Clear Eyes. Full Heart. Can’t Lose?

Philip Rivers has led other Chargers teams, with arguably more talent and greater expectations, and come up short. So why believe in him (and them) this year? Because something has changed in the way the 10-year veteran thinks and acts

By
Jim Trotter
· More from Jim·
(John W. McDonough/SI)
(John W. McDonough/SI)

SAN DIEGO — There has been so much talk over the last five weeks about Philip Rivers’ bolo ties, snakeskin boots and outsized personality that we’re almost ignoring something very important: The 10-year veteran is playing outstanding football.

Since throwing an interception in a 17-10 loss to Cincinnati on Dec. 1, the last time San Diego was defeated, Rivers has thrown 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions, has completed 68.3 percent of his passes and has had a passer rating of 104.0 or higher on four occasions.

Previously anxious in the pocket in pressure situations—perhaps because he desperately wanted to make a play, or maybe because he subconsciously didn’t trust his teammates—he’s now combining a sense urgency with a heightened level of composure. Even when the pocket does collapse or his receivers are covered, there isn’t the air of foreboding that shrouded him and the Chargers in recent years.

It’s one reason people shouldn’t write off San Diego entering Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff at top-seeded Denver. Another is that the Chargers have won four of their last five at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, including a 27-20 decision on Dec. 12. In that game Rivers led the offense to points on five of its eight possessions, excluding kneel-downs to end each half. During the team’s current five-game win streak the offense has scored on 28 of 50 possessions, excluding clock-killing kneels at the end of halves.

It’s a dramatic departure from that loss to the Bengals, which left the Chargers 5-7 and clinging to the playoff ledge by their fingernails. In his office that afternoon coach Mike McCoy asked me how the other teams in the playoff race had fared. Then he paused and said flatly: “Someone is going to get in at 9-7. We just have to win out.”

I wrote it off as coachspeak—the winning out, not the 9-7 by someone—but he proved me wrong. His QB is a major part of the reason why. Rivers has flourished in a new quick-passing attack after six years of seven-step drops and vertical passes under Norv Turner. Despite only 17 more pass attempts than last season, he had 40 more completions and 872 more yards. The change also allowed him to protect a line that was constantly in a state of flux because of injuries.

.

Rivers still has the Southern drawl, the “golly gee” vernacular and the boyhood enthusiasm, which was on display when he visited the NFL Network on-field set after beating the Broncos five weeks ago. He was so animated, it seemed he was going to let out a primal scream and challenge Howard Dean for the Most Infamous Celebration title. But there is something different about him. He has a quiet (not a word normally associated with him) intensity to him this season.

In previous years he seemed to feel the pressure of playing in the shadows of Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees. Manning and Roethlisberger, the quarterbacks selected immediately before and after him in the 2004 draft, have combined to win four Super Bowls in five appearances; and Brees, who was replaced by Rivers in San Diego, has a Super Bowl victory in his only trip.

Rivers has always said he isn’t motivated or affected by their success, but at times it felt like he was trying to convince himself as much everyone else. Former teammate Lorenzo Neal told me last year: “Let me tell you right now, he’s going to say the politically correct things because that’s what you have to do as a player, but Philip Rivers is burning inside. Ben Roethlisberger has gone to three Super Bowls and won two. Eli Manning has gone to two Super Bowls and won both. Philip hasn’t been there—and the Giants didn’t have half the talent the Chargers did (at one point). So Philip Rivers as a leader and a quarterback, if (that Rivers isn’t motivated by his peers’ success) is what he’s selling, I’m not buying. I’m kind of shocked that I would hear Philip say that. I know Philip. He’s a competitor. You see him on the field, how animated he is, how frustrated he gets. He wants to win a Super Bowl, trust me. This is his legacy.”

His playoff legacy entering this year was a 3-4 record, 58.5 completion percentage, eight touchdowns, nine interceptions, and a 79.2 rating. After speaking to Rivers throughout the season, however—and watching him after the Wild-Card win over the Bengals Sunday—legacy doesn’t appear to be on his mind. He’s living in the moment, his mind uncluttered with outside storylines.

