Took a decade, but Philip Rivers and his team paid back Mike Vrabel on Sunday.
Rivers passed for 306 yards and two touchdowns, keying a 20-19 victory against the Vrabel-coached Titans.
San Diegans who cheered the 2007 Chargers will remember Vrabel as a villain.
Then a defensive end, he got away with an illegal “leg whip” into Rivers that caused a key interception in the AFC Championship Game, helping the unbeaten Patriots reach the Super Bowl.
Vrabel, now a rookie head coach, tried to deal the San Diegan another blow Sunday when he opted for a two-point try rather than a tying kick with 31 seconds left and the Chargers ahead by one point at London’s Wembley Stadium.
Chargers defenders prevailed, causing a game-winning incompletion.
The victory improved Rivers and his team to 5-2 going into the coming bye week for what Rivers, in a postgame interview with CBS, called “much needed rest and family time.”
Right or wrong?
A tough decision confronted Vrabel after his quarterback, Marcus Mariota, led a late touchdown drive that pulled the Titans to 20-19.
Try for one point or two?
Each choice made sense.
Getting one point or two still would’ve left Rivers with 31 seconds and two timeouts.
Winning in overtime looked like a 50-50 proposition, although perhaps Chargers fatigue on defense would’ve given the Titans an edge.
The Chargers’ defense had pulled heavy duty, yet had shown well in the red zone and would do so again on the two-point try.
Pass D wins
The Titans actually had two attempts for two points.
They got a second chance when cornerback Casey Hayward was flagged for holding on the first play, an incompletion.
No one got open for Mariota, so he tried to squeeze a pass into tight coverage but safety Adrian Phillips tipped it incomplete before it got to the intended receiver.
Contrast in styles
Rivers directed a high-speed offense that scored on pass plays of 75 yards and 55 yards to Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, respectively.
The Titans hogged the ball. In comparison, they ran 23 more plays and had the ball for nearly 11 more minutes.
Rivers maintained his steady play. With no turnovers Sunday, he has 17 touchdown passes and only three interceptions, and his interception rate is the lowest of his 13-year career as the starter.
Both the Chargers’ offense and defense whiffed on a chance to grab full control of the game, but each unit was good enough.
Lynn and McCoy
When Vrabel’s go-for-it move failed, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn raised both hands in celebration.
Good for Lynn, whose players seem to respect him.
Yet his tenure is still young.
Consider that Mike McCoy celebrated the same way en route to an identical 14-9 record as Lynn’s through 23 games (and McCoy’s first team picked up a playoff victory).
Lynn wants the parallel to end there.
McCoy had peaked. His second team faded, his third team went 4-12 and his fourth team got him fired. Moreover, McCoy’s offensive coordinator gigs with the Broncos and Cardinals ended with in-season dismissals, the latter coming this past week.
It’s still too soon to know if Lynn is Super Bowl material — but the defensive coordinator he hired, Gus Bradley, had a strong first season and is having a good month.
Desmond King had another solid showing as the punt returner, yet here’s a thought: Why didn’t Lynn’s staff open the season with the reliable King in that role? A fumble by an undrafted rookie since released, J.J. Jones, contributed to the Week 1 loss to the Chiefs.
Proof that Chargers special teams still are concerning, the kickoff team, plagued by Mike Badgley’s weak boots, spotty coverage and a Rayshawn Jenkins personal foul, nearly spelled defeat Sunday.
Yet as a whole, this is a top-10 NFL team. In light of the Pats’ and Chiefs’ defensive holes, the Chargers are in the conversation for who has the AFC’s most talented roster, especially if Joey Bosa rejoins the lineup for the next game, at Seattle, as ESPN reported is the plan.
Impressively, Lynn’s club is developing depth and winning at the same time. Two weeks ago, two offensive tackles practiced but were held out due to injury, yet the team routed the Raiders. The Chargers outlasted the Titans while allowing Melvin Gordon to spectate with a hamstring injury, meaning he’ll have had two weeks’ of rest going into Seattle.
Not only is Rivers playing well, he’s getting help elsewhere. As the AFC’s leading disaster team, the Raiders look like a two-victory benefactor. The Jags have unraveled a year after reaching the AFC title game, while the contractual stalemate drags on between the Steelers and running back Le’Veon Bell.
So, for now, a return to the playoffs this winter looks fairly probable for the durable San Diegan, who’s up to 200 consecutive starts, most among all active players.