Here’s how you know an NFL team has reached a crossroad – or a crisis point, depending on your point of view.
Listen to a postgame press conference involving a head coach. If within two or three questions, he is asked about the status of his healthy starting quarterback, you know the needle is pointing down.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn may have been in Mexico City on Monday night, but he didn’t require translation when asked if he was considering pulling the plug on Philip Rivers, who has been the Chargers quarterback come hell or high water since 2006.
“I’m not going to entertain that,” Lynn told the Orange County Register. “I’m going to evaluate everything, and right now Philip Rivers is our starting quarterback. But I’m not going to single one position out. I’m looking at everybody. We’re 4-7. Everybody can be doing something better.”
Sure, Anthony. Do whatever you need to do to take your team’s temperature, but we promise you will come back to Rivers.
He didn’t have a rough game on Monday. He had a disastrous game. And it wasn’t just one of those things, a harmless blip on the team’s EKG this season. Poor play from Rivers has been commonplace – and it’s the reason your team will be watching the postseason from its recliner.
He threw another four interceptions against a defense not known for its ball-hawking acumen. And the final one was a crusher – in the end zone with just 18 seconds to play, the Chargers threatening again to tie the score in what turned into a 24-17 loss.
This performance follows last week’s when he threw three interceptions. That makes 14 interceptions this season, second only to Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston, king of the bad decision.
Rivers has already surpassed his interception totals of the last two seasons and is zeroing in on his career-high of 21 in 2016. He’s thrown interceptions on 3.4 percent of his attempts this season. Only Winston, Baker Mayfield and Sam Darnold have been intercepted at a greater pace.
Oh, he also has 16 turnovers, ranked third in the league.
It doesn’t matter anymore that Rivers reacts to these things with anger. He always rips his helmet off and stalks to the bench, grimacing, looking around, peering up to the video board to see exactly what happened again. The sorry expression doesn’t register with Chargers fans anymore. They are sick of the apparent recklessness and disregard for ball safety.
So what’s the point? Here’s the point: Rivers is going be 38 years old on Pearl Harbor Day and that would be OK if he was Tom Brady or Drew Brees. But he’s not.
At this point in his career, he’s more Eli Manning, which we find highly ironic since they both broke in – with Ben Roethlisberger in 2004 – and were traded for each other on draft day when Manning balked about being a Charger.
You’ll note the Giants benched Manning after the second game of the season for rookie Daniel Jones. In the last year of his contract, the Giants know Manning will be gone and figured there was no good reason to continue the charade by playing him.
Well, Rivers is in the last year of his deal, as well. The only difference is, the Chargers have not had the forethought to draft his successor. If Lynn benches Rivers, his only option is Tyrod Taylor, and goodness knows no one wants to see that.
So what is Rivers right now? Is this the quarterback who has engineered over 30 game-winning drives or is the one with the rusting wing who can’t seem to get himself out of trouble anymore?
“Nothing’s different. We’re emphasizing the same things,” Lynn said. “Philip just has to execute better.”
In their story about Rivers after the Chiefs game, The Athletic pointed to a number of examples illustrating how bad Rivers’ decision-making has become. It highlighted a second-quarter throw when Rivers tried to squeeze a ball into triple coverage to Keenan Allen in the end zone when Mike Williams was breaking free in the center of the field.
Precisely. The poise isn’t there anymore. The discriminating judgment, the sense of where to go with the ball seems to have disappeared.
We think he’s done.
So what do the Chargers do now? Of course, they must decide whether to resign Rivers at what would likely be an exorbitant price. And if they don’t resign him, will they turn to free agency for someone like Teddy Bridgewater, trade for someone else’s problem, or try to trade up in the draft to take a college prospect.
One thing is for sure: the move will be induced by panic. Did you know that since Rivers became the Chargers starter in 2006, the team has not drafted a quarterback in the first four rounds? What does that tell you about its advance planning capability? They have never once asked Rivers to compete for his job.
How is it relevant now that Rivers is headed to the Hall of Fame after compiling big numbers over the entirety of his career? He has 57,825 passing yards, 389 touchdown passes and a completion percentage of 64.5 percent.
What has he done with it? Since the 2004 draft, both the Steelers (Roethlisberger) and Giants (Manning) have won two Super Bowls. Since Rivers took over, the Chargers have played in only one AFC Championship Game, and that was a deflating loss at New England in 2007. No conference championships. No Super Bowl appearances.
“The only way I know is to fight,” Rivers said Monday night. “While, believe me, it hurts like crazy, we know what we’re all playing (for) as a team and what our goals are, this game is way more than between the lines. The things you learn, the toughness and all the things that you have to work on to help you be a better person, man, husband, father. We’re in one of those spots. I’m certainly in one of those spots. And you just keep fighting.”
The Chargers front office is likely fighting, too. Fighting the urge to admit its one of two more bad games from admitting their quarterback has run out of gas.
Rivers has started every game since he became the team’s starter. His face is on a franchise stamp, like Kellen Winslow, Dan Fouts, LaDainian Tomlinson, Junior Seau and Lance Alworth.
But the end came for them all. It’s just a matter of when someone in power realizes its happened.