Quarterback Philip Rivers’ focus in the Los Angeles Chargers’ season opener against the Indianapolis Colts was on the task at hand, but when the game was over – a 30-24 overtime win – Rivers had flashbacks to last season.
“I thought it was similar to some of the wins we had last year,” Rivers told reporters after the game. “I know how we say seasons are separate, and they are. We’re a new team, a different team. Some of the adversity, some of the close games -- maybe they helped us today.”
The Detroit Lions are facing a tough, resilient opponent Sunday at Ford Field.
Whatever experiences the Chargers have carried forward from last season, their win over the Colts showed that they are a team to be reckoned with again in the AFC West.
The division race shapes up as a repeat of 2018, when the Chiefs and Chargers tied at the top with 12-4 won-loss records. The Chiefs won the division title on a tiebreaker.
Among the qualities the Chargers displayed against the Colts was a winning mentality in overtime, the ability to overcome injuries and personnel losses, offensive balance and a pass rush that can cause problems as follows:
Meet this week's opponents, the Los Angeles Chargers.
Mentality -- go for win: The Chargers ended the game on the first possession of overtime, going 75 yards on eight plays to the winning touchdown on Austin Ekeler’s seven-yard run.
Rivers completed passes of 18 yards to Keenan Allen and 17 yards to Hunter Henry on the first two plays. Four of the last five plays were runs.
Rivers liked playing to win once in scoring territory.
“The biggest thing when we got down to the red zone was, while three is good, let’s end the game (with a TD),” Rivers said in his postgame presser. “Let’s end it right now. We wanted to score a touchdown.
“It wasn’t, ‘Let’s pound it, kick the field goal, and see what they do.’ It was ‘Let’s end it right now.”
On the run: Ekeler emerged as the dual-threat chairman of the running back by committee approach the Chargers used to made up for the absence of two-time Pro Bowl running back Melvin Gordon III. Gordon did not report to training camp because of a contract dispute.
Ekeler carried 12 times for 58 yards. He added 6 receptions for 96 yards and two TDs. One TD was on a 55-yard dash with a screen pass.
Justin Jackson added 57 yards on six carries, and fullback Derek Watt added two carries for four yards, with a key two-yard gain on third and one. Ekeler scored the winning TD on the next play.
Next men up: The Chargers survived Week 1 knowing all week that they’d be without three key players. In addition to Gordon’s holdout, veteran offensive tackle Russell Okung and second-year safety Derwin James – who made first-team All Pro as a rookie – were out with injuries.
Punter Ty Long had to handle the kicking duties when regular kicker Michael Badgley came up with a groin injury on Friday before the game. Long was the kicker and punter for the CFL’s BC Lions for two years before signing with the Chargers this year.
Long made all three extra points and a 40-yard field goal.
Om the edge: Pro Bowl defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram will be another challenge for the Lions’ offensive line after the Cardinals had three sacks and eight hits on quarterback Matthew Stafford last week.
Ingram had a sack and three hits against the Colts. Bosa had a sack and two hits.
A brighter note for the Lions: The Colts ran for 203 yards and 6.4 yards per carry. Marlon Mack led the way with 174 yards, a league-high for Week 1.
On the other side of the coin, problems on the Chargers’ offensive line showed up in the eight hits and four sacks on Rivers.
Linebacker Devon Kennard had three of the Lions’ five sacks against the Cardinals. If he doesn’t get to Rivers, someone else should.