It’s the the first time I’ve had that feeling with him. He looks like someone playing with house money. He knows that no one expected the Chargers to reach this point; they got into the playoffs partly because the officials, according to the league office, missed a call that would’ve set up Kansas City for a winning field goal in the season finale that ultimately would have put Pittsburgh in the tournament instead. He knows that Peyton Manning, who threw for a league-record 55 scores, is on the other sideline.

But he and his teammates also know that Manning has been more Clark Kent than Superman in his career against the Chargers, with a 7-6 record, including 0-2 in the postseason. They know that Manning has had eight one-and-dones in the postseason, including last year as the No. 1 seed. They know that Denver is without its best defensive player, linebacker Von Miller, who tore a knee ligament in December. And they know that Rivers is as comfortable at Sports Authority Field, where he’s 6-2 and has completed 64.5 percent of his passes for 2,001 yards, 13 scores and seven picks, as he is in his bolo tie and snakeskin boots.

themmqb.com

82 comments
George
George

Damn good throwing qb


but character-wise, Phyliss Rivers is a ponk, much like jay quitler.

scoutxx
scoutxx

Yet another attempt to make an easy win for Denver seem like it's going to be competitive. Manning owns SD as a Bronco, and this game will be over by halftime. 


Denver 52

SD 17

OrangatangaCrush
OrangatangaCrush

AND he ditched the knee brace...just noticed this weekend past...he's more mobile this year for sure, and he created time and space in the Cincy game because of it...makes a huge difference...and McCoy off the Fox tree is doing wonders for the team, and Phil in particular, no argument there...but i think my Broncos are winning this game...not easy, but any win by any measure is what I'm hoping for...it's going to be a great game.  Go Broncos!

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

Since winning his lone SB (in a year where he threw 3TDs and 7INTs in the postseason), Manning has gone 2-5 in the playoffs.  All five losses occurred when his team was favored to win.  The two victories both came in 2009 when Manning took his team to the SB only to end their chances of a Lombardi with a pick six in the last 4 minutes of the game.  Manning's playoff struggles are not some media fabrication.  They are very real.  The Broncos set all kinds of records this year, but they are only 3-3 against playoff teams.  The Chargers are 6-2 against playoff teams.  There are alot of reasons to like the Chargers in this game. 

Philiprules
Philiprules

Why are the Bronc-ettes and Philip-haters in such a tizzy over this? The Chargers are on a win streak, Philip is a bit of a goober but is playing extremely well of late, the last time the teams played the Chargers won, Philip and the Chargers have had success in Denver, Manning has a high post season failure rate, the Chargers may beat the Broncos this Sunday. All pretty much true.

JoeSchmoe
JoeSchmoe

Before people start beating a dead horse about not crushing the 2nd string of the Chiefs AND how they had help from the refs, consider this:

1. EVERY team has been hurt and helped by the refs. There is holding on  EVERY play, just depends on if it gets called. Remember the BS call on the Bolts against the Texans? It happens to every team

2. Playing the second string was like playing a team they had no film on and hadn't seen before so it was like playing a new team in the league.

3. The second string was not made up of guys hanging out at Home Depot...they are quality players

4. SD has a LONG history of playing at the level of their opponent, which helps explain the loses to Houston, Oakland and Washington and their victories over better teams like Denver.


UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

It's a simple statistical fact that Rivers cannot continue to throw the football like he's throwing darts after having one too many Guinesses at the local pub and maintain the high passer rating that he's had since the beginning of December.

RobertMahaney
RobertMahaney

Chargers seem to be the media's pick this week . . . they really want to see (and believe they will see) an upset. This excitement is based on last week's win in Cincinnati, making this a 5 game win streak.

Sounds great. Or does it? 

Look at the 5 game win streak:

1) The Chargers beat Denver 27-20 in Denver. Looks good . . . but then consider the fact that the Broncos had gone 3-1 in the toughest part of their schedule during which they temporarily lost their head coach to health problems. The game was on a Thursday night following only this stretch by only 3 days. In other words, the Chargers lucked out, catching the Broncos during an emotional and physical low. 

2) In a must win game to get into the playoffs, the Chargers struggled to beat the 2nd and 3rd string of the KC Chiefs. They would not have made it into the playoffs without the help of the refs. 


3) Last week, in the Wild Card round, the Chargers blew out the Bengals in the second half. However, that is attributable to a meltdown by the Bengals and not stellar play by the Chargers. In other words, the Bengals lost the game more than than the Chargers won it.

4) The two other wins were against one of the most disappointing teams of the season (Giants) and one of the worst (Raiders). 

Given the strength of this stretch, is their any reason to believe that the Chargers are going to go into Denver again an beat a healthy, well rested team off a bye? This is a Denver team in a very different position than the one they met last month. . . one that will have  chip on its shoulder due to the dismissive attitude of the national media. In other words, the Chargers are about to hit a brick wall.

JohnDooms
JohnDooms

God Jim, you really pulled out your creative license on this one, didn't you? That, or you missed your first calling as a mind-reader. Of course Rivers wants to win a Superbowl - what NFL player doesn't? But to say that he's primarily driven to it because other QB's in his draft class can't be verified, and is really just an effort to bolster the media's childish comparison game on the subject. I know O'neal's quote was the closest thing you had to agreeing with your premise, but if you look closely it's just an opinion and never confirms that Rivers verified your premise. Also, while you do note that the Chargers former O-line was a revolving door beset by injury, you fail to mention that Nroval's scheme was a killer when combined with it. It forced Rivers to often hold the ball to wait for downfield plays to develop, and that his 2nd worst in the NFL O-line (based on time to QB stat) couldn't hold protection long enough, which Rivers likely knew. Plays doomed from the start. Additionally, Norval was too stubborn about his scheme that he limited Rivers' ability to audible at the line, which McCoy/Whiz have no problem with - HUGE! The short passing game that others refer to this year is nothing when compared with Rivers ability to change plays at the line - just look at the stats. With all this evident creativity, please let us know when your novel comes out.

Beachboy
Beachboy

Not true at all. This story has an entirely faulty premise. Jim, you're way off the mark here. Rivers hasn't changed in the least. He was never intimidated by anyone else. Yes, he has a burning desire to win, but he has had that since he was in college. The only difference this year is that he has a better offensive line and a few more weapons. But he is the very same person and the very same elite QB he has always been. The last two years he was anxious i the pocket because he literally had ZERO time to work. He played behind arguably the very worst pass-blocking offensive line in the entire NFL. Ini years past, though, Rivers was not anxious in the pocket, he stood tall, He has always played with confidence until the team around him basically disintegrated. Rivers is a winner. He played literally on one leg in the AFC Championship game - that was the game that LT couldn't play, and Gates, too, was hurt. Rivers, if there were any justice, would already have a couple rings and you wouldn't be writing such bogus stories. His Charger teams came up short but usually in spite of Rivers, not because of him. By the way, Philip is 0-2 against Manning in the playoffs. But if the Chargers don;t win on Sunday, it's very unlikely that it will be Rivers' fault. He;'s the best player on that team and has been since his first year as a starter. http://therenodispatch.blogspot.com/2013/12/philip-rivers-not-peyton-manning-should.html

swricllc
swricllc

"...or that Drayton Florence couldn't control himself when they had the Patriots all but beaten."...nice post but it was the INfamous Marlon McCree that you must be talking about here...I still hate him..lol..

jtstaley88
jtstaley88

This article is trash. Rivers it the same as he has always been, i.e. a great QB.

Don't believe it? Check the numbers. For whatever reason, he has never been a media darling and the stories all always skewed with a negative slant just like Banks backhanded compliments.

How do you sleep at night, Don?


As another poster has already said, he had a couple of down years BY HIS STANDARDS.

It's not his fault that he played for two coaches who can't win playoff games or that Drayton Florence couldn't control himself when they had the Patriots all but beaten.

KeysSteven
KeysSteven

Not sure how "deep" this Rivers runs, but Phil certainly overflows with exuberance.


