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Cigar Thoughts, Week 2: Philip Rivers gives virtuoso performance, Chargers beat Seahawks 30-21

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Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates, and Dwight Freeney all played like it was 2008, helping the Chargers become the first team in 47 games to beat the Seahawks by more than seven points.

Pretty indicative
Pretty indicative
Donald Miralle

The San Diego Chargers played fearless, decisive football today. And while the Seahawks made some crucial errors, San Diego did more to win this game than Seattle did to lose it. In stifling heat, the Chargers combined a no-huddle offense with ruthless execution to finish with a ridiculous 42:15 (70.4%) time of possession. They ran 75 of the 115 plays in this game, converting them into 377 soul-sucking yards.

The less tangible, but perhaps more consequential result was that Seattle's wearied defensive players were left on the field for long stretches, shriveling up like worms on a summer sidewalk. They got trapped in personnel groupings that the Chargers took advantage of, running against nickel packages and passing against heavy ones. Numerous Seahawk defenders, including Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor, had to leave in order to receive IV treatment.

Not counting their downing out on the final possession of each half, the Chargers had eight offensive drives. Their shortest one lasted six plays, their longest one 12, and averaged over five minutes apiece. Six of them lasted eight plays or more. San Diego's only three and out was when they kneeled out their final possession.

Philip Rivers, infuriating body language and all, carved up the Seahawks defense with the confidence and accuracy that helped him finish last season with the highest completion percentage in the NFL. Against a defense that has castrated Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Tom Brady, Rivers went 28-37 for 284 yards, two TDs, no turnovers, and a 124.2 rating. Antonio Gates old-man-gamed his way to one chain-moving reception after another and then young-man-gamed his way into three touchdowns, all of which were of the highlight variety. Seven catches, 96 yards, and three touchdowns for one of the most accomplished tight ends in the history of the position. He and Rivers were maestros today.

Russell Wilson was magnificent in the limited action he and the offense saw. Despite being held to a dispiriting 40 total plays, Wilson was his usual efficient self, completing 17 of his 25 passes for 202 yards, two touchdowns, no picks, and a 119.1 rating. It was the type of game that usually chokes the life out of an opponent except this time he did it while trying to keep the team's head above water.

When Seattle did strike, they struck quickly -- their three touchdown drives averaged 66 yards in 1:45. Unfortunately, their other seven drives averaged just under 13 yards. It was a true feast-or-famine performance, with most of the famine coming at the hands of the relentlessly aggressive Dwight Freeney and Melvin Ingram. They harassed Russell Wilson, forcing him up and out of his pocket on numerous occasions. I can't think of more than a couple of times that Wilson was actually able to go through his progression.

After San Diego turned a 14-play opening drive into a Nick Novak field goal, the Seahawks answered with a jet sweep to Percy Harvin, who took it 51 yards, aided by a phenomenal block by Doug Baldwin and a head-scratching omission of overturning it, as replays sure seemed to show Harvin stepping out of bounds near the 20. It appeared, then, that Seattle's offense would be off to the races, led by their star switchblade receiver. Instead, Harvin only got three more touches, a five-yard catch, a negative-six-yard run, and a fumbled kickoff return.

The Chargers came back with the first of Rivers' and Gates' trio of TDs, then tacked on another field goal to make it 13-7. After Harvin's fumble, Gates' second touchdown extended the lead to 13 points and left Seattle with the ball and just a minute before the half. Unfazed, the Seahawks needed just five plays to go 69 yards before Robert Turbin caught a swing pass for his first career touchdown. It was a heartening boost as Seattle trudged to the locker room in field-surface heat near 120 degrees.

Coming out of halftime, the teams traded punts before trading touchdowns. After flushing Rivers out on a third and long, Bruce Irvin and Bobby Wagner chased him out of bounds. Irvin apparently wasn't satisfied with that outcome as he pushed Rivers after he stepped out, drawing a flag and extending what would become a seven-point drive. Gates finished it with his third touchdown and it came on a brilliant play. Escaping pressure for the infinitieth time today, Rivers floated a cross-field pass to a streaking Gates who dove to catch it with just his left hand, cradling it to his body a millisecond before Kam Chancellor's deadly intentions sailed through the airspace Gates' head had just occupied. That play was the encapsulation of this game for me, Charger legends who are supposed to be past their primes outplaying a team with more youth and talent, taking advantage of Seattle miscues to make their opportunities count.

