Two weeks ago, I attended Bruce Springsteen’s 63rd birthday show at Met Life Stadium. As we waited out the thunderstorm, Eli Manning was being escorted into the bowels of the stadium on a golf cart. With the Chargers facing the Falcons the next day, I couldn’t help but think of the contrast between Manning and Rivers since 2004.
If you’ve ever read anything I’ve written at Justice Is Coming over the last seventeen years, you know I’ve lived my entire life in the metropolitan area. After Archie Manning refused to let his son be drafted by the Chargers, I decided to take action. My good friend worked at a prominent hotel in Manhattan where all the draftees stayed. On the eve of the 2004 draft, I was connected to Eli’s hotel room.
I told him that I was from the Chargers Fan Coalition and that it wasn’t right the way he was treating the team. Not surprisingly, he seemed unfazed by my call. This surprised me and forced me to abruptly end it by telling him that karma would ultimately catch up with him.
It’s not that his dad was wrong about the Chargers. But as Rush Chairman Eric Stratton once said, only we can talk that way about our pledges. During JazzFest in April 2004, I threw my Charger beads on the Manning’s front lawn as a further sign of protest.
In 2005, I attended LaDainian Tomlinson’s appearance on Stephen A. Smith’s now-defunct ESPN show, Quite Frankly. I jokingly told LT that I would drive him to egg Eli’s house in protest. Smith didn’t like being upstaged, clearly.
For three hours, Rivers had led his team farther than Manning ever did. Rivers played the AFC Championship game after going through major (and secret) surgery. Compare that to his alleged nemesis Jay Cutler’s performance in his lone conference championship appearance.
In retrospect, the Chargers might have fared better with a healthy Billy Volek that day. But there was no question that Rivers stepped up that postseason. With Antonio Gates injured in the first half of the first playoff game, the Titans dared the then second-year starter to beat them. Rivers answered the bell.
But Eli Manning won the first of two Super Bowls later that year and Ben Roethlisberger won his second the following season. Rivers, the only other QB drafted in 2004 besides J.P. Losman has yet to reach the Super Bowl.
Up until January 2010, I told anyone that would listen that Philip Rivers would have a Super Bowl ring if he had left the Chargers instead of Drew Brees. Of course, I didn’t know about the bounty system operating throughout the Brees’ Super Bowl run at the time.
But the Jets felt that they could force Rivers, then playing the best football of his career, into mistakes. I doubted it, but they did just that. Despite Rivers’ heralded 2010 season, where his receiving corps was decimated, I saw bad habits that kept the Chargers from winning big games.
Of course I understood that Steve Crosby’s special teams were historically abysmal. I am well aware of how bad the Chargers’ third down defense was last year. They went entire games without a turnover in 2011. But Rivers has taken some steps backwards as well.
In 2008, there were chances to win games at Buffalo and in London against the Saints. In each one of those games, Rivers was either picked off or couldn’t get the ball into the end zone to win the game.
In the season opener at Arrowhead in 2010, the Chargers were hurt by Ryan Mathews’ fumble and Dexter McCluster’s kick return for a score. Yet, Rivers had four shots to score the winning touchdown at the end.
Last season, Rivers was clearly affected by the upheaval on the offensive line. This NFL season, even at the quarter mark, has already shown how the best quarterbacks can’t survive against an onslaught of pass rushers. But there have been signs that Rivers isn’t ready to take the next step since that aforementioned playoff game, the last one the Chargers have reached.
I like Rivers and don’t disagree with the Chargers' decision to draft him or to jettison Brees in 2005. However, he continues to make questionable decisions that leave me worrying that he won’t be able to lead the Bolts to their first Super Bowl title.
My biggest concern is that he still loses his patience and regresses into his faux-Brett Favre mode. When you have a rocket for an arm, as the young Favre did, you can try to squeeze the ball into those tight windows. But Rivers’ shot-put delivery doesn’t exactly lend itself to that. When you add in a throw off his back foot, you’ve got a formula for a sure interception.
Jared Gaither’s return to the lineup gave Rivers a far cleaner pocket last week than he had against the Titans or Falcons. But he still forced a red-zone pass to Robert Meachem which was intercepted. The Chargers are adopting a “tough love” approach with Ryan Mathews for turnovers in the red zone, but Rivers is the face of the franchise at this point.
Last season, I felt that Rivers should have been sat for a game. Everyone thought it was a horrible idea. It wasn’t like Rivers could be sent a message at this point in his career. I wasn’t looking for that effect; I just felt that he was singlehandedly hurting the team that much.
Kevin Acee, who often defended Rivers as a beat writer, admitted, “Rivers was horrible when the Chargers needed him most in 2011” after sitting down with Philip this summer. I agree wholeheartedly.
Sunday night represents a huge opportunity for Rivers. After years of being billed as the “next great young quarterback to win a ring,” he’s been dropped down a level by the football pundits. He can show a national television audience (and worried fans like myself), that he can avoid the bonehead plays will continue to doom the Bolts.
The stage has been set for the Chargers. The NFL is letting Sean Payton attend the game so that he can be there for Drew Brees’ record-setting touchdown toss. As a Charger fan, I’d take a bounty program if it meant a Super Bowl win. But I have a hard time understanding the Saints’ suggestion that they’ve been unfairly targeted. I hold a Master’s Degree in American History, so I am quite familiar with the concept of due process.
Nonetheless, the NFL seems to want New Orleans to have their moment. At 0-4, no one thinks the Chargers can win. This setting should serve as extra motivation. It would be great to stop Brees’ streak, but it’s immaterial if the Bolts lose the game.
The game isn’t nearly as important in the standings as the Monday Night title against Denver the following week. There’s no debating that. But a win under these circumstances would serve as some evidence that these aren’t the “same old Bolts.” That all begins, and ends, with Philip Rivers.