The San Diego Chargers received a big hand from the Oakland Raiders special teams Monday night, but it took more than a few ground-ball snaps from a backup long snapper for the Chargers to escape Oakland with a win.
San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was clearly one of the deciding factors.
To his credit, Rivers looked much closer to the quarterback he was pre-2011 than the disaster that was most of last season. On Monday night, Rivers completed 24-of-33 passes for 231 yards and a score while avoiding the backbreaking turnovers he generated during an interception-plagued 2011 season.
How did Rivers start the 2012 season off on the right foot? Mostly by getting back to what him great in the first place.
Below, we'll break down exactly how Rivers did that.
A season ago, Rivers was intercepted time and time again when either his decision-making or ball placement let him down. Not on Monday night, at least not in the ball-placement category.
Rivers made a number of throws into tight windows without risking an interception.
Here are some screen grabs from NFL.com's highlight package of Rivers' accuracy in action.
While this throw doesn't result in a touchdown, Rivers puts it in a location where tight end Antonio Gates should have made the play. Gates extends his arms but the ball is within his catching radius.
The best part here is that the Raiders defender had no chance at making a play on the football. Either Gates was catching this pass, or it would fall incomplete. An interception wasn't possible. The Chargers had to settle for three points, but it was still points on the board.
This throw might have been the most impressive of Rivers' 24 completions Monday night.
He recognizes man coverage on the outside, steps into the throw and delivers a frozen rope to the back shoulder of Malcolm Floyd. Again, only Floyd can make this catch, and he does in terrific fashion.
If Rivers makes a poor throw on this attempt, the possibility of an interception is high. The coverage was good, but Rivers threw Floyd open with perfect accuracy. It's an elite throw any way you slice it up.
One last example.
On this attempt, Rivers completes a ball into a tight window to Gates. Again, a ball put behind Gates results in an easy interception. But Rivers leads Gates who makes an easy catch for a first down.
These kind of throws are often overlooked in the grand scheme of one performance, but Rivers gave encouraging signs with his accuracy Monday night in Oakland.
Toughness in the Pocket
You simply won't find many quarterbacks as tough as Rivers in the pocket, and he showed that off again Monday night.
Of course, the signature examples were the two big plays for the Chargers offense.
The first came on Rivers' deep throw to Robert Meachem in the first half.
While handed a clean pocket originally, Rivers was forced to heave the deep ball with pressure bearing down. He stood tall, however, and the throw was one of the better deep balls of Week 1. Rivers led Meachem perfectly, hitting him in stride as the cornerback stood no chance. Some quarterbacks would have short-armed that throw with the pressure coming, but not Rivers.
The second came on Rivers' lone touchdown pass of the evening.
Working in the red zone, Rivers avoided edge pressure by cleverly stepping up in the pocket. With a defender draped on his back, Rivers still was able to deliver a touchdown strike to Floyd in the back of the end zone.
Again, pocket toughness made the play happen.
While we have only a one-game sample size, most of what Rivers showed Monday night was encouraging for his 2012 season. The turnovers never surfaced, and the attributes that made Rivers so difficult to stop pre-2011—down field accuracy and pocket toughness—were back on display.
In terms of season debuts in the AFC West, Rivers' had to rank high.