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.
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.
Chargers safety Adrian Phillips celebrates an interception with teammates Derwin James and Jatavis Brown at New Era Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler runs through an attempted tackle of Buffalo Bills linebacker Tremaine Edwards during third quarter action at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers safety Jahleel Addae dives over Buffalo Bills receiver Robert Foster after a fourth quarter completion from quarterback Josh Allen at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram III congratulates teammate Mike Williams after the receiver caught a first quarter touchdown pass from Philip Rivers against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers shows a clenched fist to a handful of fans as the end of a 31-20 LA win over the Buffalo Bills approaches at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers special teams player Michael Davis knocks the ball loose from Buffalo Bills punt receiver Marcus Murphy at New Era Field. A penalty on the Chargers nullified the fumble.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Buffalo Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander strips the ball from Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, but the play was called dead by officials a split second before during a second half drive at New Era Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers tight end Virgil Green reaches out to catch a deflected pass from quarterback Philip Rivers during a second half drive against the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Buffalo Bills receiver Kelvin Benjamin absorbs a hard hit from Chargers safety Adrian Phillips, 31, and cornerback Trevor Williams, 24, on a fourth quarter touchdown pass from Bills quarterback Josh Allen at New Era Field.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen struggles to get off a pass as Chargers linebacker Melvin Ingram tries to drag him down during second half action at New Era Field. Allen threw an interception to safety Adrian Phillips on the play.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers safety Derwin James sacks Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen during first half action at New Era Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive backs celebrate after safety Adrian Phillips (31) intercepted a second half pass from Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen at New Era Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
The Chargers defensive backfield team strike a pose for photographers on their way to the field in a game against the the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field on Sunday.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna