As I fumbled for a new topic, I thought through the positions we had covered and realized one that had never been touched on, quarterback. In a fractured season full of chaotic ups and downs the Chargers had an anchor under center every week. He did have games where he was human, but he was the levy you trusted against the storm. Cooper was out for four games; Jamal's knees were creaking; Cromartie was a shadow of himself; the unstoppable Merriman went down for the season, even Jammer came up lame at the end of a few games. Philip Rivers was the sun, showing up every morning. After undergoing major knee surgery in the off season, Rivers missed nary a snap during the season, rolling up touchdowns quicker even than the legendary Dan Fouts. Widely despised by opposing fans, he went about dismantling defenses with enthusiasm and style.
It was the 2007 season we were given glimpses of his talent; but there were still holes to back fill. One of them was a lack of strength to really challenge the defense with the vertical threat. There were several sure TDs missed as he under threw his target forcing the receiver to slow for a wounded duck. Last offseason he worked not only his knees but strengthened his arm, and that strength drove a lot of nails as he increased his TDs by more than 50% while reducing his interceptions. In his first TD of the season he whipped the ball fifty yards through the air to a wide open Chris Chambers. Certainly you have to credit the Chargers stable of young receivers and able game plans by Norv Turner, but Rivers was putting the ball in receivers hands inside and outside the hash marks. Even as prime targets like Gates, Chambers and Floyd suffered with injuries; Rivers was spreading the ball around, hitting his check down receivers when coverage was tight and, best of all, throwing the ball away when coverage blanketed his targets. The only 1,000 yard receiver was Vincent Jackson on a team that piled up 4,000 air yards.
Not that his season was perfect, there were costly red zone turnovers too, but most Sundays he would be shredding secondaries with an uncanny ease. The other occasional flaw were too many delay of game penalties and wasted timeouts as the offense couldn't get plays off in a timely manner. Resulting from a lot of motion and attempts to audible at the line; these tactics provided a lot of crucial mismatches but were sometimes costly. Next season I'd love to see more 'no huddle' offense that would afford more time at the line and lock defenses into their personnel on the field.
There were the dust ups in 2007 where his competitive fire sparked a media backlash. He allowed himself to enjoy Cutler's failure too much and occasionally engaged the drunken flotsam in the stands. 2008 saw him flare out less, but always there was the white hot fire to compete. Nowhere was this more evident than in the final two minutes in Kansas City when down by eleven points with two minutes left; the Chargers season hanging by a tendril he shattered the Chiefs defense for two TD's and the win. The special teams onside kick recovery was essential; but Rivers's delivering under pressure would bring the Chargers their fourth divisional championship in five years.
Remarkably he achieved all this when the defense had one of its least memorable years. The Chargers ranked in the bottom third of the league in time of possession; you have to wonder what the offense might have achieved with more opportunities. This highlights another way Rivers powered this team; when the defense was struggling it would have been oh so easy to pin losses on them. That would have been the simple explanation to the tough questions, but Rivers never slammed the defense; he only laid out ways in which the offense, himself in particular, could have performed better. There were clear grumblings from many sources when the team looked out of the playoffs at 4-8, and you could hear the unhappiness at losing in his voice, but he spoke only of ways to distill his performance and by seasons end it was highly refined indeed. There can be no controversy in San Diego, Rivers is the man.