Both QBs pass machines w/ fine corps & good field vision, while respective Ds are fair.  Could turn on basics: ball & passer protection and who establishes the complimentary run game. 

Matthew W
Matthew W

Wouldn't be hilarious if the Chargers beat the Broncos this weekend? 


One & Done Manning

WHO*IS*ESPN
WHO*IS*ESPN

Rivers has NO leadership on the field. He pouts and screams at team mates at every play. 

jj55
jj55

@scoutxx Manning "owns" San Diego as a Bronco. Who was that guy wearing his jersey when San Diego beat Denver last month?

OrangatangaCrush
OrangatangaCrush

@JohnSmith25 Yes there are...but if you are playing the odds, Manning is due to slam this monkey off his back...and I just don;t see the Broncos losing again at home to San Diego...or San Diego stopping the Denver offense enough times...or Ryan Matthews having another big game on us...or McCoy/Wisenhunt besting Fox/DelRio 2 out of three times...41-27 Denver...from my mouth to the football gawds ear!

jj55
jj55

@PhiliprulesThe average margin of victory for the Broncos is 37 points according to the Denver fans posting here. That lines up well with the 36 point margin of victory predicted by Bengal fans last week.

jj55
jj55

@JoeSchmoeGood post. All Charger fans know that this team plays a remarkable number of close games every year, against any and every quality of opponent. Great for entertainment value, not so good for the heart. Denver is rightfully favored, but it's dicey to take the Broncos and the points. Personally, I hope every Bronco fan and player keeps repeating the garbage about the Chiefs JV and the refs all week and forgets who else the Chargers beat--


the Denver Broncos.

djlewis3333
djlewis3333

@RobertMahaney And who have the broncos beat? The Eagles early in the season, prior to Mr. Foles taking over. The Chiefs twice, (same as the Chargers) and the Chargers earlier in the season missing half their offensive line and all their outside linebackers. Your 13-3 record looks good on paper but you lost to each tough team you faced. Nice choke job by manning in Indy, nice collapse against the Patriots, and of course i'm sure you enjoyed your L to the Bolts. If you win tomorrow congrats you are supposed to...but if you loose...   Sleep well, I look forward to this W tomorrow. Go Bolts. 

jj55
jj55

@RobertMahaneyThe Chargers are the media's pick? What are you smoking? Maybe against the spread, and that's even close. Broncos should be favored, just like the Bengals were.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@RobertMahaneyYeah, sorry, stopped reading after the part about the Chargers "lucking out."  The first game against SD was not that much different than the second.  The Chargers' D held the Broncos to their two lowest yardage outputs of the season.  The Chargers matchup well with the Broncos.  The Chargers had far more going against them in the last game than the Broncos.  They had to travel to Denver and acclimate to the thin air of Mile High on a short week.  The  loss to he Bolts nearly cost Denver homefield advantage, so it's not like Denver had nothing to play for.  The Broncos were physically dominated on both sides of the ball in the last matchup.  That should be cause for concern if you are a Denver fan.

skytrigger
skytrigger

@RobertMahaney  And you're on crack. You tried so hard to sound rationale but kept blowing smoke out of you a@#. 


1. Chargers won. Denver lost. No excuse.


2. See #1


3. Hilarity ensue. All the experts and viewers can see that Dalton was under constant pressure. Ergo he started to commit all those errors. You're some how 


4. W is a Win. Period.


Would love to see what excuse you can come up with when the Broncos lose this week.

WilliamNegron
WilliamNegron

@RobertMahaney With all that being said, Chargers are still 6-2 in their house. Oh P.S we were missing half our players due to injuries. No deep threat Malcolmn Floyd, Dwight Freeney, and many other line men.

johnvas49
johnvas49

@RobertMahaney Broncos only put up 28 points against the Chargers earlier in the season at San Diego, so I wouldn't expect them to put up 40 this weekend...

