"You couldn't believe what it was like—chanting, hollering, hugging, likewe had just won the national championship," quarterback Philip Rivers saidof the moments following San Diego's 42-point, second-half comeback in a 49--41win over Cincinnati. Talk about a coming-of-age game for a young passer: Down21--0 with 38 minutes left, Rivers led touchdown drives of 59, 69, 46, 80, 40,nine and 72 yards. Though the Chargers gave up 66 points in their first twogames without linebacker Shawne Merriman, they are 2--0 since his suspensionfor steroid use, and Rivers has proved conclusively that if the Chargers haveto get into a shootout to win a game, he's comfortable in that situation.
If you sense games are snappier this year, you're right. While the number ofplays is up one per game, through last week the average time of games hasdropped two minutes from last year, to 3:05. Vice president of officiating MikePereira credits new commissioner Roger Goodell's emphasis on reducing deadtime. "Roger's concern wasn't excessive penalty calls," Pereira said."It was stoppage of play. When we grade officials, it's not just on thecalls they make. It's also on the flow of the game." The average replayreview is down 20 seconds, and officials have refined their calls of twopenalties: Through eight weeks there were 168 fewer offensive-holding calls and57 fewer false starts than at the same point last year. In the off-season theleague clarified holding as "significantly restricting" the defensiveplayer and made a point to be more liberal on false-start calls because oftheir ticky-tack nature.
Dick Vermeil always said no stat is as telling as turnover margin. This yearthe teams with the best margins, Baltimore (safety Ed Reed, right) at plus-13and San Diego at plus-9, are each 7--2. Three teams are tied for the worstmargin, minus 8: Oakland (2--7), Cleveland (3--6) and Pittsburgh (3--6).
1 Following another reported blowup between Terrell Owens and assistant coachTodd Haley, after the Cowboys' 27--10 win in Arizona, there's no way Owens andBill Parcells will both be back in Dallas in 2007. My guess: T.O. survives, andParcells takes the golden parachute.
2 The most underrated skill-position player in football: 49ers running backFrank Gore. He's had four 100-yard games behind a shaky offensive line and isaveraging 5.0 yards per rush, more than LaDainian Tomlinson and LarryJohnson.
3 Think 10--6 is a pipe dream for the Jets? They face the Bears this week, butafter that none of their remaining six opponents has a winning record.
Peter King'sMonday Morning Quarterback, every week at SI.com/football.
JOHN BIEVER (RIVERS)
M.J. MASOTTI JR./REUTERS (RAVENS)