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The top of the 2004 class featured the selection of three of the best quarterbacks of the last 15 years: Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers. The three will always be linked, especially Manning and Rivers, who were traded for each other on draft night. Despite great individual success for each member of the triumvirate, Rivers always occupied the ugly stepchild role, never slipping the most prized piece of NFL jewelry onto his finger as he watched Roethlisberger and Manning do so on two occasions apiece.
But 2019 has been unkind to the trio, with Roethlisberger knocked out for the season after suffering a Week 2 elbow injury and Manning benched in favor of his younger, more mobile doppelganger in Daniel Jones. That left Rivers as the last man standing from ’04, seemingly in prime position to build on a strong 2018 season cut short by the eventual Super Bowl-winning Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs—and perhaps get his first (and last) shot at the big game that eluded him his entire career.
Instead, Rivers and the Chargers embarked on a doomed campaign plunged to miserable new depths by a 24-17 Monday night loss to the Chiefs at Aztec Stadium in Mexico City. On paper, this doesn’t seem to be a particularly egregious loss; Kansas City, now 7-4, is leading the AFC West while Los Angeles sits in third place at 4-7 with all those losses coming in one-score games. But make no mistake about it–Rivers (28-of-52, 353 yards, one touchdown, four interceptions, 49.6 rating) lost this game for the Chargers.
Los Angeles outgained the Chiefs through the air, collected more total yards, picked up more first downs, gained more yards per play, held the ball longer and accrued 62 fewer penalty yards. The Chargers reached the Kansas City 25-yard line or better on six occasions, but came short of a touchdown on five of them. Rivers threw four interceptions a week after throwing three against the Raiders and easily could have tallied five if not for a drop on a wobbly, underthrown heave by an unbothered Tyrann Mathieu. That brings his season total to 14, second in the league behind the ever-erratic Jameis Winston. Two picks came with under five minutes to go in the fourth quarter, with the second drifting into the hands of Daniel Sorensen at the goal line to end it.
Rivers got a bit unlucky on a tipped ball from Frank Clark that fortuitously landed in the hands of Derrick Nnadi, but the other three were either underthrown or ill-advised passes into coverage gladly turned over by the Chiefs secondary. Rivers looked uncharacteristically jumpy and unsettled throughout (thanks in no small part to a depleted offensive line), but the poor decision-making from a 16-year NFL vet was inexplicable. As simplistic as this may be, it looked like Rivers was trying to do too much.
As for the rest of the Chargers, they did what they could to keep things close. Austin Ekeler continued his emergence as one of the NFL’s best pass-catching backs, snaring eight receptions for 108 yards to supplant his five rushes for 24 yards. Melvin Gordon appeared primed for a breakout game in the first half but slowed a bit in the latter frame, finishing with 69 yards on 14 rushing attempts. Mike Williams, Keenan Allen and Hunter Henry chipped in 216 combined receiving yards and a touchdown, with Williams’s 50-yard grab setting up Rivers for his final drive-killing pick of the night.
The defense limited the Chiefs’ explosive offense as well as could be expected and got the late stops needed to put Rivers in position to tie the game, with Melvin Ingram (five tackles, two for loss, one sack) and Thomas Davis Sr. (12 combined tackles, one pass defended) anchoring the unit from the linebacker position. But in another close “home” game played in a much larger soccer stadium than the one they call their actual home, the Chargers proved as just futile in converting close contests into wins as they have been all season.
It was not the most explosive or highlight-riddled game for Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs, especially with Tyreek Hill exiting early with a hamstring issue. But Mahomes settled in after a career-low 63 passing yards (and an ill-advised interception of his own) in the first half, content to hand the ball off and take the intermediate routes conceded by the L.A. defense. Travis Kelce led a quiet night offensively for the Chiefs with seven catches for 92 yards and a touchdown, as Mahomes handled much of the legwork, rushing for a team-high 59 yards. On the flipside, Frank Clark served as the primary Rivers irritant, logging three quarterback hits, a sack and a tipped-ball-turned-first-career interception for Nnadi. Charvarius Ward knocked away three Rivers passes as Mathieu, Sorensen and Rashad Fenton reeled in the other three interceptions, and the Kansas City defense bent but didn’t break inside its own 25. The goat (in a bad way) last week against the Titans, this was an important bounce-back from a defensive unit that will need to be sharp come December and January with the Raiders suddenly lurking on their bumper at 6-4.
In the moments following Rivers’s clutch 50-yard strike to Williams, it looked like the old dadgummer had some more of his name-brand, fourth-quarter comeback magic left in the tank. The Williams throw was special, and Rivers completed a handful of other vintage passes in this game (the 10-yard teardrop on fourth-and-4 to Henry earlier in the drive comes to mind), but the proud owner of 29 career fourth-quarter comebacks and 32 game-winning drives couldn’t finish the very job he once found so straightforward. It’s been a frustrating season for the Chargers exacerbated by the play of the man that kept this franchise in contention for over a decade, and it will be interesting to see where Rivers’s postseason regroup will lead him.
For NFL quarterbacks not named Tom Brady, Father Time has proven to be the fickle beast many times over. And in a season where the class of ’04 –still faithfully represented in part by Larry Fitzgerald, Matt Schaub, Ben Watson and Andy Lee–watched two of its pillars begin to fall, it appears a third may be slowly crumbling right alongside them.
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MUST-READS AT SI.COM: Albert Breer’s always-informative Monday Afternoon Quarterback looks at Stephon Gilmore, Myles Garrett, Alec Ingold and more … Michael McCann breaks down the controversial injury waiver that shook up the Colin Kaepernick workout … Mr. Breer’s Monday Morning Quarterback column taking a look at Lamar Jackson, the rolling Vikings, Kaepernick and more ... Connor Orr takes a deeper dive on what happens next for Kaepernick.
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THE BEST OF AROUND THE INTERNET: The Philadelphia Eagles will host a high school game that was interrupted by a shooting … Kalyn Kahler examines how Tua Tagovailoa’s injury will affect the 2020 draft … Lamar Jackson and Deshaun Watson linked for an MVP-themed jersey swap … Quenton Nelson gives the definitive breakdown on the Colts’ keg stand celebration … the Saskatchewan Roughriders lost a CFL playoff game when a pass hit the crossbar ... Pat Forde on which remaining conference games will decide division races as the college football season hits its stretch.
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ONE FUN THING: Gilbert Arenas is still terrorizing Nick Young’s children (and Swaggy P too, for that matter). No Chill Gil, indeed.
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