Rivers outshines his boyhood hero

Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson

SAN DIEGO -- Philip Rivers is a big Brett Favre guy.

Rivers, 26, has followed Favre, 38, since he was a ball boy for his father's high school team in Alabama. He couldn't get enough of Favre. What was there not to like? Favre was a Southern boy just like him. He was a son of a football coach. Most of all, he was a gunslinger quarterback. Rivers was sold.

This summer, when Favre's saga in Green Bay was in full insanity mode, Rivers politely declined to comment on the situation out of respect for Favre. He meant that much to Rivers. Monday before the game, the two men spoke on the field for several minutes. It was easy to tell it was a big moment for the smiling Rivers.

The night got better for Rivers, though. He outdid his hero.

Continuing a quietly brilliant start to the season, Rivers had a terrific night as he picked apart the Jets, leading the Chargers to a much-needed victory. After two straight games in which they got their hearts smashed in the final 30 seconds, the Chargers cruised to a 48-29 victory over Favre and the Jets.

Rivers completed 19 of 25 passes for 250 yards and three touchdowns. He easily managed the field and made big plays when he needed them.

"He's our leader," San Diego tight end Antonio Gates said. "Philip made some big plays tonight."

Rivers' one mistake was reminiscent of Favre's night. On his first pass play, Rivers threw a bad pass that was intercepted by New York cornerback David Barrett, who easily trotted to the end zone. Rivers' hero also threw an interception that was returned to the house.

In the end, Favre completed 11 more passes than Rivers for 21 more yards. But this was Rivers' night. Afterward, though, in true Rivers form, it was about the Chargers entering the win column, not beating his boyhood idol.

"We needed to win a game," said Rivers, who has led San Diego to 110 points in three games. "This was a good win for us."

Here are some keys we learned from this game:

The Jets have taken the leash off Favre: In Favre's third game with the Jets, coach Eric Mangini clearly thought it was time to let Favre do what he was traded for: sling the ball. Favre threw the ball 42 times.

He was 30-of-42 for 271 yards and he threw three touchdowns. However, Favre also threw two interceptions. San Diego dropped three other potential interceptions.

Favre, who had X-rays taken on a sore ankle after the game, was much better in the second half than he was in the first half. Favre threw 26 times in the second half as the Jets attempted to rally from a 31-14 halftime deficit. The Jets were so bent on having Favre throw, he attempted a pass from the shotgun on a two-point conversion inches from the goal after three San Diego penalties moved the ball closer to the goal. The Jets missed the conversion.

"We're disappointed in the loss, but I think there is something to build on here," Favre said.

Antonio Gates is getting back to form: Gates, the Chargers' Pro Bowl tight end, admitted Monday night that two weeks ago, against Carolina, he thought he was not going to make it through this season. Gates had offseason surgery on his left big toe and missed all of the preseason.

However, Monday night, Gates said he is almost certain he will soon be completely healthy.

"I really feel great tonight," Gates said. "I'm at about 85 percent and going up. It's not going backwards anymore. I'm definitely going to make it. Tonight, I felt the best I have since the surgery. It's really getting better. In pregame warm-ups, I could tell the difference."

Gates had two catches for 25 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown catch.

The Chargers also got a boost from left tackle Marcus McNeill, who played his first game of the season after sitting out with a neck stinger. With running back LaDainian Tomlinson, who got 67 rugged yards on 26 carries, recovering from a turf toe and center Nick Hardwick a few weeks from returning from a foot injury, the Chargers are slowly returning to health.

The Chargers' defense can make big plays: After faltering in the final seconds of the first two games, the Chargers' defense came up with big plays -- even though the unit still gave up too many passing yards.

Cornerback Antonio Cromartie made a huge play, scoring on a 52-yard interception return. And San Diego, which had just two sacks in two games, came up with three sacks. All of them came with New York driving.

"They did some nice things," Favre said.

The Chargers got their groove back: San Diego is just 1-2, but this team will have to be accounted for in the AFC playoff race. The Chargers could easily be 3-0 and they know it. If the defense can continue to make strides, San Diego will creep back in this race.

The Chargers were 1-3 last year before finishing 11-5, so they are no strangers to fighting out of a hole. Now that hole is just a 1-2 record as San Diego heads to Oakland.

"This is what we had to do," Gates said. "Being 0-3 is not San Diego Chargers football."