Philip Rivers Goes Out as a Gunslinger in Possible Final Game with Chargers
Jason B. Hirschhorn
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If Sunday's game marked Philip Rivers' last with the Los Angeles Chargers, he certainly didn't go gentle into that good night. The veteran quarterback remained true to his gunslinger ways during Week 17's matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs, a 31-21 loss.
As he has throughout his 16-year NFL career (14 as a starter), Rivers tested the defense deep all game, attempting double-digit passes that traveled 15 yards or more downfield. Five fell incomplete. Three went for long gains or a touchdown. Two others resulted interceptions, the second occurring on Rivers' final play of the season. He finished the afternoon with 31 completions on 46 attempts for 281 yards, two touchdowns, and two turnovers.
The performance exemplifies both the Chargers' reasons for bringing Rivers back for a 17th season and why they might decide to move on to a new signal-caller. Though Rivers made mistakes, his big moments also allowed the team to stay close with a significantly more talented and playoff-bound Chiefs squad. At the same time, Rivers' limited mobility contributed to several drive-killing sacks that ultimately helped decide the outcome.
"Have I made plenty of mistakes this year that hurt us in some games? Yes," Rivers acknowledged. "Were we in some games where we could have overcome them? Absolutely. I see it all over the league. Just like today, the stats won't tell the whole story. That's why, at this point in my career, I could care less about them. The only stat's about winning and losing. And, again, I didn't do enough this year to help us win more football games, and I take responsibility for that in the play and mistakes I should be responsible for."
With the bitter taste of three consecutive losses and a 5-11 season on its tongue, Los Angeles will now begin the long process of evaluating the entire roster in earnest. The core of the team remains talented and intact for the 2020 season, with Rivers as the main exception to the latter. Given how the Chargers performed relative to the league's other also-rans -- only L.A. entered Week 17 with a positive point differential among teams with five wins or fewer -- the idea of re-signing Rivers for one last run offers plenty of upside.
"It's still there," Rivers said of his love of football. "I think in a year like this, it can drain you a little bit and beat you up. But it's still there. There's nothing like competing at this level, living a dream even in a situation like this when you're 5-10.
"As I stand today, as long as somebody wants me, I'll be playing somewhere. But shoot, in a month, I don't know. I may be ready to put on a headset and call a play. I don't know. I really don't. But as honest as I can answer right now, if one of 32 teams want me and it's the right situation, and I can start that 225th game in a row, I'll be running out there."
Regardless, Sunday's game could prove to be Rivers' last with the Chargers. If so, some fans will struggle to put his career in perspective. Unquestionably, he delivered more overall success to the team than any other quarterback since Dan Fouts and will finish his tenure with Hall of Fame-caliber numbers. Rivers also hasn't missed a game since becoming a starter, a Brett Favre-ian streak of more than 200 games.
However, the Chargers never reached the Super Bowl with Rivers at the helm. His teams only once advanced past the divisional round and went an entire decade without winning an AFC West crown. The blame for those shortcomings doesn't fall solely on the quarterback, but the disappointments will undoubtedly complicate Rivers' legacy nonetheless.
Still, many franchises wait decades before finding a franchise signal-caller of Rivers' caliber, and some never land one. The Chargers have received more than they could have expected from Rivers, and he ranks among the very best players in franchise history.
"I can say I gave it everything I had ever week," Rivers said while wiping away tears. "And maybe that means an interception on fourth-and-18 when you're down 10, because I don't care that it's going to say two interceptions. I really don't. I ain't quitting. I think that doing it with so many guys over 14 years and going to the locker room, win or lose, and I can say, 'Dadgummit, we fell short or we won, but shoot, I couldn't try it any harder.'"
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH