Playing some of the best football of his career, Philip Rivers helped rally the San Diego Chargers and avoid what would have been a third straight loss.
The Pittsburgh Steelers could sure use a vintage performance from Michael Vick, though both quarterbacks figure to be aided as a top pass-catcher from each team returns from suspension.
One of these teams will fall below the .500 mark after Monday night’s meeting in San Diego.
The Chargers (2-2) pulled out a 30-27 home win against Cleveland on Sunday on Josh Lambo’s 34-yard field goal – his second attempt as a Browns offsides penalty neutralized his miss from 39 yards.
Rivers was instrumental in the victory, completing 23 of 38 passes for 358 yards, three TDs and no interceptions, and nearly posted a perfect passer rating (154.9) in the second half despite playing behind a depleted offensive line. He leads the league with 1,248 passing yards and with 260 career passing TDs, is two shy of eclipsing Dave Krieg for 13th place all-time.
"It was just a scrappy game. I don’t know if it was our best game, but it was enough. To go to 1-3 with what we have coming up; to win, it was big," Rivers said, alluding to both this game and San Diego’s trip to Green Bay next week.
He may still be working behind a banged-up offensive line after it was without three starters against the Browns. Left tackle King Dunlap (concussion), left guard Orlando Franklin (ankle) and right guard D.J. Fluker were all sidelined from practice Wednesday. Center Chris Watt returned after not playing due to an ankle injury, but could shift to one of the guard positions.
Rivers does gain an asset in Antonio Gates, who returns after a four-game suspension for testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Gates has caught 74 TDs since Rivers became the Chargers’ starter in 2006, the third-most in the NFL in that span behind Larry Fitzgerald (76) and Calvin Johnson (75).
The 99 in Gates’ career are the second-most ever by a tight end, trailing Tony Gonzalez (111).
"It’s great getting him back. He’s fired up to be back," Rivers said. "He made the comment how much he missed being here, missed just being around everybody, the camaraderie that comes with it. He felt left out those four weeks and hated he couldn’t help and all those things but he’ll be back in there rolling on Monday."
San Diego still needs to get its rushing game going, averaging just 3.9 yards per carry to rank 22nd in the league. Rookie Melvin Gordon has been limited to 89 yards over his last two games after running for 88 in Week 2 at Cincinnati and still hasn’t found the end zone.
The Steelers are 2-2 for the fourth time in five years after a 23-20 overtime loss to Baltimore. Vick was 19 of 26 for 124 yards with a TD in his first full game since taking over for the injured Ben Roethlisberger, and wasn’t nearly as much of a threat on the ground as he has been in years past, running for 33 yards on nine carries.
The 4.8 yards per attempt were the fewest by a Steelers quarterback since Roethlisberger’s 4.4 in a Nov. 15, 2009, loss to Cincinnati. Vick couldn’t find Antonio Brown on a fourth-and-1 in overtime, letting the Ravens take over for the game-winning drive.
Brown, whose 478 receiving yards are tied with Julio Jones for the NFL lead, was limited to 42 yards on five receptions, ending his league record streak of at least five catches and 50 yards at 35 games.
The Steelers hope for better results with a full week to prepare with Vick as the starter, and they’ll also have Martavis Bryant back from a four-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse policy.
Vick flashed some chemistry with Bryant in the preseason, hooking up with him for a 63-yard gain against Buffalo. Bryant caught eight TDs as a rookie in 2014 and his 21.1 yard receiving average led all players with at least 25 receptions.
"We have a lot of work to do this week in practice to get ready for Monday," Bryant told the team’s official website. "We’re going to keep developing our chemistry and just make sure we are ready on Monday."
Pittsburgh figures to again lean heavily on Le’Veon Bell, who had 29 touches for 150 yards against Baltimore.
The Steelers hope they’ve cleaned up their kicker situation, signing Chris Boswell on Saturday after cutting Josh Scobee following an abysmal performance in last Thursday’s loss. Scobee, 6 for 10 on the year with a missed extra point, missed two late kicks against the Ravens. Boswell has never appeared in an NFL game but was 13 of 22 from 50 yards or more at Rice from 2010-13.
Pittsburgh owns a 21-7 all-time series advantage and had won 12 of 14 prior to a 34-24 home loss in the last meeting Dec. 9, 2012.
Rivers has thrown six TDs with no interceptions in the last two meetings.