Two games behind division-leading Denver at 4-6 and with five games remaining against teams with winning records, the San Diego Chargers are so far back up against the wall they’re leaving body prints on it.
Injuries to key players, a soft defense, and even referee miscues have been to blame for the Bolts' mediocre season thus far.
That is, of course—until now.
Save for Shawne Merriman, every regular starter was available for last week’s game against Pittsburgh, new defensive coordinator Ron Rivera’s unit allowed zero TDs to the Steelers, and the refs flagged the Bolts just twice in a tough, physical game.
San Diego still lost.
The new culprit is almost exclusively QB Philip Rivers. In the team’s last four games, Rivers has thrown six INTs and coughed up three fumbles, one of which ended in a safety.
His QB rating against the Steelers was a microscopic 43. He also coughed up a fumble in the end zone, leading to a safety, and killed two red zone drives—one with an interception and another with ugly passes that fell incomplete on second and third down.
In a loss against the Bills, the NC State product fumbled twice and threw an interception during a crucial fourth-quarter drive.
Against the Saints, a game the Chargers also lost, Rivers’ only mistake was a costly one, a fourth-quarter interception, killing a drive that could have potentially given the Chargers a tie or the lead.
For the Chargers, that meant the difference between 4-6 and 7-3 right now.
Although his numbers on the season would indicate impressive performances (his 100.8 rating is second in the league, and his 21 TD passes lead the NFL), his mismanagement of games in crucial situations has directly influenced the results of those games.
Perhaps more troubling is Rivers’ attitude and adjustments regarding these mistakes.
A sheepish smile and a somewhat careless shrug is usually Rivers' response to an interception.
His postgame speeches have included such gems as, “The whole experience was a lot of fun, except the outcome of the game,” in regards to the loss at New Orleans in London.
He seems to have lost confidence in himself, hesitating often even with open receivers at his disposal, as well as under throwing receivers seemingly on a regular basis.
With six games and still a wide-open division in the mix, is it heavy-handed to place the blame on Rivers?
If the defense keeps playing like it did in Pittsburgh, the refs keep doing their job, and everybody’s healthy—it won’t be.