MinhNguyen
MinhNguyen

@Beachboy Speaking as a lifelong Charger fan, you sir are wrong. Trotter's article is spot on. Rivers had his three worse seasons as a Pro between 2010-2012. He had bad mechanics and made poor decisions. This was due in part to Norv's seven step drop vertical passing offense (as Trotter eluded to) and the combination of a average at best O-LINE. Combine those three issues and its easy to see why the Chargers haven't been to the playoffs since 2009.


If you think the Chargers lost Playoff games "in spite of Rivers", You should go look up Rivers Playoff Stats. Rivers career mirrors that of Tony Romo. Hall of Fame Regular Season numbers and is a "shadow" of himself come playoff time.
- Regular Season (79W-49L): 64.4% Completion, 2.125 TD:INT Ratio, and a QB Rating of 96.0
- Playoff (4W-WL): 59.6% Completion, 1:1 TD:INT Ratio, and a QB Rating of 81.8

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/players/R/RivePh00.htm

Correction, Rivers is technically 2-0 against Manning in Playoffs. We beat the Colts in 2007 and 2009. 2007 was when Volek came in and lead the team on the go ahead scoring drive. 2009 was won on leg of Mike Scifres and Darren Sproles. That game was definitely won in spite of Rivers.

I'll leave you with one fun fact. Last Sunday vs. the Bengals was Rivers FIRST and ONLY Playoff game without a Turnover.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@swricllcThe errors were too numerous to mention.  Eric Parker muffing a punt, leading to a NE FG.  Drayton Florence head-butting a NE player after a 3rd down stop, leading to another NE FG.  Chargers receivers dropping 7 passes including a couple that would have set the Chargers up in at least FG range.  Marlon McCree's infamous interception/fumble on 4th down.  Nate Kaeding missing a game-tying FG at the end of regulation.  Still the most improbably loss I've ever seen.

jj55
jj55

@swricllcIt is forbidden to mention the name of He Who Cannot Intercept Without Fumbling.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@jtstaley88In his "down years," Rivers numbers were still better than the career numbers of Big Ben, Eli Manning and many other media darlings.  Too much focus was placed on the mistakes Rivers made while trying  to compensate for a porous defense and a terrible offensive line.  When Manning or Brady complain to the refs about a receiver being held or yell at a teammate for screwing up a play, they are described as "intense competitors."  When Rivers does the same thing he's called a "whiny punk."  Thus is the nature of the media echo chamber.  The narrative gets set and everyone else just repeats it.  Anyone that saw Rivers' interview after the last Denver game knows his personality.  He is an ebullient goofball that plays with the enthusiasm of a 6th grader.  He just loves to compete and to win.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@Wisconsin Death TripThis isn't the BCS.  You don't get style points for winning by 50.  The Chargers went into Cincy and won by 3 scores against a team that had been previously unbeaten at home.  They held an offense that had scored 30+ in their last 5 home games to 10 points. 

jj55
jj55

@Wisconsin Death Trip Gosh, I don't know...their winning margin against Cincy was twice as high as the other three playoff winners combined.


But if you say so...besides, everyone knows that a W counts more when the margin of victory is higher.

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@WHO*IS*ESPNWhich is why every teammate absolutely loves him and says he is the unquestionable leader of the team. 

JohnDooms
JohnDooms

@WHO*IS*ESPNLOL! It's absolutely amazing how much idiocy one sees on message boards! Congrats on being King in that category Who.

swricllc
swricllc

@WHO*IS*ESPNreally?...wow...and of course ...you're the only one who sees THAT ....what an idiot post

OrangatangaCrush
OrangatangaCrush

@jj55 @JoeSchmoe Or who beat the Chargers...Texans, Titans, Raiders, Redskins, Cincy and of course, Denver...So they don;t exactly play the way you said they do, but they are playing very well at the moment...it's going to be a game, no question...i like my Broncos to take the rubber...

Madmadigan
Madmadigan

@MinhNguyen @Beachboy Nguyen You are the one that is incorrect, Beachboy nailed it. There are a few Fans that share your opinion But about 90 % of actually watched the games and Would agree with Beachboy.

