Chargers Review: Quarterback

A funny thing happened on the way to the bench. While passing by the Gatorade cooler, Drew Brees found the fountain of solid play. He rebounded from a dismal 2003 season to become an inspirational leader and shouldered the load when LaDainian Tomlinson couldn't.

Drew Brees was blasted as much as anyone in recent memory. When the Chargers ended up with Philip Rivers, the thinking was Brees would not last until the trading deadline. A lengthy holdout robbed Rivers of his chance to start – and it would have been a pretty good chance had he been in camp on time. That gave Brees the leeway he needed early on in the season.

Through his first three games, Brees fumbled four times and threw two interceptions. There were whispers of his demise and inability to adhere to basic Marty Schottenheimer philosophies of not turning the ball over. From game four on, Brees lost one fumble and threw five interceptions, a staggering turnaround.

He eventually led the team to an 11-4 mark (he didn't play the final game of the year, a Charger win) completing 262-of-400 for 3,159 yards with 27 touchdowns to seven interceptions. Four of his seven interceptions came in the first quarter and just one occurred in the fourth.

"Drew spent countless hours with his receivers and getting his timing down, building a bond together," Tomlinson said. "That has paid off for him."

He became the first Charger quarterback in history to have more than 20 touchdown passes and less than ten interceptions. His 27 touchdowns were the most in a season since Dan Fouts threw 27 in 1980 and led to his selection to the Pro Bowl, Comeback Player of the Year, the team's MVP and the team's Most Inspirational Player.

"I didn't come into the year saying, ‘Hey, I want to win the Comeback Player of the Year Award,'" said Brees. "You think about winning the championship and everything else. You understand that if you win football games, everything else takes care of itself. Those awards come. Guys make the Pro Bowl. To receive this award, it's definitely a big honor.

"There have been many guys in the past that have showed what that award is all about. It's a tremendous honor, just the recognition and that sort of thing. I think it just shows what kind of year we're having as a team."

Brees said his success stemmed from an offseason plan to strengthen his mind as well as his body. He was never satisfied with the results of the 2004 season and that drive led him to believe the team had a shot at the Super Bowl. It was a different persona that he established for himself and gave his team confidence along the way.

"For all that hard work that he put in throughout the offseason, throughout training camp and into this year, to be selected to the Pro Bowl and to be named Comeback Player of the Year...he's earned every bit of it," fellow quarterback Doug Flutie said. "I'm very happy for him."

His weakest spot on the field was throwing from inside the ten. Whether it was the lack of a threat outside of Antonio Gates or some other reason, Brees completed just 52.4 percent of his passes in that area. The good news is he did not throw an interception when inside the ten and threw just one pick all year in the red zone.

His favorite opportunities to throw the ball were when the offense did not use motion and in the I-back set. He completed 70.1 percent of his passes and tossed 11 touchdowns when no motion was used and connected on 70.6 of his passes while in I-formation. The only downside was his 34 total passes while in the I-formation.

"He's always believed in himself," fullback Lorenzo Neal said. "It was just a matter of believing in the guys around him." For those on the lack of arm strength side of town, the numbers support the argument. Brees was 13-for-41 in the 21-to-30 distance range and 4-of-14 beyond 31 yards. That gives him a cumulative completion percentage of 30.9 on any pass longer than twenty yards.

Other interesting stats include 12 passes batted down at the line, 38 overthrown balls, 14 passes thrown away intentionally, 16 passes dropped and two where the receiver fell down.

Doug Flutie, even at the age of 42, plays with the fire and heart that has become commonplace from the veteran. He loves the game and doesn't show any rust coming off the bench.

He played in two games this year, coming in during the Jets game in week two when Brees suffered a mild concussion. On his only drive of the game, Flutie led the team on an 18-play drive that was capped by a touchdown run from the quarterback.

He didn't see the light of day again until week 17 when they played the Chiefs. He led the team to 17 first half points, tossing a touchdown and running another one in. He was 13-for-22 that day for 199 yards playing with mostly reserves and talked glowingly about that experience.

Rivers got his first taste of the NFL as a squatter, he took three snaps and took a knee each time. It wasn't until the second half of the last game of the season that Rivers took a meaningful snap. His initial jitters provided a shaky start but he settled down and began to look poised as the game progressed. All of his work came with the Chargers second and third team offense, completing five-of-eight for 33 yards with a touchdown.

"There really wasn't any surprises," Rivers said of his experience. "It may sound crazy because I didn't play perfect but nothing shocked me. I felt like I was seeing things right. I knew what they were doing. I knew what coverages they were in.

"The pace of the game was not overwhelming. I had been so "giddied up". I hadn't been in a game in awhile. I thought it would be super fast and it wasn't. So I was speeding up and the game wasn't."

A toned down offense in the fourth quarter didn't allow him to parade his skills further – after all there was no reason to trump the season Brees had.

The Chargers felt very strongly about keeping Cleo Lemon on the active roster although he never actually made it on the field as the teams' fourth quarterback. Lemon has the strongest arm of the group and is also quick on his feet. Marty Schottenheimer mulled sending Lemon to NFL Europe but preferred to keep him close where he and his staff can properly guide the young quarterback.

The contributions from each quarterback made the difference in 2004. From the practice drills to the game, each made some kind of mark.

"Doug and Cleo give the defense a good look at the opposing quarterback," Rivers said.

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