The new era of San Diego Chargers football started well. Running back Ryan Mathews got going early, and quarterback Philip Rivers tossed four touchdown passes on the way to a 28-7 lead with 4:18 left to play in the third quarter.
Up by three scores, it looked like the Chargers were going to upset the Houston Texans and give the new regime its first win. A win against the Texans would have affirmed the fresh start for Rivers, but as has been the case for the Chargers for the past several years, he imploded and cost his team the win.
The rest of the team deserves a share of the blame, but Rivers had multiple opportunities to reclaim momentum and couldn't do it. In fact, Rivers looked like the same quarterback he was under former head coach Norv Turner.
The new regime's biggest task was to fix Rivers, even if he didn't think he needed fixing. As the defense crumbled, it became perfectly clear that the new regime hasn't fixed Rivers' mental issues; they were simply willing to accept his flaws, put better talent around him and hope the game plan was enough of a disguise.
We were almost fooled, but it didn't take long for the doubt to return.
When things began to go south for the team, Rivers started staring down receivers and making questionable decisions. The offensive line that had given Rivers solid pass protection all night cracked because the run game wasn't producing.
The Texans were stuffing the run, but that should have created opportunities in the passing game for an experienced quarterback like Rivers. The Texans fought back into the game by exploiting the Chargers secondary, and Rivers couldn't get the offense on track.
Even with Rivers' struggles, the Chargers still had the lead until he threw a backbreaking pick-six. It has become a trademark for Rivers to throw an interception when it matters most. Tony Romo and Rivers should start a support group. Carson Palmer would join, and Mark Sanchez could be the keynote speaker.
Sure, Texans linebacker Brian Cushing made a great play, but it's a mistake Rivers can't make. The Texans even baited him into it by bringing a blitz and forcing Rivers to throw it "hot" to his wide receiver. Cushing was lurking and made the diving grab, got up and returned it for a touchdown.
Rivers had made the big mistake we are used to seeing, but what followed was arguably worse. It wasn't over; the game was just tied. Rivers still had a chance to redeem himself on the following two drives.
Once again, he crumbled under the pressure. The last two drives ended with three-and-outs. Rivers completed one screen pass for eight yards on six plays and threw at the feet of Vincent Brown on 3rd-and-2 on the final Chargers offensive drive.
Rivers looked great when the run game was working, but he looked like an entirely different quarterback when things started going wrong.
After a touchdown drive to start the third quarter, the Chargers had five drives; four ended in a three-and-out, and one in an interception returned for a touchdown. Rivers completed as many passes to his teammates as he did to the other team on the five drives.
Rivers finished 14-of-29 for 195 yards. If you ignore the four touchdown passes, that's abysmal. Just like the epic 24-point collapse against the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football last season, it was basically a tale of two halves.
Rivers was 5-of-13 in the second half with a touchdown and the interception. In the first half, Rivers was 9-of-16 with three touchdowns—two aided by great field position.
The Chargers looked deceptively great, until they looked horrible. The Chargers started looking horrible when Rivers started playing poorly. It's not hard to do the math.
There is still time for Rivers and the new regime to turn things around. After all, it is just one of 16 games. But the symbolic fresh start for Rivers was erased along with the three-score lead on Monday night.