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Tuesday, November 1, 2011
Rivers needs to turn back clock

By Ramona Shelburne

Philip Rivers arrived before the Chargers really needed him.

Four years ago, when LaDanian Tomlinson and Antonio Gates could have carried the team, Rivers played in the AFC Championship game with a torn meniscus and ACL in his knee.

It was gutsy and dangerous, and it cemented his legend in San Diego.

Now, four years later, with Tomlinson in New York with the Jets and Gates fighting injuries, now, when the Chargers are indisputably Rivers’ team to carry, he keeps coming up short.

Something has been off this year. Something impossible to put a finger on or explain. But something impossible to ignore.

A quarterback as talented as Rivers is should not be throwing 11 interceptions in seven games. A leader as important as Rivers is should not be fumbling away snaps at the end of games, as he did in the Chargers' crushing 23-20 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday night).

“I dropped it,” Rivers said, making no excuses. “This one is rough. You blow it on a play that never should have happened.”

It would be easy to say Rivers is having trouble adjusting to the increased responsibility of high expectations. But that’s neither consistent with his personality, nor fitting with his history. Rivers has been leading the Chargers for years now. He’s not afraid of the spotlight or the pressure.

He just doesn’t seem to be embracing it now that it’s indisputably his.
I have a feeling Rivers is one of those guys who enjoys the climb more than the view from above; an underdog and overachiever who gets a little disoriented once he’s finally established and respected.

He seized a leadership role four years ago with a youthful swagger. He exceeded expectations. Now he’s got to live up to them and it’s proving hard to tap into that same fiery, ticked-off energy that once made him great.

The silver lining, of course, is that Rivers has plenty to come back from after the nightmarish way Monday’s game ended.

The Chargers were in easy field goal range. Killing clock, tying up the loose ends of what would have been a great road victory over the Chiefs. All Rivers had to do was take the snap from center, handoff and not screw up.

Instead he dropped it, the Chiefs recovered, forced overtime and won it with an impressive drive led by Matt Cassel and finished off by a field goal from Ryan Succop. Rivers watched it unfold from the sidelines. He was stunned. Cameras caught him mouthing the words, “Worst game ever.”

The two interceptions he’d thrown earlier in the game became the least of his worries. Instead of moving to 5-2 and opening up a one-game lead on the Oakland Raiders (4-3) in the AFC West, San Diego finds itself in a three-way tie atop the division with the Raiders and Chiefs.

“It’s hard to tell,” Chargers coach Norv Turner said, when asked what happened on Rivers’ fumble. “It looked like Philip got a little anxious and came out early, but it’s so hard to tell.”

It was one play in an unusually sloppy game. But it was a play Rivers will never forget. At a moment when all he had to do was keep it simple, he made things impossibly hard.

Rivers may have arrived ahead of his time. But the Chargers need him now. The moment is his to seize.

As gutsy as he was four years ago, it’s what Rivers does next that will define him now.