Seattle got their third touchdown by slicing their way down the field. Marshawn Lynch got half of his Seattle-career-low six(!) carries on the drive and capped it with a 14-yard touchdown catch. That score brought the 'Hawks within six points and restored faith to a worried fanbase. It seemed as though Seattle would have an answer for each score and it wasn't hard to imagine them erasing the deficit, especially since San Diego had relinquished an 11-point fourth quarter lead just six days prior.

It was not to be, however, as the Charger pass rush took over, effectively blowing up nearly every Wilson dropback from that point forward. After smothering Seattle on a fourth down deep in their own territory, Novak added a final field goal, giving the Chargers a much-needed nine-point win and marking the first time since November 6th, 2011 that the Seahawks had lost a game by seven or more points, a streak spanning 47 games.

Some other observations:

~The Chargers did an excellent job of identifying ways to counter Seattle's vaunted pass rush. Instead of escaping the pocket or forcing throws, Rivers calmly handed off or dumped off the ball just inside the outside rush lane. I was hoping the Seahawks would start running some stunts to take those lanes away but I'm going to assume that getting Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett to the QB trumped that.

~After being completely ignored by Aaron Rodgers, I saw Richard Sherman targeted five times by Rivers, with four of them resulting in completions. It wasn't that Sherman had some previously unexposed weakness, it's that even the best corners in the world aren't perfect and the only way to beat them is to go at them once in a while. I never saw anyone get behind Sherman, but there was a lot of this underneath. Will be interesting to see if other teams can do similar things against him after today.

~Gates did the majority of his damage against Chancellor, who was visibly frustrated with his inability to beat Gates to the ball on numerous occasions. It was a Hall of Fame player schooling a guy who's hoping to become one. Chancellor is still excellent but like Sherman, San Diego had the personnel and gameplan to beat them.

~Bobby Wagner is gonna be a star someday. 10 more tackles for him.

~Robert Turbin continues to take advantage of being the only backup running back in town these days. Only four touches but he turned those into 42 yards and a TD.

~Marshawn Lynch was almost invisible outside of his touchdown. A victim of circumstance, he only touched the ball 10 times but was able to convert those into 63 yards.

~Had Harvin's touchdown been called correctly, he'd have finished with 30 total yards from scrimmage.

~Jon Ryan is such a gem. After crushing a 61-yard punt (10 yard return) that was called back because of a penalty, he belted a 66-yarder (3 yard return). Don't mess with Regina's favorite ginger.

~On a production-per-play basis, Seattle's offense was superior to San Diego's, notching 8.3 yards per carry to the Chargers' 2.7. San Diego averaged a little more per pass (7.3 to 6.7), but overall, Seattle had an impressive 7.2 yards/play while holding the Bolts to a meager 5.

~The main reason that those numbers didn't end up mattering was the fact that San Diego converted 10 third downs, an almost unthinkable number against the Seahawks' defense. The Chargers converted 58.8% of their third downs, while holding Seattle to a 37.5% conversion rate. It's success on high-leverage plays that are most consequential and there was no doubt which team performed better in those situations.

There are a couple of ways to view this game There will be talk that the Chargers have uncovered a way to beat the Seahawks and who knows, maybe they have. My thought is that any time you can hold the ball for 42+ minutes, especially in tremendous heat, you're gonna have an excellent shot at winning. What I don't see is a performance like that being very repeatable. Philip Rivers has been arguably the most under-rated quarterback in the league for the last decade and he had to be at his absolute very best in order to win a home game that was a one-possession contest until the last half minute.

For one thing, I don't think many teams have the personnel to do what the Chargers did today. For another, I don't think Seattle had to be very much better than they were to beat San Diego and when taking Seattle's performance as a whole over the last two-plus seasons, there's no reason to think they won't perform better.

This game stunk. The Seahawks lost to a team that was flat out more disciplined than they were today. Discipline is correctable. I'm not going to be concerned until I start seeing teams show up with more talent than the Seahawks and right now, I don't think that team exists. I trust Pete Carroll and the coaching staff to get the team back to the top of their game, as they have won their last seven games coming off a loss. To keep that streak alive, they'll have to beat the Denver Broncos in a game that won't be over-hyped at all.

Jacson on Twitter