By Justin Kim
In today’s NFL media and culture, not many players can stay out of the headlines while consistently playing well for their respective teams. Yet, Philip Rivers has always remained the exception. At this point in his NFL career, Rivers might realistically be walking the path of becoming one of the greatest professional athletes not to win a championship (i.e. Charles Barkley, Dan Marino).
Before the start of the season, the San Diego Chargers finalized a 4-year, $84 million to-4-year-extension contract extension with Philip Rivers, making their quarterback the 5th highest paid quarterback in the NFL. Many were skeptical of the Chargers’ decision to stick by Rivers, who in his nine previous seasons as a starter has yet to even reach a Super Bowl. For old school Chargers fans, in the midst of another slow 2-4 start, some cannot help but wonder what the state of the franchise would have been like if Eli Manning stayed as San Diego’s first overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft. Since then, Manning and Ben Roethlisberger, both fellow members of the coveted quarterback class of 2004 draft, have each acquired two Super Bowl rings.Embed from Getty Images
Thus, while it is almost midway into the regular season, it is not surprising that there is rarely any talk of the Chargers. It would seem that a match-up between Aaron Rodgers, arguably the best quarterback in the league, and Philip Rivers, with five Pro Bowl appearances and the fourth-best all-time quarterback rating of 95.7, would have been the ideal moment for primetime TV. The disparity in media coverage is justifiable as the Chargers currently hold an unimpressive record of 2-4.
Yet, in week six, if the record is reflective of any team, it might nonetheless be misleading considering the close nature of the Chargers’ losses to credible opponents such as the Bengals(6-0) and Steelers(4-2). In a crucial week six match-up at a sold out crowd in Lambeau Field, Philip Rivers looked masterful, throwing for a career high 503 yards while completing 43 passes. However, the Chargers lost the game, unable to convert on the final play in the closing seconds of the fourth quarter.
Anything that could have gone wrong for the Chargers, did go wrong, and seemingly at the most vital moments. Early in the first quarter, while trying to establish the run-game, the team’s star rookie running back Melvin Gordon left the game due an ankle injury. When the Chargers’ offense was starting to gain momentum again late in the third quarter, the franchise’s leading receiver, Keenan Allen, injured his hip after converting his game-high fourteen receptions at the time. On defense, when the Chargers needed a vital stop midway into the fourth quarter, they were without their dominant pass rusher Melvin Ingram or Pro Bowl safety Eric Weddle to effectively counter Aaron Rodgers and the aggressive Green Bay offense.Embed from Getty Images
However, this is not to say that Rivers should partake in no blame at all. While Rivers played a nearly flawless game, as most Chargers fans have grown accustomed to, his performance was once again overshadowed by his failure to execute the play that mattered most.
It is often what occurs in the game’s final moments that ultimately attest to a player’s level of greatness. It is in these moments where the great ones are able to execute, and make choices based on reason, rather than passion. If this week’s game is indicative of this Chargers team, it may support what most critics had already noted about their quarterback: Rivers performs his best only when he is most comfortable.
In retrospect, this might help to explain why on a third and goal situation that would have sent the game to overtime, instead of passing to a wide-open Danny Woodhead in the end zone, Rivers decided to throw into double coverage to his well-known favorite target Antonio Gates. Subsequently, on the following possession, the Chargers ran the same play, and while Woodhead was thoroughly covered at that time, Rivers threw it to him anyways. Therefore, it is not surprising that in the final two plays, with the game on the line, the Packers defense did what any experienced NFL team would do to Rivers in such a situation: eliminate his safety valves.
If Rivers hopes to cement his legacy among the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, he must start winning now. As Chargers fans are well aware, Rivers’ time is gradually running out. While Rivers proved against Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers that he deserves to be recognized with the game’s greatest quarterbacks, there is nothing novel to this particular claim. Many are aware of Rivers’ undeniable leadership and talent on and off the field. However, this awareness has always been limited to the extent of his team’s post-season success, or lack thereof.Embed from Getty Images
Next week, the Chargers will face the Raiders in a crucial AFC West division rivalry match-up that will determine second place in the division. While it is still early in the season, this game is significant, not only because it has major playoff implications, but also in determining the fate of Rivers and the entire franchise.
If the Chargers were to lose this game, at 2-5, and with no real chance of making the playoffs again this season, the thought of a fresh start with already one of the league’s best quarterbacks, and in a city like Los Angeles, does not seem so far-fetched.