Nobody thought the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans could match the furious pace set by the Philadelphia Eagles in Chip Kelly's debut, but Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and running back Ryan Mathews did their level best. The Chargers scored a touchdown on their first play from scrimmage in 2013, and they had help from their defense.
The Texans actually had the ball first -- for one play -- but Chargers defensive lineman Jarret Johnson did his best J.J. Watt impersonation and tipped Matt Schaub's pass into the arms of fellow lineman Cam Thomas, and San Diego had the ball at the Houston 14-yard line. One play later, Rivers hit Mathews on a little wheel route, and Mathews beat linebacker Brooks Reed for the score. It was an auspicious beginning for new San Diego head coach Mike McCoy.
And in less than one clock minute, Mathews matched his 2012 touchdown total and brought in his first NFL receiving touchdown at the same time. He ran for 707 yards on 184 carries in a disappointing season that continued a career that has been derailed by injuries and inconsistency. This offseason, Mathews lost 10 pounds and reported to camp ready to prove that he was worth the 12th-overall pick spent on him in the 2010 draft.
“He’s bought in to everything we have asked him to do since we got here," McCoy said of Mathews in mid-August. "We’ve talked about the way we’re going to run the ball and the style of offense. We’re going to run the ball downhill with no minus plays. It’s very similar to the quarterback: take what they give you. Don’t be bouncing it and running sideways getting minus yards. We want to keep pounding the ball and go downhill. He’s bought in and likes what Ken [Whisenhunt] has done offensively."
Mathews has said that he wants to get back to playing the way he did at Fresno State -- especially in 2009, when he gained 1,808 rushing yards and scored 19 touchdowns.
“I’m getting there and it’s a different feel from being in minicamp, OTAs and training camp," he said during the preseason. "It’s different with the speed and it takes a few games to get that game speed down. I think I’m coming along really great and that’s my main thing. Getting back to the basics of running the ball and having fun and not trying to do too much.”