ARLINGTON, Texas – The first time Philip Rivers got the San Diego Chargers close to scoring Sunday night, he took a sack, then had a potential touchdown pass swatted by a backup safety.
The next time, Rivers saw a blown coverage in the secondary and took advantage by throwing a 7-yard touchdown pass.
Hey, working out the kinks is what the preseason is all about.
Rivers played only three series, but got better on each drive, then hit the bench and watched his backups do the rest in San Diego's 20-7 victory over the Dallas Cowboys.
The reigning NFL leader in passing yards is quickly rounding into regular-season form. After going 5 of 6 on an 87-yard touchdown drive in his lone series during the preseason opener, Rivers was 8 of 11 for 92 yards against a Dallas defense he practiced against Thursday and Friday.
"It was good to get out there and get more of a game feeling," Rivers said. "I thought we did a lot of good things and there's certainly room to keep improving and building. That's what we're trying to do the next few weeks."
The Chargers (1-1) saw a lot of things they liked, from the defense coming up with three turnovers to coach Norv Turner going 2 for 2 on challenges, all in the same drive.
On the first series that Billy Volek replaced Rivers, Turner kept it going by getting an interception erased by video review — the right heel of Cowboys safety Gerald Sensabaugh's narrowly landed on the sideline — and by getting a 15-yard touchdown run for Ryan Mathews on a play initially declared out of bounds inside the 1.
"Those were bang-bang plays, they were close," Rivers said. "The pressure is off a little bit in the preseason, it's nice to be able to practice it (challenges)."
Vincent Jackson caught three passes for 49 yards and Randy McMichael had three receptions for 24 yards, including the touchdown from Rivers, while starting in place of the injured Antonio Gates.
Malcom Floyd caught one pass for 18 yards and sustained a concussion on the tackle.
Mathews ran seven times for 35 yards. Nate Kaeding made field goals of 25 and 53 yards.
"I liked to see the energy that we're playing with," Turner said.
Romo was 8 of 12 for 58 yards, while showing a little bit of what the Cowboys (1-1) love to see (a scrambling 6-yard touchdown pass to a sliding Jason Witten) and hate to see (an interception on a deep throw he never should've made).
Felix Jones stood out most among Dallas' offensive starters, darting and dashing 56 yards on seven carries.
The Cowboys ended up gaining more yards than the Chargers, but couldn't get back into the end zone. With third-stringer Stephen McGee playing the entire second half, Dallas had drives of 11, 14 and 15 plays that failed to produce a single point. Two ended with lost fumbles, the other when a fourth-down pass into the end zone fell incomplete.
"There's a lot to build on and room to get better," Witten said.
The biggest defensive plays came from guys counted on to make them.
San Diego safety Eric Weddle, who recently received a $40 million, five-year contract, intercepted Romo's wayward pass. For Dallas, pass-rushing star DeMarcus Ware had a sack of Rivers when the Chargers were facing first-and-goal from the 7.
The most exciting play of the night didn't even count.
On a third-and-1 in the second half, Dallas running back Phillip Tanner fought for a first down near the line of scrimmage and got his helmet pried off, yet kept going and turned it into a 23-yard touchdown run. Alas, a new rule says plays are dead when a ball carrier loses a helmet; worse still for the Cowboys, an illegal shift wiped out the gain and shoved them back 5 yards.
"When it came off, the only thing on my mind was, 'I'm not down, so finish the play,'" Tanner said. "I wasn't going to stop until the play was finished."
The no-helmet rule is a safety measure put on the books in large part because of a play Witten made a few years ago against Philadelphia. How bizarre that one of the first times it was called came against Witten's team.
"He came up to me and said, 'Do I have you to thank for losing that touchdown?'" Witten said. "I told him, 'That's a good rule, trust me.'"
Although this was the third time in four days these clubs squared off, there didn't appear to be any built-up hostilities, perhaps because of the good vibes between the coaches. Turner was among the most impressionable mentors on Dallas coach Jason Garrett.
Turner must not have shared all his secrets. Garrett went 0 for 1 on challenges.
Former Dallas receiver Patrick Crayton had one catch for 9 yards in his return to his hometown. Turner was nice enough to open the game with a screen to Crayton, but he dropped it.
"Yeah, we were trying to get Pat going a little bit and unfortunately it didn't work out," Rivers said. "But, no big deal. Both teams are still 0-0 and nobody has a reception or a touchdown or anything else."