Commentary

Philip Rivers, Chargers solve Eagles

San Diego quarterback's superb performance hints at return to previous ability

Originally Published: September 15, 2013
By Ashley Fox | ESPN.com

PHILADELPHIA -- This felt good. This was satisfying. This was what Philip Rivers wanted -- what he needed, really. He had a big game. His team got a tough win. The San Diego Chargers didn't disappear when their double-digit lead evaporated and the Philadelphia Eagles took the lead.

No, the Chargers finished. Rivers finished. He was accurate and methodical and lethal on third down. Against the Eagles' high-tempo offense, the Chargers' best defense, it turned out, was their own ball-hogging offense, which strung together long drive after long drive after long drive to keep Philadelphia off the field.

The result: A 33-30 win on the road after a crushing loss to Houston on "Monday Night Football" six days earlier.

This is what first-year Chargers head coach Mike McCoy expected from Rivers. This is what he's said from the jump. In an offense that is a hybrid of what McCoy ran as offensive coordinator in Denver, Chargers offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt ran in Arizona and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich once ran in Indianapolis, Rivers can thrive. He can be great. He can have a career year.

Rivers has put in the work. He was all-in from the beginning. He spent six years running Norv Turner's offense. He knew it like he knows his drive to work, every stop sign, every turn.

Rivers said he hadn't become complacent or stale, but did he admit the coaching change has reinvigorated him. It has forced him to work harder, to learn, to study, to get back to the basics, to concentrate on his fundamentals. The terminology is different. The plays are different. The coaches are different.

"You've got to go back and earn respect," Rivers said.

Rivers called Peyton Manning after the news broke that San Diego had hired McCoy to replace Turner. Rivers called Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald after the news broke that McCoy had hired Whisenhunt, Arizona's former head coach.

The scouting reports were positive: Good people, smart football men, easy to work for and with. Then Rivers went about proving himself to his new coaches.

"I said, 'Yeah, I'll learn this offense faster than anybody's ever learned it,'" Rivers said. "That's the competitive approach I took."

The result on Sunday was that Rivers was remarkably accurate. He made wise decisions. He called a timeout in the third quarter when he didn't like what the Eagles defense was showing, then threw a touchdown pass on the next play after the Chargers had adjusted. Rivers shredded a defense that had little success pressuring him and even less covering his receivers.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers, Jeromey Clary
Patrick Smith/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers enjoyed one of the best games of his career, thanks in part to excellent protection from Jeromey Clary and the Chargers' offensive line.

Rivers threw 47 passes -- a high number, particularly for a winning quarterback -- and completed 36 of them for 419 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. He did it in the second half without wide receiver Malcom Floyd, who had five catches for 102 yards in the first half but suffered a massive hit on the first play from scrimmage of the second half and had to be hospitalized.

Rivers did it on a day when he was sacked only once, on the Chargers' fifth offensive play of the day. He did it despite two red zone turnovers that were not his fault. And he did it after San Diego's offense gained zero first downs and just 10 yards on its final five series of a 31-28 loss to Houston.

"When you translate the work you put in to a win, it feels awesome and you need to build on it," Rivers said. "It gives you a confidence to say, 'Oh, where are we going next week? Let's go play.' It's exciting. We're 1-1, but I don't think many people gave us a chance. I know I got a glimpse of the "Sunday Countdown" this morning and it was 'Eagles, Eagles, Eagles, Eagles, Eagles.' It's nice to come and get a win."

Rivers noted that this was exactly the type of game the Chargers had become accustomed to losing. This is the exact kind of game they lost to Houston. Entering Sunday, San Diego had lost 11 games in the past three seasons by eight points or fewer, tied for the fourth-most in the NFL. In seven of those 11 games, the Chargers gave up the go-ahead score in the fourth quarter or overtime.

This is who the Chargers had become: A team, with a quarterback, that could not close, could not finish. And that is what McCoy preached all week long: Finish. Finish. Finish. Finish. Finish.

"We've lost a lot of games like this," Rivers said, "so it feels good to be on the winning side of it."

The Chargers got the ball with 1:45 left on the clock and the game tied, 30-30. San Diego picked up three first downs, and Rivers converted a clutch third-and-4 by completing a six-yard pass to running back Danny Woodhead. The Chargers moved the ball 51 yards on nine plays to set up the winning field goal.

Asked what he thought in the huddle to start the drive, wide receiver Eddie Royal said: "We weren't going to lose this game."

The Chargers didn't lose, because Rivers had a big game, one that McCoy thinks will become commonplace this season. On Sunday, Rivers was what McCoy expects he will be all season: great.

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