Was this season just a learning experience for the Chargers leader? Can we expect better in the future?
If you read the title of this article and thought it was going to be a rehash of the 2004 draft, you were tricked. If you thought you were going to read about how one is superior the other, then you are wrong. What I want to do here is just take a look at a quarterback (Eli Manning) who is obviously the franchise QB of his team, has played on a lot of winning teams and a couple .500 teams and who has had a lot of stability at Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator during his career. All those traits he more or less shares in common with Chargers QB Philip Rivers.
Eli Manning is also a man in the news these days. For the second time in his career he's gone into Lambeau field in January and knocked off a favorited Green Bay Packers team that seemed primed to go to the Super Bowl. Something else that's interesting about Eli Manning is that last year he threw 25 interceptions. His team missed the playoffs that year as they had the year before when the team went 8-8. Despite plenty of criticisms, the Head Coach was never fired and the Offensive Coordinator remained in place.
Philip Rivers is one month shy of being a year younger than Eli Manning. He threw a career high 20 interceptions and his team will miss the playoffs for the second year in a row. He will head into the 2012 with the same Head Coach (the offensive coordinator will change, but I think we'd all agree it's fair to say that Norv Turner, for all intents and purposes, takes on both roles).
I don't want to predict that because of these similarities (and I'll be the first to admit that I've framed the article to accentuate their similarities and not their difference) that Rivers is destined to see the team success like Eli Manning is having this year. I do think it would be an interesting turn of events though. I also think that something that gets lost in constant hype surrounding the NFL is that these QBs are learning every year on the job. That 25 interception season and back-to-back non-playoff seasons probably taught Eli something. I think it seems likely that Rivers will learn something too. Other QBs seem to have more things click as they get older.
Drew Brees took a number of years to become what he is now. Tom Brady was just a clutch QB until 2007 when he suddenly became an MVP candidate QB. Peyton Manning's playoff failures may have held the lessons that eventually took him to a Super Bowl win. In a different era Hall of Fame Chargers QB Dan Fouts had a ton of bumps in the road before becoming a prolific QB that kept his team in contention for a number of years. And I think the Eli Manning we've seen this year is a step up from what came in previous years, which had been good enough to help his team to 60-43 record and a Super Bowl win.
The takeaway lesson here is that quarterbacking is a work in progress. Early success does not mean that a QB can't get better. Of course, there are tons of other factors that determines wins and losses. However, with the hope that perhaps as soon as next year we'll see an even better Philip Rivers that gives me a lot of hope in the Chargers as a whole.