Chargers Capture Dolphins, Move Atop AFC West

The Chargers played their most complete game on Sunday, making big plays on offense and protecting the end zone on defense while claiming a 26-16 win over the visiting Dolphins. The win vaults San Diego to 3-1 and atop the AFC West.

It is hard to get too excited about a 10-point win over a winless foe. But the Chargers did a lot of good things Sunday, answering many questions that arose in September.

Philip Rivers was back at his efficient best. He hit 21-of-31 passes (67.7 percent) for 307 yards, including a 55-yard TD strike to Vincent Jackson. Most importantly, Rivers did a better job protecting the football, going without an interception for the first time.

The long score to Jackson was part of an explosive start for No. 83, who topped the 100-yard mark just 18 minutes into the game. However, he aggravated the abdominal injury that limited him throughout the week and was used sparingly the rest the way.

In Jackson's absence, rookie Vincent Brown stepped up and delivered his first two career catches, both of which moved the chains on third downs.

The offense was just as efficient on the ground as it was in the air. Ryan Mathews averaged more than 5 yards on his 16 carries. He and Mike Tolbert were also active as check-down receivers, finishing with five receptions apiece.

FB Mike Tolbert
Stephen Dunn/Getty
The defense did its part, ending this week's game like last week's -- with an Eric Weddle interception. It was a perfect way to bookend the game, as rookie Marcus Gilchrist picked off Chad Henne on Miami's first possession.

Henne lasted less than two series before leaving with a shoulder injury. Matt Moore played well in relief. Moore completed over 65 percent of his passes and protected the ball till the final, desperate series. However, he absorbed two sacks from Larry English, the 2009 first-round pick who is desperately trying to shake the "bust" label.

Nick Novak connected on all four field goal tries (27, 48, 23 and 38 yards). In just three games, he has boosted his career conversion rate from 63 to 69 percent.

Lightning Quicks

--Tolbert scored on a 1-yard plunge in the third quarter. It was his fourth touchdown of the season but his first since the season opener.

--Tolbert and Mathews both put the ball on the ground, although San Diego recovered both fumbles. Nonetheless, ball security continues to be an issue for this pair.

--Former Dolphin Randy McMichael caught three passes for 25 yards, including consecutive receptions on San Diego's final scoring drive.

--Steve Gregory started at strong safety in place of Bob Sanders and finished with five tackles. Paul Oliver, re-signed last week, played but was shut out of the box score. Fellow recent signing Tommie Harris also played; he did not grace the box score, either, but provided some quality snaps given his rapid initiation into the 3-4 defense.

--Davone Bess only returned one of Mike Scifres' three punts. But that return was good for 22 yards, plus an extra 15 yards for a personal foul on Richard Goodman. The Dolphins turned that special-teams blunder into three points.

--San Diego entered the game without several key players, including Antonio Gates (foot), Quentin Jammer (hamstring), Jacques Cesaire (knee) and Luis Castillo (leg). Several others were hurt in the game, including Jackson, Shaun Phillips (hamstring) and Antonio Garay (back).

--San Diego hits the road next week to take on the 1-3 Broncos. Denver lost on Sunday in Green Bay, 49-23. Those same Packers are the next team on San Diego's home docket, although that game is not until Nov. 6. Between now and then is a bye in Week 6 followed by road games against the Jets and Chiefs.

What are fans saying about Sunday's victory? Find out inside the message boards.

Michael Lombardo is a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 16 years and covered the team since 2003. You can see more of his updates by following him on twitter.

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