The last time we saw Philip Rivers on a football field, he was as disorganized and as out of sorts as we’ve seen him as an NFL quarterback.
Rivers was out of control and confused as an unsuccessful last-ditch drive ended in a six-point loss at the New York Jets, a game in which Rivers uncharacteristically threw two late interceptions that fueled a Jets comeback victory. Most alarming about Rivers’ meltdown is that it has been building all season.
Known as one of the better quarterbacks in football, Rivers has looked uncomfortable and out of sync for parts of nearly every game this season.
Rivers, who appeared to be pressing often against the Jets, needs to quickly revert to his normal calm and effective self. The Chargers visit resurgent Kansas City on ESPN’s “Monday Night Football” in a game that has major near-midseason implications. If the Chiefs -- who have won three straight games after starting 0-3 -- win, they will be tied with San Diego and Oakland (which has a bye this week) for first place in the division at 4-3. However, if Rivers can straighten things out, the Chargers have a chance to rebound to 5-2 and continue to be the favorite to secure the division crown.
But everything starts with Rivers in San Diego. Rivers’ inconsistency is one of the reasons the Chargers’ offense has been stagnant at times. The Chargers have struggled in the red zone and have had trouble compiling points. The Chargers haven’t scored more than 29 points in a game this season. They have scored at least 30 points in at least five games every season since Rivers took over in 2006.
Rivers, who’ll turn 30 in December, has been intercepted nine times in six games. In four of the Chargers’ six games this season, Rivers has been picked off twice, including the Chargers’ first three games, which was the first time Rivers was intercepted twice in three straight games. He has never been intercepted three times in a game in his career. His nine picks in 218 attempts this season equals the number of interceptions he threw in the entire 2009 season in 486 attempts. The most interceptions he has ever thrown in a season is 15.
His average of 7.9 yards per pass completion is his lowest since 2007. Rivers has thrown just seven touchdown passes, and he is on pace for his lowest touchdown passing total of his career.
He is also struggling in more obscure statistical areas, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He is not having success throwing out of the shotgun. Eight of his nine interceptions have been thrown out of the shotgun, to go along with four touchdown passes. From 2008-10, Rivers threw 50 touchdowns out of the shotgun and just 16 interceptions.
Although there were whispers about Rivers’ early-season struggles before the bye, his stinker against the Jets has prompted many analysts to wonder out loud what is wrong.
After the New York game, ESPN analyst Tom Jackson said this: “I’m concerned. Philip Rivers is not right.” ESPN analyst Merril Hoge added this during the week: “He is not dialed in. ... If he keeps playing like this, the Chargers will not make the playoffs.”
Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. wrote this week that he thinks Rivers could be dealing with an injury. Here is some of what Williamson wrote:
Rivers has not seemed right all season, and the only explanation I can come up with is that he might be battling an undisclosed injury. The quarterback is missing on throws he almost always completes, and the interceptions keep piling up as a result of questionable decisions. Perhaps his mind is writing checks that his body cannot cash.
Rivers said this week that he is healthy. I know there was concern early in the season that Rivers might have been favoring his ribs. But he has not appeared on any injury reports this season. Many scouts I have talked to believe Rivers is now simply trying too hard. I asked Williamson if he thinks Rivers can snap out of his funk or if this highly respected player is suddenly on the slide. Williamson didn’t hesitate.
“If he is physically able to throw the football like he is capable, I have no doubt that he will snap out of it,” Williamson said. “I’m extremely high on Rivers.”
Rivers has maintained that all is well, and he has downplayed his and the Chargers’ issues this season. He has long heard criticism of his team and he believes, in the big picture, San Diego is on the right track.
"I don't know if it matters what we learned other than [the game is] something to fill tomorrow morning's news,'' Rivers said after the Jets game. "All I hear for six months was that the regular season didn't matter. Now everyone wants to know what is the matter?"
Still, Rivers is considered an elite quarterback. He has been expected to become the next great quarterback to win a Super Bowl ring. But he has not played at a Super Bowl-contending caliber this year, and until he does again, people will continue to wonder what’s wrong with him.