The hard reality of football is most don’t last long in the sport, but there are some instances when a player beats the odds and not only extends the life of their NFL career — they make it an epic one. Such has been the case for Philip Rivers, who is now in his 16th season as quarterback for the Los Angeles Chargers, but Father Time is sending him a calendar alert as of late.
The 37-year-old is suddenly staring at the dreaded Wall of Sharp Decline, trying his best to push through in 2019, but his efforts are failing miserably. It’s possible Rivers can muster a few more shining examples of why he’s a legend within the Chargers organization before the season concludes, but his poor play is helping ensure he will only have five more chances at doing so, by virtue of Los Angeles potentially missing the playoffs; and a large part of the blame would fall on his shoulder pads.
Sitting at 4-6 and desperately in need of a win over the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs on “Monday Night Football,” Rivers threw a season-high four interceptions and had a fumble to boot, with his final interception coming in the red zone after having driven the Chargers down the field to threaten overtime. Unfortunately for Rivers, his play in Mexico City can’t be excused away as anomalous, because he threw three interceptions and fumbled once in the previous week’s loss to another division rival in the Oakland Raiders, and even that’s not the end of the story regarding his struggles.
Over the last four games, Rivers has only four touchdowns to eight interceptions to go along with the two fumbles, barely has an accuracy rate above 60%, and carries an average passer rating of 69.8. Speaking after the 24-17 loss to the Chiefs, the eight-time Pro Bowler knows he’s devolved into a torpedo aimed at the Chargers’ playoff hopes.
“If you could just pick and choose and never throw [interceptions] ever, I’d choose to throw zero,” he said, via ESPN. “So I certainly don’t want to throw them, but I know it’s hurting us right now. So obviously I need to cut them out.”
That’s saying the least, and while head coach Anthony Lynn believes not every turnover is accountable to Rivers, he knows too many of them are.
“Philip just has to execute better, as far as turnovers,” Lynn said. “Now, when you look at his turnovers, it’s not always on the quarterback. I mean, sometimes the quarterback is getting hit late, or sometimes a receiver may slip down, so you can’t put all of those turnovers on Philip; but his turnovers are a little higher than I would like.
“He knows that. And we have to get better in that area — period.”
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This all begs the obvious question regarding Rivers’ future with the Chargers, because history dictates his finer days are behind him, even if some of them did occur in a very impressive 2018 season that helped his team go 12-4.
At his age, NFL quarterbacks who’ve been talented and lucky enough to last this long usually run into the aforementioned Wall, as evidenced recently by legends like Peyton Manning in his final season, and the fact Eli Manning — who will forever be linked to Rivers thanks to the infamous draft day trade in 2014 that sent Manning to the New York Giants and Rivers to Southern California — has been riding the bench for most of the 2019 season. Even Tom Brady doesn’t look like himself as of late, with his league-leading defense having shouldered most of the load en route to the New England Patriots‘ cushy 9-1 record.
This isn’t to say Rivers is necessarily done in the NFL, but it does present the opportunity for the Chargers to have a talk about his future with the club. Set to turn 38 this December, Rivers is not under contract for the 2020 season, and the team is currently on track to land a top-10 draft pick when April rolls around. That puts them in prime position to grab a future franchise quarterback and, something else that’s key to note, it’s a rather strong draft class at the position.
You can also bet there will be a curveball or two in the top 10, one likely being Tua Tagovailoa dropping a bit from the projected first-overall pick following his season-ending hip injury, potentially giving the Chargers a shot at landing him — if not another top talent.
A viable conversation indeed, and one that will cross the mind of owner Dean Spanos and general manager Tom Telesco in the weeks and months to come, but Lynn will leave the contract and draft discussions to the front office for now. For his part, he’s being every bit the fiery head coach working feverishly to stave off a season that ends at 16 games.
“I don’t have that luxury to think about Philip and the future and his contract,” Lynn said. “My focus is on preparing for the next game and the Denver Broncos. At the end of the season, that will take care of itself, but right now, we’re just trying to finish the season on a positive note.”
Rivers, always the consummate heavyweight contender, and right down to the last blow, isn’t giving up on himself.
“The only way I know is to fight, and we’ll just keep fighting,” Rivers said. “You sign up for them all, regardless of what your record is. We’ve been in this spot before, and you just keep playing. You never know what can happen, but whether that happens or not, you just keep fighting.”
It’s true the Chargers have been in the spot before, and recently, having started the 2017 season with a 3-5 record before finishing strong to land at 9-7, they missed the playoffs that year; and that was with a younger and seemingly stronger Rivers. He still has a chance to bounce back with the uneasy Denver Broncos up next, followed by a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 14, but he’ll then get shoved into yet another gauntlet to finish the regular season. Weeks 15 through 17 include battles with the red-hot Minnesota Vikings and rematches with both the Raiders and Chiefs, making it difficult to fathom Rivers and the Chargers mounting enough artillery to shoot their way into January.
Even if they win out, which is very unlikely, they’d finish at 9-7 and likely fail to secure an AFC wild card slot — shades of 2017 — again raising the inescapable question on Rivers’ future in the City of Angels. With no contract in tow and Lynn on the hot seat himself, the latter implying he’ll have to decide if he wants to risk his next year on a potentially declining QB, it’s time the Chargers face the reality of the situation.
One option would be to re-sign him to a one-year deal, giving them time to acclimate a top draft pick, and that is certainly viable if Rivers is willing to sign up for such a move, considering it leaves the door open for him to benched during the season.
Rivers is undeniably an NFL legend and likely a Hall of Famer, but the bell always tolls — without fail or forgiveness.