San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers #17 smiles after a play against the Dallas Cowboys during a preseason game at Cowboys Stadium on August 21, 2011 in Arlington, Texas.
The topic of last year — when a mistake-riddled stumble spoiled a season decided before the playoffs — is usually met with an annoyed headshake, shoulder shrug or expected verbal response from forward-minded Chargers coaches, players and management.
You can't focus on what you can't control, they insist. Remember the lessons learned, and forget the rest.
If this preseason is any indictator, they'll force others to forget last year, too.
Quarterback Philip Rivers led the first-team offense on three, mostly sharp series, safety Eric Weddle forced the first of three turnovers, and the city of Dallas breathed a sigh of relief when defensive linemen Corey Liuget and Vaughn Martin boarded a Sunday night flight back to San Diego following the Chargers' 20-7 exhibition win over the Cowboys.
“We did a good job going after the ball,” coach Norv Turner said. “We had a big hit to knock a ball out. I think we pressured the quarterback well. I was pleased with the way we tackled. A lot of things were good. I liked, obviously, the energy we're playing with.”
One Mike Tolbert redzone fumble aside, the first-team offense shined under Rivers into the second quarter.
After an opening three-and-out, the unit went nine plays in both its other two possessions, ending in a field goal and touchdown, respectively. Rivers was 8-for-11 with 92 yards and capped his day with a 7-yard strike to tight end Randy McMichael, who came wide open with the Cowboys double covering wide receiver Vincent Jackson.
Including its one drive last week, a Rivers-led offense has now scored two touchdowns and one field goal over four preseason possessions.
"It was good to get out there and get more of a game feeling," Rivers said. "Put a couple drives together ... I thought, all in all, we did some good things. Certainly, still some room to keep improving and keep building, and that's what we'll try to do the next few weeks."
The Pro Bowler then gave way to Billy Volek, whose first drive behind center finished with a hard-nosed Ryan Mathews run highlighted by two broken tackles and a touchdown decided only after Turner protested that the running back broke the left pylon before stumbling out of bounds.
Turner also correctly red toweled a Volek interception in that drive, making him 2-for-2 on challenges.
Last year (cue shoulder shrug), the Chargers had the rank of the league's No. 1 defense. Still, they never quite had the look, recovering the third-fewest fumbles in the league (five) and ranking a pedestrian 12th in interceptions (16).
On Sunday, the defense, despite some struggles slowing Cowboys running back Felix Jones, largely looked the part.
Playing in zone coverage, Weddle intercepted Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo on a pass intended to wide receiver Kevin Ogletree. The defense also flashed its young talent.
Rookie middle linebacker Jonas Mouton mopped up a Stephen Cooper tackle, jarring running back Lonyae Miller to force a fumble that cornerback C.J. Wallace recovered. Liuget, the team's rookie first-round draft pick, was impressive from start to finish, overpowering offensive linemen in the first quarter and strip sacking quarterback Stephen McGee in the fourth.
Martin, 25, had a team-high four tackles with two sacks. Defensive end Cam Thomas, 24, also looked strong and picked up a solo tackle behind the line of scrimmage.
"Those guys, they've put a lot of time in," Turner said. "Cam, Vaughn and Corey, who is, as I've said a number of times, he's what we thought he was, hoped he was. They're getting opportunities to play, and that's how they're going to get better. Vaughn has grown up a great deal. He's such a physical player. He's such a physical presence. It's nice seeing him have production."