By MARK LONG
No matter how many interceptions he threw, no matter how many turnovers he committed, Philip Rivers refused to play it safe.
He knew things would change.
They finally did. On “Monday Night Football” no less, and with his San Diego Chargers in the deepest of holes.
Rivers threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns, burning Jacksonville’s depleted secondary early and often, and the Chargers beat the Jaguars 38-14 to snap a six-game losing streak.
The Chargers (5-7) had been waiting for the three-time Pro Bowl selection to return to form. Some questioned whether it would happen this season. But Rivers never lost faith even though he leads the NFL in interceptions (17) and turnovers (21) and was a key part of the team’s disappointing slide.
“It’s been a rough six weeks,” Rivers said. “I haven’t put a complete game together, but I don’t care about the numbers. I just want to win.”
Rivers was nearly perfect against Jacksonville (3-9), adding to the team’s tumultuous week.
He completed 22 of 28 passes – hooking up with Vincent Brown, Vincent Jackson and Malcom Floyd for long scores – before sitting out the final few minutes. Rivers finished with a 146.1 QB rating, by far his highest of the season.
The Chargers scored on five of their first six drives, then sent most of the home crowd scrambling for the exits with Ryan Mathews‘ 31-yard TD run in the fourth. Mathews ran 13 times for 112 yards.
“That’s the type of chemistry coming into this season we knew we had,” tight end Antonio Gates said. “We stayed on course despite what we’ve been through these last six weeks. That we were able to get a win tonight speaks volumes for this team.”
It was a much-needed victory for a team that trails Denver and Oakland by two games in the AFC West with four to play.
And it was another blow to the Jaguars, who endured the most sweeping changes in the 17-year history of the franchise last week.
Team owner Wayne Weaver fired coach Jack Del Rio and announced he was selling the club to Illinois businessman Shahid Khan. Interim coach Mel Tucker fired receivers coach Johnny Cox, reassigned quarterbacks coach Mike Sheppard and waived starting receiver Jason Hill.
The moves seemed to invigorate a franchise that had seemingly gone stale in Del Rio’s ninth season. Fans showed up energized for a prime-time game that signaled the start of a new era. Some wore “Yes We Khan” T-shirts. Other donned fake mustaches to emulate the owner-in-waiting.
It made little difference on the field, mostly because Jacksonville’s defensive injuries proved too much to overcome.
The Jaguars played without their top three cornerbacks – Rashean Mathis, Derek Cox and Will Middleton – and lost safety Dwight Lowery (shoulder) and defensive end John Chick (knee) during the game.
“No excuses here,” Tucker said. “We won’t allow ourselves to go down that road.”
Rivers took advantage of the injuries, picking on a pair of cornerbacks who were signed off the street in recent weeks.
Rivers threw a 22-yard TD pass to Brown and a 35-yarder to Jackson on the final two drives of the first half as the Chargers overcame a brief deficit to seize control. Those scores came in the final 2:32 of the half.
The opening drive of the third quarter didn’t take long, either. On the fifth play, Rivers found Floyd deep down the right sideline for a 52-yard score. Floyd, activated Monday night after missing six games with a hip injury, beat Ashton Youboty badly on the play. Floyd finished with four receptions for 108 yards.
“He’s just an outstanding player,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said of Rivers. “Like any quarterback, it starts with protection, with the guys up front. He’s missed Malcom. We’ve missed Malcom. When Philip has all his guys, and he can operate like he did today, he’s as good as anybody.”
It was the second TD given up by Youboty, who was replaced on the next possession by Morgan Trent, signed five days ago.
The biggest cheer for the Jaguars came late in the third quarter, when Weaver was shown on the stadium’s large video board. Weaver and his wife received a standing ovation.
The $760 million sale must be approved by the NFL later this month. Khan chose not to attend the game, which turned out to be a good move.
“I don’t think anyone has been through anything like that,” said Maurice Jones-Drew, who finished with 188 total yards. “This is a $9 billion business. Other than that, we played football. We’ve got to figure out how to keep going for four quarters and not two.”
Jones-Drew was the lone offensive star for Jacksonville – again. He finished with 97 yards rushing and 91 yards receiving. He leads the NFL in rushing with 1,137 yards.
MJD caught a 9-yard touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert to cap a 79-yard drive at the start of the second quarter. The Jaguars managed only 27 yards in the opening quarter.
After a three-and-out by the Chargers, Gabbert and Drew hooked up on a 48-yard shovel pass. It was a beautifully executed play, with Gabbert flicking the ball five yards with his left hand to Drew, who had the middle of the field all to himself and ran down to the 4-yard line.
Chargers cornerback Antoine Cason broke up a potential touchdown pass to Jarett Dillard, but on third-and-goal from the 5, Gabbert found Cecil Shorts in the back corner of the end zone to give the Jaguars a 14-10 lead.
It was all San Diego after that, mostly due to Rivers.
Notes: Chargers C Nick Hardwick (neck) left in the first half, but later returned. … LB Donald Butler (foot) left the game and did not return. … The Chargers improved to 18-2 in December and January under Turner. … The Jaguars have lost 12 of their last 15 games, dating to last season. … Gabbert completed 19 of 33 passes for 195 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception, his best game since early October. … An overlooked play was offensive tackle Guy Whimper‘s 17-yard reception. He showed soft hands and nimble feet. Chargers S Eric Weddle didn’t seem to want any part of tackling the 302-pound lineman.
Tags: 38-14, Chargers gouge reeling Jaguars, Rivers