Photo by Jake Roth
Weeks ago, the Los Angeles Chargers have announced that quarterback Philip Rivers will not return to the team and that he will enter free agency. Now, Rivers is an Indianapolis Colt, officially marking the end of a 14-year era of leading the Chargers as their starting quarterback. As Rivers ends his time with the Chargers, he leaves behind toughness, consistency and a winning record with a franchise still without a Super Bowl championship.
When looking at Rivers’ career, it is fascinating to see all the various disappointments, successes and team failures he had to deal with. Rivers was drafted by the New York Giants with the fourth overall pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, but was traded to the San Diego Chargers after Eli Manning refused to play for them. Rivers would sit on the bench for his first two seasons behind Drew Brees and would take the starting job in the 2006 season. He was merely a game manager as former MVP LaDainian Tomlinson dominated the league with 31 touchdowns and 1,815 yards rushing. However, they would promptly lose in their first game to the New England Patriots, which would be a reoccurring theme in Rivers’ career.
In 2007, Rivers still had more of a game manager role as he led the Chargers back to the playoffs. After a 17-6 Wild Card Round win over the Vince Young-led Tennessee Titans, Rivers would lead his team into Indianapolis to face the 13-3 Colts. Rivers would tear his ACL in the fourth quarter and after Billy Volek finished the game and led them to a 28-24 win, Rivers would show how special he was by returning the next week for the AFC Championship at New England. Despite Tomlinson sitting like a statue on the sideline for most of the game, Rivers kept the Chargers in the game but would lose 21-12 to the 18-0 Patriots.
The next season is where Rivers broke out and became a star quarterback with over 4,000 yards and 34 touchdowns. He led the 4-8 Chargers from the brink of elimination to an 8-8 division championship. Then, helped lead them to another win over the Colts in the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers.
The next two seasons would be the time where Rivers would get some of the harshest criticisms in his career and have some awful luck. In 2009, the Chargers started 2-3, but would win their last 11 games to enter the playoffs in position to finally make the Super Bowl. But in their first game, they fell flat as Rivers threw two interceptions and lost 17-14 to Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets. Rivers took a lot of heat for that loss as his two picks doomed the Chargers. 2010 was even rougher as Rivers would have a career year with 4,710 yards and 30 touchdowns and led the Chargers to the league’s top offense. Even with a stellar defense as well, they had a historically bad special teams unit. They gave up two kickoff returns for touchdowns to Leon Washington of the Seahawks in one game and gave up a punt return touchdown and had a punt blocked—all in the first five games. They would miss the playoffs despite having a great offense and defense.
The next two years would show head coach Norv Turner waste the Chargers’ talent and Rivers was plagued with interceptions as he threw 35 over those two seasons. The Chargers did not help him out much as the 2012 team were the ones that let Ray Rice take a check-down and convert a 4th and 29. In 2013, he would show why he is a special quarterback as he led the Chargers from a 5-7 record to the playoffs and won 27-10 at Cincinnati in the Wild Card Round. They would fall 24-17 at Denver the following week, but for Rivers to save his team was quite a feat to watch.
The next four years would see the Chargers miss the playoffs, twice on tiebreaker, and go through major changes. 2018 looked promising as the Chargers, with one of the most stacked rosters in the NFL, won 12 games and made the playoffs, even though they never had a home-field advantage. They would defeat Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens 23-17 in the Wild Card Round before once again, losing to the New England Patriots 41-28.
After a 2019 season, where the Chargers lost 9 games by one possession, including a four-interception performance by Rivers in Mexico City against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers had let him go to test free agency. Even with Rivers off to Indy, he should be known as a Chargers legend and a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
He is sixth all-time in touchdown passes and passing yards, has one almost half of the postseason games he played in, showed incredible consistency and durability, and was a great leader. From 2006-2019, Rivers never missed a single game, even though he tore his ACL and had a game the next week, and from 2008-2019, Rivers always threw for more than 4,000 yards. That is remarkable consistency and after Tomlinson left in 2010, Rivers rarely had a true number one running back to support him with Melvin Gordon in 2017 and 2018 being an exception. In 2010, his career year was wasted in large part due to horrendous special teams. Rivers throughout his career has been an emotional leader as he always seen pumping up his teammates and being the emotional force the team has needed.
While Rivers has never been the most clutch quarterback, he has brought the Chargers organization respectability and an era where they had a lot of success. While no championship success, Rivers was as consistent and tough as they came and Rivers should be rewarded with a gold jacket.