First Down/Fourth Down: Philip Rivers stays hot, AFC North's top QBs do not
Don't look now, but Mike McCoy is doing it again.
After helping Jake Delhomme win 50-plus games, milking a playoff berth out of Tim Tebow and starting Peyton Manning's Denver journey, McCoy came to San Diego as head coach this offseason with a chance to get Philip Rivers back on track.
There is a long way to go in 2013, but the results have been almost all positive so far. Rivers completed 35-of-42 passes and threw for three TDs -- one, a gorgeous, leaping toss to Antonio Gates -- in a 30-21 win over the Cowboys. For the season, Rivers now has 11 touchdown passes to just two interceptions, a marked improvement over the 26-to-15 split he posted in 2012 or the 27-20 gap in '11.
The Chargers have lost headlines in the AFC West to unbeaten Denver and Kansas City, but they would be sitting 4-0 too, had a couple of plays fallen differently in Weeks 1 and 3.
Rivers was responsible for the worst of those moments of misfortune in the season-opening loss to Houston, his ill-timed pick-six swinging momentum for good in the Texans' favor. But he has been close to flawless since.
"We’ve had a lot of adversity, and a lot of close games," Rivers said Sunday, after the team moved to 2-2. "This is what we’ve talked about -- finishing it."
Rivers still has two years left on his current contract, but this was considered a bit of a prove it-or-else sort of season. New coaches often like to start their roster makeovers by handpicking a QB.
The 31-year-old Rivers still looks to have plenty in the tank. And McCoy's work has squeezed an awful lot of production out of both Rivers and a depleted group of receivers over the first four weeks of 2013.
Plenty of obstacles remain in the way of San Diego's path to playoff contention -- including two games each with the Chiefs and Broncos, and an occasional inability to close out wins. But the early returns on the Rivers-McCoy pairing have to have the franchise feeling content with its coaching hire.
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Just such a plan may have worked for the formerly winless Vikings, who headed to London, switched quarterbacks and held on for a 34-27 win over the Steelers. The Vikings gave the Brits an up close-and-personal taste of Adrian Peterson, arguably the game's best player. Peterson scored twice, including on a 60-yard explosion.
Possibly even more noteworthy for Minnesota: Matt Cassel did yeoman's work in relief of Christian Ponder. The veteran QB threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns, with no interceptions.
"What you think?" Peterson responded sarcastically when asked if Cassel should keep the starting gig for Week 5. "Matt played a heck of a game."
• Fourth Down: Matt Schaub's reputation.
Because he's the most visible player (and the one with the ball in his hands the majority of the time), the quarterback often takes an unfair amount of heat when his team loses. Schaub is no exception.
Was Houston's 23-20 overtime loss to Seattle all on his shoulders? No. But he threw a pick-six to allow the Seahawks to tie the game in the final three minutes, then followed up by taking multiple sacks late and in overtime. It's getting harder and harder to believe that Houston ever can be more than it has been -- a division contender that fizzles in the playoffs -- with Schaub at the helm.
• First Down: Ndamukong Suh.
One of the main reasons Suh is such a frustrating figure for folks is that when he plays well, without all the extracurriculars, he is among the league's better defensive players. Case in point: Sunday's much-anticipated showdown with Chicago and rookie guard Kyle Long.
Suh was an absolute menace up front, registering a pair of sacks and forcing a Jay Cutler fumble (which turned into a Nick Fairley touchdown). He also drew a critical holding penalty to negate a big gain through the air.
"There's been a lot of scrutiny over what has happened on the field with him over the last few years but that doesn't take away from the tremendous talent that he has," Long said afterward, per WXYZ's Tom Leyden. "He's a physical player, a nasty player. And I mean those words in a good way."
The hottest quarterback in the AFC North is ... Brian Hoyer?
Believe it. Hoyer's 2-0 after a two-TD, no-INT performance Sunday against Cincinnati. Dalton, Flacco and Roethlisberger, meanwhile, posted an 0-3 afternoon with a combined nine turnovers. Five of those are on Flacco, who failed to take advantage of a Buffalo secondary missing several key parts.
• First Down: Denver's current pace on offense.
The Broncos set a franchise record on Sunday with 52 points against a hapless Philadelphia defense. That performance moved Denver to 179 total points through four weeks of the season, putting Peyton Manning and Co. on pace to score 716 in 2013. The all-time record for most points in a season? 589.
• Fourth Down: The New York Giants.
It's easy to peg Jacksonville as the NFL's worst team, given its 0-4 start and minus-98 point differential. But the Jaguars' rankness might be slightly overshadowing the train wreck occurring in the Meadowlands.
Not only are the Giants now 0-4, but they're getting manhandled on a weekly basis. Their 31-7 loss in Kansas City on Sunday comes on the heels of a 38-0 setback in Carolina -- that's 69-7 over the past two games, in case you're keeping score.
• First Down: That Chiefs-Titans game in Week 5.
You had this one circled before the season, right? Probably not, but with the Chiefs and Titans sweeping the New York teams on Sunday, this sets up as a huge game in the AFC. Kansas City, at 4-0, sits tied with Denver atop the AFC West; Tennessee, 3-1, is deadlocked with Indianapolis in the AFC South.
• Fourth Down: Maurice Jones-Drew.
It's hard to blame Jones-Drew for too much of the Jaguars' struggles, given the team's black hole at quarterback and myriad issues elsewhere. Jones-Drew has not done much to elevate the downtrodden team, though, which is what you'd hope a superstar player could do.
Jones-Drew also may not be doing himself any favors. He's set to be a free agent at the end of this season ... and currently is on pace for 552 yards, not all that far past the 414 he tallied in six games last season.
• First Down: Kiko Alonso.
Introducing your frontrunner for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Alonso, the No. 46 overall pick in April, has done everything Buffalo could have hoped for and more so far in 2013. Sunday, in a win over the Ravens, Alonso picked off Joe Flacco twice, with his second INT -- an athletic, diving play -- sealing the game. Alonso's four interceptions are currently tied for the league lead.
• Fourth Down: Atlanta's red zone issues.
Six trips into the New England red zone for the Falcons Sunday night. One touchdown.
Granted, their run game is slightly neutered with Steven Jackson out of the lineup, but the Falcons' stockpile of weapons -- Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Jacquizz Rodgers, Roddy White (healthy or not) -- ought to be more dangerous near the goal line than it's been. Atlanta settled for three field goals after getting inside the New England 20, plus twice (most notably, on its final possession with a chance to tie) failed to get any points at all.