine plays to score 10 points in the fourth quarter and put a scare in the Chargers. Kansas City ended up with 13 first downs and 252 yards of offense. It wasn’t enough to save Sunday’s game, but it gives Haley confidence he can salvage something out of this year.
“The whole team responded,” Haley said. "We had to get significantly better and do things better, and we did a lot of those [things].”
Mathews is becoming a legitimate threat: The Chargers are developing a strong running game. It’s certainly not to the level of the glory days of the LaDainian Tomlinson era, but it’s effective. It starts with second-year running back Ryan Mathews.
He looks much better than he did as a rookie. Mathews is running with power and with confidence.
He had 98 yards on 21 carries and he added 51 yards on four catches. With Tolbert hampered some by a calf injury, Mathews’ production was important. This offense will be extremely dangerous if Mathews continues to progress.
“He’s getting better every week,” Turner said of Mathews.
6dEric D. Williams