NFL regular season football returned to San Diego much the same way it ended last year.
With a dominating win.
In the team’s first real game action at Qualcomm Stadium since that sad December day last year when San Diegans thought they’d seen the last of the Chargers in Mission Valley, Philip Rivers and Co. put together a dominating 38-14 win over the visiting Jacksonville Jaguars.
Just like last week when the team opened the season with a big lead against the Chiefs in Kansas City, the Chargers scored three touchdowns in the first half and led 21-0 at the break.
This time, they held on to the lead, and kept the foot on the gas in the second half, scoring 17 points after the halfway mark.
“Ironic, isn’t it?” head coach Mike McCoy quipped after the game. “We just said, ‘finish.'”
“I’m happy that it happened again right away,” Rivers said. “Now we can just get that out of our mind, being up 21 and what are we going to do next time? I’m glad it happened the very next week.”
And, just like last week, the Chargers lost one of their most explosive weapons on offense in the first half. After catching a wide open pass across the middle, Woodhead was hit hard as he ran toward the sideline. He was down on the field for several minutes before being helped off, and later carted off. He was ruled questionable to return (he did not) with a knee injury. McCoy said after the game that Woodhead would undergo more tests Monday.
“We saw Keenan (Allen) go down right before the half,” Rivers said. “Then all of a sudden, now its Danny (Woodhead) right before the half. It was eerily similar of last week and with the way we were playing.”
The Chargers showed no negative effects this time, though.
From the beginning, it was evident that there was no lingering hangover from last week’s gut-wrenching loss to the Chiefs.
The game started with an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown for the Chargers. San Diego moved the ball downfield effortlessly; exhibiting the kind of ground-and-pound attack the team lacked all of last season. San Diego rushed the ball on six of the eight plays, including back-to-back runs of 21 and 23-yards by Melvin Gordon and Woodhead, respectively.
Gordon capped off the drive right where he left off last week by scoring the team’s first touchdown, and also his first in front of the hometown fans. He finished with career-highs in rushing yards, 102, and attempts, 24, in what was arguably his most complete game as a pro.
It was also the first time a Chargers running back surpassed the 100-yard mark since Ryan Mathews rushed for 105-yards against the Rams on November 23, 2014.
“It’s hard to get to 100 (yards),” Gordon said. “It’s definitely not easy in the (NFL).”
No doubt Gordon benefited from a familiar offensive line against the Jaguars. After 11 different linemen manned the front line for San Diego last year (across 24 different combinations), the Chargers started the same five players for the second consecutive week.
“It helps out a lot,” Gordon said when asked about the continuity on the offensive line. “You get a feel for those guys… It makes it a lot easier when you got the same guys in front of you. You know how they’re going to block, you know how you’re supposed to read (the defense), how you’re supposed to hit (the open lane), you know what their mindset is with the schemes.”
Improving the run game was a big emphasis for the team this past offseason. Through two games, the Chargers have accomplished something they haven’t since 2007: rush for over 150 yards in two consecutive games.
The team’s biggest free agent acquisition got into a rhythm early with quarterback Philip Rivers and showcased the serious speed that warranted a $24M contract from the Chargers this past offseason. His day was highlighted by a 45-yard sprint down the sideline that resulted in his second touchdown of the game.
“There’s nothing like speed,” McCoy said.
Benjamin finished with 115 receiving yards, two touchdowns on six receptions.
Antonio Gates caught his 105th career touchdown, and Tyrell Williams contributed with three catches for 61 yards and a score.
In total, it was a very efficient day for Rivers who notched his sixth straight victory against the Jaguars. He completed 17-of-24 passes for 220 yards and four touchdowns.
Defensively, the Chargers were all over Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles. He was intercepted twice by Casey Hayward and fumbled on a sack by Melvin Ingram.
Jacksonville converted just two of 11 third-down attempts, crossed midfield just six times, and didn’t score its first touchdown until the fourth quarter when the game was far out of reach.
52,165 fans showed up for what could be the team’s last home opener. It was the smallest crowd for a regular season Chargers game since October of 2004 against, ironically, the Jaguars.
–Andrew Burer (TWITTER: @andrewburer)