Chargers QB Philip Rivers Sees Positives in His Season Despite 'Tough 2-Game Stretch'
COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Philip Rivers acknowledges that the numbers don't look pretty.
The Los Angeles Chargers' longtime starting quarterback has thrown 14 interceptions with five weeks left in the season, the highest total in the AFC and behind only Tampa Bay Buccaneers' signal-caller Jameis Winston's 20 for most in the NFL. The issue has grown particularly pronounced over the past two games, with Rivers throwing seven picks officially as well as two others negated by penalties. Those figures would seem out of line for a rookie passer much less a veteran with 16 years of experience.
"A tough two-game stretch," Rivers says of his recent play. "Really, unlike any two games I can remember having back to back."
Before this year, Rivers hadn't thrown so much as six interceptions over any two-game stretch in his career. He threw five picks over back-to-back games on six separate occasions, most recently in 2016. The quarterback tossed seven interceptions over the final three weeks of the 2014 season and 10 interceptions over four consecutive games in 2016. Though daunting numbers, none touch what Rivers has done during the Chargers' last two games.
For a quarterback that will celebrate his 38th birthday in a matter of weeks, the startling turnover figures suggest that the end could come soon. Few players at the position remain active into their late 30s, and those that do tend to experience a steep decline around Rivers' age. The interceptions coupled with Rivers' expiring contract has sparked a conversation about his future in Los Angeles.
Rivers' skeptics don't have to look outside the Chargers' division for an example of late-career decline. Future Hall of Fame signal-caller Peyton Manning won the Most Valuable Player award with the Denver Broncos in 2013, his age-37 season. Manning's play suddenly tailed off the following December when he tossed six interceptions against just three touchdowns. That month served as a preview for his 2015 campaign, his worst statistically by a substantial margin. Other all-time great quarterbacks such as Brett Favre went from earning MVP votes one year to disappointing final seasons the next.
However, Rivers sees his interceptions as a blip on the radar rather than indicative of "a tough year of turnovers."
"I definitely looked at [the interceptions] and go, 'Why the heck did I do that?'" Rivers says. "But no, not self-doubt, because then you turn on the Green Bay game and go, "Man, that was pretty good.' That was just three weeks ago, four weeks ago, and I can pick some games and other stretches and other throws and other plays. There's been some other bad plays in this league by guys that are a heck of a lot younger, and I'm sure they're not losing it. They're still capable."
At least publicly, the Chargers remain supportive of their veteran quarterback. During a conference call with reporters last week, head coach Anthony Lynn said he wouldn't "entertain" a quarterback change despite Rivers' struggles. Lynn echoed those sentiments Wednesday.
"I don't plan on having to make that decision," Lynn says. "I plan on us going and playing our tails off this weekend and getting back in that winning column."
Rivers might have enough leash to start the remainder of the season regardless of his individual performance. At 4-7, the Chargers have put themselves in a difficult position to reach the playoffs and any foreseeable scenario in which they qualify involves a rejuvenated Rivers at the forefront.
Still, if Rivers hopes to remain the Chargers' starting quarterback into 2020, he needs to curtain his turnover rate and flash the brilliance that made him an MVP contender at this time a year ago. That version of Rivers merits another season, especially with a roster that returns nearly all of its other key players and has competed with the best teams in the league when healthy. How the next month unfolds might well determine whether Los Angeles recommits to Rivers or decides to reboot under center.
"I think over the bulk of my playing career, I've been probably better than average at [turnover prevention]," Rivers says. "There have been spans and spurts that have not been better than average. These last couple of games would fall in that category. Certainly, I've got to do a better job of it."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH