SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Players with bad backs and painful rib injuries aren't supposed to play like this.
San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers looked like a guy operating with injuries early. He threw two interceptions, including a pick-six, as his Chargers fell behind by three touchdowns against the San Francisco 49ers on Saturday night.
"In the first half it was just throw it to the other team and stand on the sideline, unfortunately," joked Rivers.
But something changed at halftime. Rivers said he got into a better rhythm in the second half. He felt healthier this week than last week after limiting his practice reps, and that renewed energy showed in a 38-35 overtime victory.
While not demonstrating the mobility of a track athlete like Colin Kaepernick, Rivers sidestepped the rush at times to buy time. And he showed better accuracy and more patience in letting his receivers work themselves open down the field.
"He's going to miss a throw," Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. "He's going to throw another interception at times in his career. But he's one of the best in the business. And we're very fortunate to have him here."
Rivers was especially precise on fourth down. The Chargers finished a perfect 3-for-3 on fourth-down conversions in the final half, including two on their game-tying drive to force overtime. San Diego entered the game 1-for-5 on fourth-down attempts, the worst conversion rate in the league this season.
On fourth-and-8 from San Francisco's 43-yard line, Rivers found Eddie Royal on an out route down the sideline that he scooped up for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Four plays later, Rivers stuck a throw in the chest of seldom-used receiver Dontrelle Inman on a curl route on fourth-and-10 from San Francisco's 26-yard line for a 17-yard gain.
Two plays later, Rivers hit Malcom Floyd on a slant route for an 11-yard touchdown to tie the game.
Rivers finished 33-of-54 for 356 yards, with four touchdown passes and three interceptions. He was sacked twice, posting an 82.0 passer rating. Rivers didn't play lights out, but he was surgical when the game mattered most.
The victory was Rivers' 19th fourth-quarter, come-from-behind career win.
"He gets into a rhythm, and you can't stop him," Chargers safety Eric Weddle said.
San Diego's defense also lived up to its end of the bargain. Yes, the Chargers gave up a ridiculous 355 yards on the ground, the second most in franchise history. But in the second half, San Diego limited the 49ers to seven points and forced two fumbles -- a strip sack by Ricardo Mathews and Dwight Freeney that Corey Liuget recovered for a score, and a forced fumble by Weddle that was recovered by Sean Lissemore -- leading to Nick Novak's game-winning 40-yard field goal.
"Top-five craziest games that I have ever been a part of in my career," Chargers outside linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "It was not by any stretch our best game, but we found a way to win, and that's all that matters now. It is awesome."
Just like last season, when the Chargers made their improbable postseason run, things are falling San Diego's way. They still need help, but if the Chargers can find a way to win on the road against Kansas City on Dec. 28, they could find themselves in the postseason for a second straight year.
Rivers won't allow himself -- or the rest of his teammates -- to look beyond Kansas City. Over the past 10 years, the Chargers are 6-4 at Arrowhead Stadium.
"First of all, we know what it is to go to Kansas City and win," Rivers said. "That's hard. But, if after that we found a way to win that one and it's not enough, then it's not enough. We have to make sure we hold up our end of it and find a way to get to 10-6. In most organizations they would say that's a pretty positive year."