Philip Rivers Being Doubted Didn’t Go Unnoticed
Phillip B. Wilson
INDIANAPOLIS — Entering his 17th NFL season, Philip Rivers is adept at tuning out the proverbial outside noise.
But as his 2019 season spiraled in a downward cycle with just 23 touchdown passes versus 20 interceptions, which prompted the L.A. Chargers to let the eight-time Pro Bowl quarterback become a free agent, Rivers heard the doubt that he was washed up.
His new employer, the Indianapolis Colts, also heard what skeptics were saying. Head coach Frank Reich didn't need to be asked about it. He brought up the subject in an April Zoom video conference call about the criticism that Rivers, at 38, supposedly lacked the arm strength to make the necessary throws. Reich said he watched the game film and came away convinced Rivers still had that ability and could be an elite quarterback.
When Rivers was asked about the doubt in a Wednesday Zoom video conference call with Indianapolis media, he acknowledged the reporter correctly surmised that the criticism isn’t a motivating factor for 2020. That said, Rivers knows what was said about him, and didn’t like it.
“I think you have the right read on that,” Rivers said. “At its core is that it doesn’t bother me and I don’t care, but at the same time, shoot, we’re all human. At times I think what may have aggravated me a little bit last year was that, ‘I just couldn’t play anymore.’ When I heard that it bothered me because I wanted to go, ‘Shoot, let’s turn on the tape and watch all the good things.’
“Yes, there were some bad plays last year. There were certainly some throws I want back and certainly some very costly mistakes. I own up to all of those, but I just think there was so much good, and I still – shoot, I had some throws last year that were probably as good as I’ve had in my whole career.”
Rivers enters this season ranked sixth on the NFL’s all-time list in passing yards (59,271) and TD passes (397). Although his 20 interceptions last season marked just the third time he threw that many in a season, he did make the Pro Bowl in each of the three seasons before that.
The Colts have set up their offense to allow Rivers to do what he does best — get rid of the ball quickly and make the right reads without needing to try so many of those risky throws. A rushing offense that ranked seventh last year added Wisconsin running back Jonathan Taylor in the second round of the NFL draft. An offensive line that didn’t have a missed start a year ago returns intact and should provide Rivers significantly better pocket protection. And the Colts drafted USC wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. in the second round as well as signed free-agent tight end Trey Burton to give Rivers more offensive weapons.
Reich and Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni were once Chargers assistants who helped Rivers flourish. So the new quarterback was already familiar with about 85 percent of the Colts playbook when he signed a one-year, $25-million contract in March.
But until he gets on the field and shows he hasn’t lost it, there will be doubters.
“I didn’t feel like I had to sell that to anyone, but at the same time it did aggravate you a little bit,” said Rivers, who has said he hopes to play more than one season with the Colts. “I think that’s OK. I think that’s OK to be aware. I’m one of those guys that likes to be aware. I don’t go searching for stories and want to keep up with what everybody thinks, but at the same time, I like to be in-tune with what’s going on. I don’t really try to hide from that. I’m not one of those that doesn’t turn on the TV or doesn’t look at anything during the season.
“I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, but I am excited to go have a better season and go play better and help this team win a bunch of games and obviously try to accomplish our goals. Again, that isn’t a motivating factor. That isn’t – I don’t go, ‘Gosh, I have to keep going just so nobody thinks I’ve lost it.’ That’s certainly way, way, way, way down if even on the list. I don’t even think about that as far as going into this season.”
(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org.)