CINCINNATI -- They came into the locker room Sunday down 21 points -- on the road no less -- against a 2005 playoff team. But instead of panic, instead of packing it in for the day like some teams would have done, the San Diego Chargers offensive players went back on the field and heeded the advice of their coordinator.
"We're going to throw it around in the second half," Cam Cameron told them.
Down 28-7 to the Cincinnati Bengals, the Chargers went to an up-tempo, no-huddle offense, putting the ball into the hands of first-year starter Philip Rivers. All he did was lead them to 42 second-half points, and the Chargers rallied to a 49-41 victory at Paul Brown Stadium that serves notice to the rest of the league that this offense is for real.
|Philip Rivers (No. 17) is giving the Chargers a big mental boost. (Getty Images)|
Caught up in an old AFL-type shootout, the kind I loved in my youth, Rivers responded by completing 24 of 36 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns, all three in the second half. Carson Palmer threw for more yards (440) and had the same number of touchdowns, but in the end it was Rivers who won a huge road game for his 7-2 team.
It's the kind of game that validates the Chargers decision to let Drew Brees leave for New Orleans in free-agency, which allowed Rivers the chance to play. Rivers looked every bit the polished veteran during the comeback, almost giving off a Peyton Manning-like vibe, which is the highest compliment a quarterback can get.
"Every time he takes the field, he amazes this team," Chargers running back LaDainian Tomlinson said. "He's young, but he makes so many smart decisions out there it's like he's been in the league for six or seven years."
A third-year player who spent the first two seasons mostly watching, Rivers is the son of a coach. That means while he was watching, he was learning. He might not have the strongest arm or the prettiest release, but he understands where to go with the football. In the NFL, that's a major part of being a great passer.
From a visual standpoint, comparing Rivers to Palmer is like comparing a pretty down-home country girl to a sleek, trendy model. The country girl gets it done, but lined up next to the model the real beauty might be overlooked, which is a shame.
But in evaluating Rivers, it's more than just the physical. In addition to his ability to see the field, he also has that ability to relate to his teammates. All-World tight end Antonio Gates said Rivers' sideline demeanor against the Bengals impressed him.
"He's over there telling us they're going to have to score more than 28 to beat us," Gates said. "He never got down at all."
The Bengals, who might have been playing for their playoff lives at 4-4 coming in, jumped all over an undermanned San Diego defense. Playing for the second consecutive week without linebacker Shawne Merriman, the Chargers were carved up by Palmer. The one knock on the San Diego defense is that it has a so-so secondary, and without Merriman creating problems for Palmer, he ate them up.
Palmer completed 20 of 23 passes for 282 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. Chad Johnson, who finished with 11 catches for 260 yards and two touchdowns, had seven for 112 and a score.