It had become a sitcom in San Diego, with two stooges tripping over each other and falling on their faces at the most inopportune times. Philip Rivers, once considered an elite quarterback, turned into a reflection of his clumsy coach.
But Norv Turner finally was sent off to an irrelevant existence in Cleveland, and the Chargers are suddenly no situation comedy anymore.
Rivers initially resisted change and lobbied for the team to retain Turner, the Barney Fife of NFL coaches. But he has warmed up to the change and is posting numbers comparable to the league’s top quarterbacks again.
The new sheriffs in town — coach Mike McCoy, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and quarterbacks coach Frank Reich — have armed Rivers with more than a water pistol while he’s on patrol. He pulls the trigger on a version of a no-huddle offense with the freedom to check plays pre-snap, and amazingly, it’s working.
McCoy was Peyton Manning’s coordinator in Denver last season, which means McCoy probably learned more from Manning than Manning did from McCoy. Regardless, some wisdom has flowed to Rivers, the league leader in completion percentage (73.9), with Manning No. 2.
Rivers has 15 touchdown passes, five interceptions and a 111.1 rating. San Diego is 4-3 (5-1-1 against the spread), a year after finishing 7-9.
Is Rivers truly reborn and are the Chargers the real McCoy? We’re about to find out, because their schedule serves up no freebies the rest of the way. Jacksonville is in the rearview mirror, and two games apiece against Denver and Kansas City remain.
If not for blown fourth-quarter leads against Houston and Tennessee, the Chargers could be 6-1. Instead, they go to Washington on Sunday shooting for their fifth win, and that’s impressive.
I bet San Diego under its regular-season win total of 7½, a ticket in serious jeopardy of being trashed by early December. After looking awful in the preseason, the Chargers are catching lightning in a bottle. Two of their wins came at the expense of the NFC East (Dallas, Philadelphia). But the Redskins (2-5) should avoid becoming the next victim from that division.
Washington’s defense is weak on paper, ranking 31st in scoring by yielding 32.7 points per game, and Rivers might shred it. Still, that defense just held up well for three quarters against Manning.
I’ll side with the Redskins as 1-point underdogs due mostly to the continued progress of quarterback Robert Griffin III and the physical running of Alfred Morris, who is getting 5.2 yards per carry. With a win, Washington gets back in the division race.
Four more plays for Week 9 (home team in CAPS):
■ JETS (+6½) over Saints: Rookie quarterbacks are typically unpredictable, with Andrew Luck among a few exceptions. The Jets are riding the highs and lows with Geno Smith, and hopefully he peaks this week. Smith and the New York defense were equally terrible in a 49-9 loss at Cincinnati. This is a bounce-back opportunity. Jets coach Rex Ryan can scheme ways to put pressure on Drew Brees and disrupt the New Orleans offense.
■ Ravens (-2½) over BROWNS: It’s not easy to lay points with a Joe Flacco-led Baltimore offense that averaged 16.5 points in the past two games. This could be a grind with most red-zone trips resulting in field-goal attempts. But the Ravens are in a decent spot, off a bye after two narrow losses, and they have won 11 straight games against Cleveland.
■ TEXANS (+2½) over Colts: The home team has covered six straight in this AFC South series, but that’s not the sole reason to side with Houston. Case Keenum is getting another start after playing well in a 17-16 loss at Kansas City before a bye, and the quarterback switch has energized the team. Indianapolis will miss injured wide receiver Reggie Wayne.
■ Bears (+11) over PACKERS: Chicago’s quarterback switch from Jay Cutler to Josh McCown is no reason to panic. Cutler has a poor history against Green Bay, and McCown made a smooth transition in relief in a 45-41 loss at Washington before a bye. The line looks a little inflated considering Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is missing a few weapons, and the defense is weaker without linebacker Clay Matthews.
Last week: 2-3 against the spread
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports betting columnist Matt Youmans can be reached at email@example.com or 702-387-2907. He co-hosts “The Las Vegas Sportsline” weekdays at 2 p.m. on ESPN Radio (1100 AM). Follow him on Twitter: @mattyoumans247.