SAN DIEGO (Sept. 21, 2006) -- Minutes after a bye-week practice ended, coach Marty Schottenheimer and a bunch of his undefeated San Diego Chargers faced the scariest thing they've seen yet this season.
A team employee walked outside with a 3 1/2-foot rattlesnake draped over a stick, having killed it after it slithered in through an open door.
Linemen, quarterbacks and running backs skittered away like school kids when they saw the twitching carcass. Schottenheimer, clearly not a fan of reptiles, hollered for the rattler to be taken away. "It's only 14 feet," the coach joked once his heart rate returned to normal.
The fang-less Oakland Raiders and Tennessee Titans certainly didn't make the Chargers jump like they did at the sight of the dead diamondback.
If it seems like the Chargers opened the season by facing the NFL equivalent of a junior varsity schedule, well, they did. The Chargers won their first two games by a combined 67-7.
Philip Rivers didn't need to ice his throwing arm after his first career start because LaDainian Tomlinson and Shawne Merriman carried the Chargers to a 27-0 victory at Oakland on opening night.
The Chargers almost threw back-to-back shutouts for the first time in franchise history before Tennessee scored with 3:09 left in San Diego's 40-7 home-opening victory.
The Chargers are off this weekend before getting their first real test, on the road against the Baltimore Ravens on Oct. 1. So far this season, the Ravens and Chargers have the NFL's two toughest defenses.
"It's no slight to our competition, but the fact of the matter is, what we're getting ready to face -- initially in Baltimore and then as we continue through the season -- is going to be tougher," Rivers said.
"You can only play who's out there. I think we've done what we had to do in both games. I'm pleased with how we played, but at the same time, we can't stay there. I think we understand the task at hand that's coming up. We don't look ahead, but we're not dummies, either. We know the grind we have ahead."
Rivers couldn't have eased into his starting career any better. He threw only 11 passes at Oakland, completing eight for 108 yards and one touchdown. Against Tennessee he aired it out, going 25-for-35 for 235 yards and one touchdown.
He hasn't been sacked or intercepted.
"It's a good feeling," said Rivers, who sat behind Drew Brees the past two years, appearing only in mop-up roles and after Brees hurt his throwing shoulder in a meaningless regular-season finale. "Obviously the Monday night win was a great win for our team and just for myself, getting that first win and all the things that come with the first start. Obviously I enjoyed it, but it was also a relief."
Against Tennessee, "I didn't get hit a lot," Rivers said. "But really, truthfully, that's the first game I played in 2 1/2 years. I was sore. I wasn't bad sore. It feels good again to feel like this after a game."
Rivers began the season with zero NFL starts and one touchdown pass. He has completed 33 of 46 passes (71.7 percent) for 343 yards and two touchdowns this season.
"We have to shed the reputation of not being willing to throw it," Schottenheimer said. "As long as we continue to take care of the ball, I think everything else will fall into place on the offensive side."
Schottenheimer said he's not as concerned with Rivers' completion percentage as he is with the third-year pro avoiding interceptions.
"He's done a nice job making decisions. He recognizes, as we all do, that sometimes an incompletion isn't a bad play. You punt it away with a guy like (Mike) Scifres, and then you go out and play defense," Schottenheimer said.
"We've done a nice job overall, our whole football team."
The Chargers obtained Billy Volek from Tennessee on Sept. 19 to give Rivers an experienced backup. The Chargers played the first two games with Rivers and rookie Charlie Whitehurst. Whitehurst mopped up Sept. 17 and ran 14 yards for his first NFL score.
Guard Kris Dielman and wide receiver Keenan McCardell, both of whom have hamstring injuries, were rested during the week.
Schottenheimer said having a bye this early didn't bother him.
"There was a time where I used to think it mattered when you had it, but I really don't think it does anymore, the more I've been through it," he said.
In case anyone gets too full of themselves by being undefeated, Schottenheimer knows there's always snakes in the grass. In 2002, his first season in San Diego, the Chargers started 6-1 and ended up 8-8.
"We've got a lot of work in front of us, as everybody recognizes," he said. "We're already working on Baltimore."
The Associated Press News Service
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