UnishowponyWherebeef
UnishowponyWherebeef

@MinhNguyen


When you write "We beat the Colts..." do you really mean "The Chargers beat the Colts..." or are you declaring that you're a member of the Chargers team?

JohnDooms
JohnDooms

@MinhNguyen@BeachboyWhile you are right about Rivers poor mechanics, you don't site what is underneath it. First off, everyone and their brother hates Rivers' mechanics, but during the previous 2 seasons it worsened at times due to pocket collapse - try throwing a long ball in a 3 by 3 space. Rivers is a competitor and Norval's rigid scheme forced him into desperation throws and bad decisions. How else can you account for his complete reversal under a new scheme? Yeah, thought so.

OrangatangaCrush
OrangatangaCrush

@jj55 @Wisconsin Death Trip What was it like 4 total turnovers by Cincy?!...one of them where Dalton just plain fumbled going to the ground untouched...sheesh...THAT will not happen in Denver (cause Peyton doesn't run much, lol)...Cincy gave the game to the Chargers, and the Chargers were good enough to take it... the best player on the field for the Chargers was Phil Rivers, ha ha 12/16  for 128 yards with 1 TD...their second best player was Andy Dalton 29/51 334  with 1 TD, 2 INT's and one fumble, ...playing Marv Lewis doesn;t hurt either, lol...


If Andy can pass for almost 350...well you know the rest...just saying.

MinhNguyen
MinhNguyen

@Madmadigan @MinhNguyen @Beachboy  @Madmadigan whatever you say buddy. @beachboy stated "Philip is 0-2 against Manning in the playoffs". That would be an incorrect, no way to argue that. The quoted RotoWorld article does a pretty good job stating my case. I suggest you read it if you have not. I know plenty of Chargers Fans who are not sold on Rivers. What do you have to say about the drop in his performance come Playoff time?


BTW, I've only seen your screen name in one other place, The Official San Diego Chargers Forum. I assume you are the same guy I used to debate with back in the day. I assume you remember the MNSuperCharger's QB gripe thread.

thread:http://forums.chargers.com/showthread.php?t=48144

Nothing has really changed under Rivers. The QB we let walk, lead his team to a Super Bowl Championship back in 2009 and Rivers has put up good regular season numbers with little to no playoff success.

WilliamNegron
WilliamNegron

@UnishowponyWherebeef@MinhNguyen I think he's correct in that "He beat the colts" You forgot officialy the roster is what 52 or so. But you forgot about the 12th man. So if he was there and was cheering them on? Yes he helped beat the Colts! LOL

JohnSmith25
JohnSmith25

@MinhNguyen@JohnDooms@BeachboyRivers did very well in 2009 in a vertical passing game, when the Chargers had the receivers and o-line to run such a scheme.  Norv's biggest failing was his inability to adjust his scheme to the players he had.  Norv has a brilliant offensive scheme, but it's the same one he runs everywhere he goes.  If you don't have the players to execute it, don't expect Norv to change.  McCoy's biggest strength is his ability to tailor his system to the personnel. That's why he was able to actually win a playoff game with Tim Tebow as his QB.

MinhNguyen
MinhNguyen

@JohnDooms @Beachboy  I would recommend reading the "Has Rivers Peaked" article from July of 2012 (link below). As much as you and others blame poor offensive line play for Rivers' poor play from 2010-2012, the truth lies "six inches between Rivers' ears".


http://www.rotoworld.com/articles/nfl/40842/179/has-philip-rivers-peaked


I would agree that Norv's scheme (Rivers holding onto the ball for nearly 3 seconds behind a porous O-LINE waiting for WRs to get open deep) was asinine. However, that would lead to getting sacked NOT "force him into desperation throws and bad decisions". That's on #17 and nobody else. How about the fumble in KC on Monday night. Was that not #17 fault?


Before the 2013 season, Rivers three best years were under Norv Turner.  How would you explain that? You can't knock Norv for Rivers' failures between 2010-2012 without also giving him credit for Rivers' success in 2007-2009.

In closing, its easy to now say Rivers does better in a quick passing scheme vice a vertical passing scheme. Only time will tell. GO CHARGERS!!!

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