Which former NFL quarterback had the same career as Philip Rivers?

Jonathan Daniel

Finding a parallel between Philip Rivers' career thus far and the career of a certain former NFL quarterback.

I have no idea if this is going to work. In the midst of fighting with every San Diego Chargers fan on Twitter this morning about Philip Rivers, a name popped into my head. A former NFL QB. Someone who might be able to tell us what the future holds for Mr. Rivers.

First, I need to add up the stats and see if they're anywhere close to each other. Bear with me.

Mystery QB:

GS Record Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Y/C
109 58-51 56.92% 26,763 149 121 11.68

Philip Rivers:

GS Record Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Y/C
112 70-42 63.69% 27,743 188 92 12.32

Okay, not as close as I had hoped, but still pretty close. Now, it's story time.

As many of you know, I was not a football fan growing up. Basketball was my sport. However, being a part of a family filled with sports junkies, uncles and cousins were always buying me things like football jerseys and shirts and even entire uniforms with pads and helmets (those were rough times to own a Cris Carter Philadelphia Eagles uniform). I hated these things because they meant nothing to me.

The names on the back meant nothing, the names on the front meant nothing and the football jerseys were mostly kept in a box in my closet that I never opened....except for one. I can't explain why I wore it all the time except to say that it fit me well, and I liked the material. That jersey was this jersey, and that's the man we're going to talk about.

Drew Bledsoe

Hey, remember when Drew Bledsoe was good? Of course you don't. That was more than a decade ago. However, I assure you, the man was talented.

Those stats above are Drew's seven years as the New England Patriots' starting QB (I took out his rookie season because he only started half the games and because I wanted to measure seven seasons against seven seasons). His career in New England is startling similar to one Philip Rivers. Allow me to explain.

Coaches

In his first year as a starter, Philip Rivers and Marty Schottenheimer teamed up for a 14-2 season and a playoff appearance. After that season, long-time failure (as a head coach) Norv Turner took over for Marty, but Rivers still managed to bring the Chargers to the playoffs in each of his first four seasons as the starter before missing the playoffs in each of the last three years. He now has a new, unproven head coach in Mike McCoy.

In his first year as the Week 1 starter, Drew Bledsoe and Bill Parcells teamed up for a 10-6 season and a playoff appearance. Parcells stuck around for two more seasons, making the playoffs once more, before Pete Carroll (who was viewed as a failed NFL head coach before this run with the Seahawks) took over. Bledsoe made the playoffs in the first two seasons of Pete's three year run as head coach. He played one season with a new, unproven head coach named Bill Belichick.

Sacks

This was the big one that drew me to this comparison. I remember, when I started watching football in 1998, seeing how good Drew Bledsoe was. I was rooting for him because I had worn his jersey for so many years.

In 1999, I noticed things changing a bit. Instead of getting the ball out quickly and in rhythm, suddenly Drew was holding onto the ball too long and seemed to go back and forth between too timid and too aggressive. He was sacked 55 times that season (compared to Rivers getting sacked 49 times in 2012), up from 36 the year before, and threw more interceptions than touchdowns. The offensive line was blamed, and excuses were made for Bledsoe. Pete Carroll was fired, and Patriot fans complained about Parcells bringing Curtis Martin to the Jets via free agency.

In 2000, Bill Belichick replaced Pete Carroll. Although him and Charlie Weis wanted to install their system, Drew Bledsoe was the starting QB and was therefore given a chance to adapt. Meanwhile, they used their 6th round draft pick on a backup QB from Michigan that they thought was a good fit for their system. Perhaps they could groom him into something.

By comparison, Philip Rivers saw his sack numbers jump from 25 in 2009 to 38 in 2010. While his interception numbers didn't jump up until 2011 (when he was sacked just 30 times), I was seeing the same thing from Rivers that I had seen from Bledsoe. I call it the "Deer in Headlights" look. Philip Rivers used to be the best in the league at beating opposing blitzes, but now he seems lost when blitzed and tends to freeze up and hold onto the ball. Bledsoe developed the same nasty habit, and it led to a lot of concussions and some really poor seasons down the line with the Buffalo Bills and Dallas Cowboys.

In 2013, Mike McCoy replaces Norv Turner. Although him and Ken Whisenhunt want to install their system, Philip Rivers is the starting QB and therefore will be given a chance to adapt. Meanwhile, they used their 7th round draft pick on a QB from Southern Utah that they think is a good fit for their system. Perhaps they can groom him into something.

"The Talent Around Him"

Let's do another comparison.

Bledsoe (2000):

GS Record Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Y/C
16 5-11 58.8% 3,291 17 13 10.5

Drew was sacked 45 times that year. When he left with an injury early in the 2001 season, the thought process was that no QB could succeed behind this offensive line.

Tom Brady (2001):

GS Record Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Y/C
14 11-3 63.9% 2,843 18 12 10.8

41 sacks in 15 games tell me that Brady was facing the same heat that Bledsoe was. Fortunately for him, he was a better fit for an offense that required a lot of quick, accurate throws. This was Brady's first Super Bowl season.

Tom Brady (2002):

GS Record Comp % Pass Yds Pass TDs INT Y/C
16 9-7 62.1% 3,764 28 14 10.1

This time, Brady wasn't able to get his team to the playoffs, but his sack total dropped to 31 and he threw more TDs. His sack totals would stay below 30 for seven consecutive seasons. Is that because the offensive line got drastically better after Bledsoe left, or is it because Brady got rid of the ball quicker and had better pocket awareness?

What I'm getting at is this: Brady had the same group Bledsoe had, but he was a better fit for the new offense. He started his rookie season as the fourth QB (!) on the depth chart and was Bledsoe's backup by the beginning of 2001. I could see Brad Sorensen treading a similar path, but I sincerely hope that the parallels between Bledsoe's career and Rivers' career end this season.

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