News from the Tennessee Valley Sports

Chargers looking for better Rivers
After brilliant 2006, Athens
High grad faces big expectations

By Bernie Wilson
Associated Press Writer

SAN DIEGO — After becoming coach of the San Diego Chargers, Norv Turner didn't have to dig through the film vault to review Philip Rivers' performances.

He saw one of them in person.

"Unfortunately, I was there the day they really let it go, up in San Francisco where he started throwing it," said Turner, who as the 49ers' offensive coordinator saw Rivers throw for 334 yards and two touchdowns last season.

The game that stands out to superstar running back LaDainian Tomlinson was the previous week, when Rivers outdueled Ben Roethlisberger and helped the Chargers rally at home to beat Pittsburgh.

Turner's predecessor, Marty Schottenheimer, finally unshackled Rivers — he was 24-of-37 for 242 yards and two TDs — a week after a bout with conservative "Martyball" cost the Chargers a victory at Baltimore.

"It was just the simple fact that we couldn't run the ball and he had to win the game for us, and he did," said Tomlinson, the reigning NFL MVP and rushing champion.

Center Nick Hardwick thinks back to Rivers' 337-yard, three-TD performance at Cincinnati in early November, when the Chargers rallied from a 28-7 halftime deficit to win 49-41.

After the Chargers scored on their first drive of the second half, "He's yelling, 'Y'all don't think we're out of this' to the Bengals," Hardwick said, mimicking Rivers' Southern drawl. "When he said that, I said, 'Shoot, I guess we ain't out of this. Right on.' "

Once Schottenheimer took off the training wheels, Rivers didn't waste any time burning rubber as the replacement for the departed Drew Brees.

And to think, the Chargers had been so conservative with Rivers that he threw only 11 passes in his first start.

"I look back on those weeks, Pittsburgh, at Cincinnati, Denver, that whole stretch there where we're throwing it all over the place, coming from behind," said Rivers, an Athens High graduate and a Decatur native. "Those games are a lot of fun. I think the more you play, obviously the more opportunities to throw it around and cut it loose you get."

As good as Rivers was in being voted to the Pro Bowl in his first season as starter, the Chargers expect a more polished performance this year.

The big passing days stood out when Turner watched the films from last season. That's when the Chargers were an NFL-best 14-2 and scored a league-high 492 points before flaming out in their playoff opener.

"He's going to have a lot of games like that because he's so smart, he sees the field — he's got as good a vision as any guy I've been around — he's extremely, extremely accurate," Turner said. "And he's got a good supporting cast."

Rivers wants to be more consistent this year after slumping in December. He threw for just 97 yards in a home win against Kansas City. The next week he completed just 10 of 30 passes at Seattle, although his last one was a game-winning, 37-yarder with 29 seconds left.

"I hit that lull a little bit," Rivers said. "I mean, I've never been 10-for-30 in my life. Some games like that were tough to get through, but I think it says a lot about our team that the quarterback can struggle for three, four weeks and win all four."

Rivers said he was "out of whack for a while" — anticipating too much, leaving the pocket early and not letting plays develop.

"I think that little spell has passed," he said.

Rivers finished last year with 3,388 yards and 22 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.

"Experience is the biggest teacher," Tomlinson said. "He's going to make a dramatic improvement just because of some of the stuff he's seen and also having Norv to coach him a little bit more. I think he showed that he can be an elite quarterback in this league."

Hardwick agreed, saying Rivers should make crisper reads and fewer mental mistakes now.

"You can just tell he knows the offense inside and out now," Hardwick said. "He doesn't even have to think about it. He's just popping things off in the huddle. No questions; he's just very clear about everything."

Although he was 58-82-1 in previous head coaching stops at Washington and Oakland, Turner was acclaimed as an offensive coordinator, especially with Dallas in the early 1990s. A quarterback at Oregon in the early 1970s, his tutelage is expected to help further Rivers' development.

"It's funny — we think a lot alike," Rivers said. "A lot of times he gets going on a play and I can finish it for him. We really have the same take and thoughts on the game and the quarterback position. That's a big positive because he's going to be calling the plays and I need to know what he's thinking."

As the Chargers try to rebound from their playoff loss to New England, Rivers is looking forward to a fast start and Turner's creativity.

"Week One we ought to be ready to roll, to cut it loose and not feel like we're in Week One," Rivers said. "Feel like we're in Week 18, I guess, coming right off the New England game, but with some more. I just think we have the ability to do that, and we have the right guys, smart guys."

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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