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Eliminating game-changing mistakes proved key for Chargers, Rivers

Discussion in 'Chargers Fan Forum' started by Johnny Lightning, Sep 3, 2008.

  1. Johnny Lightning

    Johnny Lightning Go Bolts

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    By Kevin Acee
    UNION-TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER

    September 3, 2008

    One specific portion of Philip Rivers' play made as much difference as anything in how the Chargers finished 2007, as opposed to how they started it.
    And the lessons therein figure to translate into further developments and success for Rivers in 2008, his third year as the Chargers' starting quarterback.
    The way Rivers puts it:
    “The critical errors. You're going to miss some throws, but the critical errors . . . It's the game-changing type plays, either way. You've got to be able to make them for you when they present themselves, but don't let them work against you.”
    The Chargers had as many losses as victories in their first 10 games of last season in large part because Rivers allowed game-changing opportunities to swallow him up. They won eight straight games after that, on a run to the AFC Championship Game, more because he eliminated those types of plays than because he became all that much better a quarterback.
    He was never that bad. He just blew it when he shouldn't have, didn't step up when at the most crucial times he could have.
    Rivers in those first 10 games had a fourth-quarter passer rating of 45.0, worst among the 31 quarterbacks who threw at least 50 fourth-quarter passes in that span. In three of the Chargers' five losses, he threw fourth-quarter interceptions. Against Green Bay on Sept. 23 and Jacksonville on Nov. 18, his three late interceptions wiped out otherwise stellar performances and were the final destruction in one-score losses.
    It wasn't so much that Rivers was awful. It was when he was awful.
    “The hard thing is that a lot of time you're measured because of some bad plays,” head coach Norv Turner said this week. “ . . . To me, the point where we got in a rhythm and we were going to get on a roll and play consistently was the Baltimore game. It's just a matter of getting that consistency and eliminating negative plays. You can go out and look great for 3½ quarters, then have a negative play that affects your team greatly in the wrong way. That's usually what people remember.” That Baltimore game on Nov. 25 was the turning point for Rivers – and for the Chargers, who would not lose again until the conference title game on Jan. 20. Rivers completed 25-of-35 passes for 249 yards and three touchdowns against the Ravens. His 119.8 passer rating was fifth-highest of his career, while he threw more passes than he had in all but eight other games and completed more passes than in all but two.

    Rivers only had to throw three fourth-quarter passes that day, which points to another difference between the first 10 and final six regular-season games.
    Rivers threw 7.6 passes per fourth quarter in those first 10 games and 4.8 passes per fourth quarter in the final six. Only once in the final six games did the Chargers not lead going into the fourth quarter, and only once did Rivers throw more than four passes in the fourth quarter.
    That one time did more to cement his status as a viable NFL quarterback than any other game – including the AFC Championship Game, when he played despite lacking an ACL in his right knee.
    After completing six of his 14 passes and being intercepted twice in the first three quarters at Tennessee on Dec. 9, and with the Chargers down 10-3, Rivers completed 12 of the 20 passes he threw in the fourth quarter. Hobbling all of the second half after spraining his left knee early in the second quarter, Rivers threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including one to Antonio Gates with nine seconds to play in regulation. The Chargers went on to win in overtime.
    Those would be the last two fourth-quarter touchdown passes Rivers would throw all season. But he also was not intercepted in the fourth quarter of the final six regular-season games or in the playoffs.
    That late-game success, characterized mostly by positives greatly outweighing negatives, went along with the overall finish to his season.
    Through 10 games, his passer rating was 76.5, 18th in the league. It was 93.0 over the next six games, ninth in the league that span. In the first 10 games, Rivers threw 11 touchdown passes and was intercepted 12 times. In those last six, it was 10 TDs and three picks.
    Now, having surpassed all expectations with a fervent rehabilitation of his knee, Rivers is coming off his best preseason and training camp. He is throwing harder than ever and moving as well as ever.
    “I think it's going to help me in the pocket,” he said of his offseason work. “I feel like I'm a little more – explosive doesn't go with the position – just a little more powerful moving around, the quick twitch, from doing so much.”
    Rivers and his receivers have a communication and understanding of each other that was lacking in 2007. Throughout training camp they routinely improvised on routes, ball placement and timing.
    Rivers is also noticeably more comfortable in the offense, a by-product of time with Turner and of the two being of similar mind. Where Turner's tendencies and some of the play calling were foreign to Rivers early last season, LaDainian Tomlinson said this week, “I think he knows Norv more than Norv may even know himself.”
    Most important, Rivers knows what he does (and doesn't) need to do during games. “Last year I got a taste of making some poor plays and making some poor decisions that cost us,” he said. “Having the team struggle and continuing to lead and help us fight through that adversity, that made me tougher and a better player. For the most part, that showed down the stretch and hopefully it'll carry over to the early part of this year.”
     

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