Rivers, Chargers show how dangerous they can be in upset of Seahawks
The San Diego Chargers' first drive Sunday lasted 8:01, spanning 14 plays and 48 yards, resulting in a field goal. Their next possession ate up 4:22, the one after that took more than five minutes.
All told, San Diego held the ball for a whopping 42 minutes and 15 seconds -- on a 90-plus-degree day, no less -- in a 30-21 upset win over Seattle.
When Mike McCoy's offense is clicking, this is simply what it does. The Chargers led the league in time of possession last season, producing similarly impressive milk-the-clock jobs against Indianapolis (38:31) and at Denver (38:49).
Seattle has a reputation for being perhaps the most physical team in the league, one that wants to win with intimidation and power. Not often do the Seahawks find themselves utterly worn down. But they were Sunday, their vaunted defense unable to get off the field. San Diego wound up running 75 plays to Seattle's 40, with a perfect balance of 37 passes to 37 runs (Philip Rivers took a knee to end the first half, accounting for that 75th play).
"We were trying to keep [Russell Wilson] off the field as long as we could," McCoy said after the game, mimicking the strategy he employed against Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning in the 2013 wins mentioned above.
Of course, it's easy to preach patience and ball control. It is another thing entirely to execute it, especially against what was the league's best defense last season.
Yes, McCoy's play-calling deserves credit for the success, but not many quarterbacks in the league could put those decisions into action the way that Rivers has over the past season-plus. Rivers posted an NFL-best 69.5 completion percentage in 2013, part and parcel of the Chargers' ability to grind the clock. Sunday, he hit on 28-of-37 passes for 284 yards and three touchdowns.
Anyone discounting the Chargers in the AFC playoff race, perhaps even in the AFC West where Denver resides, has not been paying full attention. The McCoy-Rivers tandem, combined with a strong crop of talent on offense and a steady defense, makes San Diego a dangerous opponent no matter when or where.
"The game got weighted so much in the favor of them controlling it that they had twice as many plays as we did," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "That's a great job by Philip and their offense ... and they were able to get themselves in real manageable third-down situations and converted like crazy and they just kept the ball away from us."
It was Antonio Gates who helped San Diego see this one through. The longtime San Diego tight end caught seven balls for 96 yards and scored three times, repeatedly proving too difficult of a matchup for Seattle's winded linebackers.
This is part of the McCoy approach, as well -- a methodical poking and prodding of opposing defenses to find where the field might open up. Think of it like when we're introduced to the velociraptors in Jurassic Park:
"The fences are electrified, right?"
"That's right, but they never attack the same place twice. They were testing the fences for weaknesses. They remember."
While Rivers definitely did go to the same well time and again with Gates on Sunday, the Chargers never pressed for huge gains, even testing Richard Sherman. The Packers, you might recall, avoided Sherman at all costs in Week 1, cutting their field of attack in half.
Sherman kept everything in front of him, but Keenan Allen did catch several passes on the dynamic cornerback's side. All just a tiny part of McCoy's strategy to make the Seattle defenders -- all of the Seattle defenders -- run their tanks down to empty by the fourth quarter.
San Diego only put up three points in that final stanza, on a field goal with 20 seconds left following a Seattle turnover on downs. The Chargers also held the ball for 11:07 of the 15-minute fourth quarter, all as the Seahawks tried to rally.
That is the McCoy plan, operated to perfection. Even against the defending champs.