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Chargers

Virgil Green does good things for Chargers when he touches the ball — even when he doesn’t catch it

Virgil Green
Chargers tight end Virgil Green reaches out for a deflected pass from quarterback Philip Rivers during a second-half drive against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Virgil Green caught a 25-yard pass on the Chargers’ first touchdown drive Sunday and a 23-yard pass on their third touchdown drive, impressive plays for an eight-year veteran who is rapidly shedding his image as a “blocking” tight end.

But Green’s most important contribution to Sunday’s 31-20 victory over the Buffalo Bills in New Era Field might have come on a ball he did not catch and that was not even intended for him.

After dominating the first half, the Chargers were stonewalled by the Bills in the third quarter, going three-and-out on all three possessions. Buffalo drove 75 yards on seven plays on its first possession of the second half, Chris Ivory scoring from one yard out to pull Buffalo within 28-13.

A Bills punt later in the quarter pinned the Chargers back to their 12-yard line and, on the first play of the drive, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw to wide receiver Keenan Allen on a mid-range crossing route.

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Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander tipped the pass at the line of scrimmage, the ball went straight into the air and came down amid a gaggle of players, most of them wearing Bills jerseys.

The 6-foot-5, 255-pound Green happened to be in the neighborhood. He leaped high and got his hands on the ball. Though he did not make the catch, neither did any Buffalo defenders. The ball fell to the ground, the Chargers averting disaster with four minutes left in the quarter.

“That was a huge play,” Rivers said. “They get the ball right there, near the 20-yard line … you never know. That thing could have gotten to one score. He about caught it. It was nice that he went and high-pointed it.”

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Green was fortunate to avoid a turnover on his third catch, a seven-yard reception on a second-and-seven play from the Bills’ 47 early in the fourth quarter.

Green fumbled as he hit the ground and the Bills recovered, but after a replay review, officials ruled that Green’s left elbow was out of bounds before the ball came loose. The Chargers, still leading 28-13, retained possession.

“Phew,” Green said, when asked about the play. “I did say a few prayers. It was close. I just have to make sure I secure the ball better.”

Green was sure-handed enough outside of that play, catching all three of his targets for 55 yards. He beat man-to-man coverage on his first catch for 25 yards, and two plays later Rivers hit Mike Williams with a 10-yard touchdown pass.

As the Bills blitzed, Green found a soft spot in zone coverage for a catch of 23 yards, the biggest play of a five-play, 75-yard drive that Rivers capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Melvin Gordon. That gave the Chargers a 21-3 lead with 10:43 left in the second quarter.

“Phil did a good job of putting us in great situations, throwing the ball in great spots and moving us up and down the field, and the offensive line did a great job,” Green said. “Really, it was a full team effort. I feel like everyone on the offense contributed somehow.”

Green had 71 receptions for 807 yards and four touchdowns in seven seasons at Denver before signing with the Chargers last spring. When tight end Hunter Henry tore a ligament in his right knee in May, Green moved into a starting role. He has five catches for 76 yards in his first two games.

“I made a lot of plays in training camp, and I think Phil and the coaches gained a lot of confidence in me,” Green said. “If you look over my career, every time I touched the ball, I’ve done good things with it.

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“At the end of the day, in my mind, I perceive myself as a competitor. Whatever the team needs me to do to win, I’m going to do that, because that’s what the game is all about.”

mike.digiovanna@latimes.com

Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna


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