What Philip Rivers lacked in mobility he made up for in creativity, the 37-year-old Chargers quarterback turning Sunday’s game at Hard Rock Stadium into an afternoon at the improv.
Rivers went off schedule on a pair of first-half touchdown passes to Troymaine Pope and Austin Ekeler in a 30-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins — flicking a sidearm pass under the arms of a defender and to an unsuspecting Pope for a 13-yard score, and throwing across his body and on the run to Ekeler for an 18-yard score.
The heavy-legged Rivers will never be compared to Patrick Mahomes and Deshaun Watson for his scrambling ability, but he showed again why he can still compete in the same league as those young gunslingers.
Rivers completed passes to nine teammates while going 24 for 30 for 310 yards and a 131.9 quarterback rating. He became the ninth quarterback in NFL history to win 120 regular-season games.
“Hey, he’s a playmaker, man, whether you see it or not,” Ekeler said of Rivers. “Mahomes is a different type of playmaker, but Phil is in the same category for us. He makes it happen.
“I’ve seen him throw in every single direction. When I first got here, he was throwing sidearm, and I was like, ‘What the heck?’ But he works on it. We have drills where he works on sidearm throws and everything.”
The Chargers were trailing 7-3 late in the first quarter when Rivers drove the team from its 25-yard line to the Dolphins’ 13 in six plays, including a21-yard pass to fullback Derek Watt and a 13-yard throw to tight end Lance Kendricks.
On second and eight from the 13, Rivers was flushed out of the pocket and rolled to his left. Pope, thrust into the role of No. 2 running back after Justin Jackson’s calf injury, was in the left flat.
When Miami safety Reshad Jones left Pope and closed on the quarterback, Rivers — in a motion resembling a shortstop starting a double play — threw a sidearm pass under the arm of Jones and into the arms of Pope, who caught the ball at the eight-yard line and weaved his way into the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
“I was going to block,” Pope said. “I turned around, and there the ball was.”
Miami tied the score at 10 on Jason Sanders’ 30-yard field goal, but Sanders’ missed field-goal attempt from 50 yards out with 3:34 left in the half gave the Chargers great field position at their 40.
A 15-yard pass from Rivers to Andre Patton, who was filling in for the injured Mike Williams and Travis Benjamin, turned a third and nine from the Miami 33 into a first down at the 18.
From there, Rivers stepped up in the pocket to avoid pressure, but as he approached the line of scrimmage, he fired a pass to his left to Ekeler, who was almost parallel to Rivers and near the sideline. Ekeler made the catch and broke a tackle en route to the end zone for a 17-10 Chargers lead with 43 seconds left in the half.
“That was awesome,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn of Rivers. “Him moving around in the pocket and the guys responding to him in the scramble drill, just like we practice … it was good to see the execution of it in the game today.”
With Williams (back), Benjamin (hip), and tight ends Hunter Henry (knee) and Virgil Green (groin) out, the Dolphins put a heavy emphasis on slowing Keenan Allen, either double-teaming the wide receiver or providing over-the-top help on him.
That worked to a degree as Allen — who caught 29 passes for an NFL-best 404 yards and three touchdowns in the first three games — was limited to five catches for 48 yards.
But Dontrelle Inman caught five passes for 76 yards, including a 15-yard reception on third and nine and an 11-yard catch on second and five during a third-quarter drive that ended with a field goal. Ekeler caught five passes for 62 yards.
Kendricks, signed as a free agent before Week 3; Patton, summoned from the practice squad; Geremy Davis and Pope caught two passes each.
Seldom-used tight end Sean Culkin caught a 12-yard pass while backpedaling toward the end zone to set up Ekeler’s one-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, but Culkin suffered a likely season-ending Achilles injury on the play.
“Obviously, they did all they could to take Keenan out of the game and he still found a way to make some plays,” Rivers said. “You look at Andre Patton contributing with catches, Geremy Davis getting catches, Dontrelle Inman had a heck of a day.
“Lance Kendricks wasn’t even here 10 days ago, and he’s making third-down plays for us, caught the first pass of the game. Pope caught the touchdown, which was awesome to see. Just a lot of guys contributing.”