Following the conclusion of the 2012 season, the future looked bleak for the San Diego Chargers.
Quarterback Philip Rivers had one of the worst seasons of his career at the age of 31, and the team finished 7-9, missing out on the playoffs for the third straight season. Head coach Norv Turner and general manager A.J. Smith were let go, and an era of rebuilding appeared on the horizon.
Without the personnel look of a playoff-bound team, expectations were low heading into 2013. Coming into the season, The Associated Press ranked the Chargers as the 27th-best team in the league. Despite that, the Chargers emulated their quarterback by doing what no one thought they could do: They made a comeback.
Rivers, who has had one of his best statistical seasons, throwing for 4,478 yards, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions in the regular season, should receive the award for NFL Comeback Player of the Year when they announce the winners of the NFL's most prestigious awards the night before the Super Bowl.In order to be considered for this award, nominated players must have a wasted season. Meaning, players must have a season hampered by injury, or performance. On a personal level, Rivers struggled in 2012 and speculation ensued over how long he would remain the starter in San Diego.
Possessions in the NFL are extremely important. Because of this, winning the turnover battle is crucial to winning a game. In 2012, Rivers became known for his ability to cough up the football. Rivers fumbled 15 times, losing 7, and threw 15 interceptions 16 games played. He had only four more touchdowns then turnovers on the season. To compare that to this season, Rivers had 19 more touchdowns to interceptions, a considerable jump that should play in to his chances for winning the comeback player of the year award.
Though Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith led the Chiefs from 2-14, to the playoffs, Rivers should get the nod over his AFC West counterpart because Smith didn't necessarily have to lead an offense filled with average players. In his first year with the Chiefs, Smith stepped into a solid situation. The Chiefs already had Jamaal Charles to lead one of the league's best rushing attacks, and an advantageous defense. They just needed a quarterback, and they got one in Smith.
It's important to leave a good impression on voters. Rivers has certainly accomplished that. In San Diego's current win streak, its been Rivers who has carried the Chargers. Since a 37-14 Week 14 victory over the New York Giants, Rivers has combined to throw for 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Rivers and San Diego have also been able to knock off some quality teams, beating three AFC playoff representatives in the process.
After barely sneaking into the playoffs, due to losses by the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens, and some luck in a Week 17 win over the Chiefs, words like "destiny" have been associated with San Diego.
Yes, luck seems to have found its way into the Chargers' locker room. However, San Diego deserves more credit than that for the season it's having.
While Rivers has been spectacular, some other players have stepped up and followed Rivers' redemption, primarily running back Ryan Mathews. In the regular season, Mathews rushed for 1,255 yards and six touchdowns, by far the best season he's had in his four-year career. When Mathews is an integral part of the Chargers' offense, San Diego usually wins. In games where Mathews gets 20 or more carries, the Chargers are 6-0.
Another surprise for the Chargers has been the play of rookie wide receiver Keenan Allen. Allen, a third-round selection out of California-Berkeley, has given San Diego a "go-to guy" on the outside for the first time since the departure of Vincent Jackson. Allen snagged 71 passes for 1,046 yards and eight touchdowns in his rookie campaign, flashing his big-play potential along the way.
One of the most telling qualities in quarterbacks is their ability to not only make themselves better, but to make everyone around them better. Rivers has done that and more this season, making him the logical choice for Comeback Player of the Year.