|'It's a fine line. I don't feel like I'm being careless with the football,' Rivers says. (US Presswire)|
SAN DIEGO -- It's the morning after San Diego's 45-38 loss to Green Bay, and the phone lines are burning on local talk radio. Listeners are down, disappointed and downright angry, wondering what's going on with Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers and asking if the club might consider benching him.
You gotta be kidding.
Philip Rivers? OK, so the guy's struggling, and that's being kind. He has 17 turnovers, including a league-high 14 interceptions and that gawd-awful fumble in Kansas City. But sit him down? For Billy Volek? Philip Rivers is the premier player on the Chargers and one of the few playmakers left from star-studded teams of the past. Sitting him down makes about as much sense as the Yankees benching Derek Jeter.
Sooner or later, pro athletes encounter adversity, and Rivers is going through the mother of all hardships now. No one is certain why, but there are as many explanations as there are Rivers' gaffes. Some people insist he's hiding an injury. Some tell me his mechanics are off. Others say Rivers is simply pressing.
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I don't know what it is, but I know one guy who does. That's why I sat down with Philip Rivers.
Q: How do you cope with what's happening to you these days?
Rivers: We've lost three in a row, and, as a quarterback, you just feel like if you could've changed a couple of plays you may have won all three. There's no doubt that I'm ... I don't like to use the word frustrated ... but a little aggravated that I didn't make those plays and help the team. Going all the way back to my rookie year (2004) and being able to watch from a distance, that's the one thing I got to see with Drew (Brees, then the Chargers' quarterback) and to see what happens in this league. It's just a week-to-week deal, and if you let what's behind you -- good or bad -- affect you it doesn't help. The thing I've tried to take from this whole thing is to learn what you've done -- how to improve it and maybe correct some of those things. But then they're gone. I just want to win for this team, but the biggest thing for me has always been that if you're prepared, have gone and practiced hard and given everything you've got, you have to be at peace ... instead of saying, 'Oh, I should've done this or watched that.' Then, there are no regrets for what I've done leading up to the game. If you don't play as well, you say, 'Wait until next week.'
Q: Isn't that easier said than done. I mean, can you really let things go after some of these rough spots?
Rivers: I think the Chiefs' thing sat with me longer than most -- just because it's one thing when I can watch the tape and say, 'Yeah, Green Bay fooled me on that one' or where a ball gets tipped up and maybe I shouldn't have thrown it to [Antonio] Gates. Those plays happen. The one in Kansas City is such a fluke it just makes you sick.
Q: You're certainly not the first one to go through something like this. Eli Manning had 25 interceptions last year. Drew Brees had a career-high 22 last season. Have you sought out anyone who's been through this for advice?
Rivers: I haven't, but, like you said, you're never going to play at the same level forever, even though you want to. Again, I just think we have an eight-game season here. We were 2-5 last year, and we were 4-8 two years ago. Who's to say the second half of this season might not be the best eight games I've ever played? I think it's just that confidence and ... why not? Why can't we get on that kind of roll? Because we have in previous years. We've also been 13-3 and gotten knocked out [of the playoffs] in the first round.
Q: But you know for that to happen the turnovers must stop.
Rivers: No doubt about it. When I look at every pick I've thrown, there's a handful where I shouldn't have thrown the ball, period. There's a handful where I just missed the throw. And there are some that just didn't find the ground. The reason I hate this more than anything is that it's kept us from winning games, not because I'm not up there high on the quarterback rating. I don't care about that. I've never cared about any of that. It's just that those plays kept us from winning.
Q: I have seen guys who've gone through this who try to fight their way out of it and press too much -- try to squeeze throws in places where they wouldn't before? Any of that going on here?
Rivers: No. In fact, I feel like it's almost working the opposite a little bit. Honestly, I think if I would've experienced Sunday, say, two years before, it may have just unraveled me. With two pick-sixes it might've been like, 'Am I going to complete another ball today?' But we just kept going and, after that, we may have played as well as we have for three quarters. In a way, you can't let it make you too cautious. Yeah, we've got to eliminate [turnovers], but you can't let it keep you from making a play, or you're not going to make any. It's a fine line. I don't feel like I'm being careless with the football. There are some throws that got away from me, but then playing the situation on some of those decisions -- for instance, on the first-quarter [interception] with Gates up the middle? That wasn't the worst place to throw it. The chances of that getting tipped and returned for a touchdown are pretty slim, but that's how it goes.
Q: I apologize for going over this again, but let's get this straight: You're not hurt, correct?
Rivers: No. In fact, I probably feel as good as I've felt. I wish I had an out, but, no, I'm not hurt.
Q: Second, there's a perception that you're handicapped because of all the injuries around here; that you rarely practice, let alone play, with the same core of playmakers around you. But that was the case last year, and you excelled. So is that explanation a valid one?
Rivers: It's not. Last year we were as beat up and injured as we've been. But we found a way. [Injured teammates] has nothing to do with it. When the ball is leaving my hands, it hasn't been an out-of-sync, miscommunication, I-thought-you-were-running-this-route type of deal. We haven't been in a struggle where we just go, 'Man, we haven't gotten a first down this half.' It's been up and down, a turnover; up and down, a pick-six; up and down, fumble; up and down, field goal, field goal, field goal. It hasn't been like we're not going pretty good. We just can't put a game together. We had 77 snaps the other night, and of that we had about 60 good ones. I know that's no consolation. There are a lot of teams that lost Sunday that can say, 'We played pretty well, too.' Not in any way am I trying to defend anything, I'm just saying that's why there's no lost confidence in here.
Q: But fans around here are angry and upset. All you have to do is listen to the radio or read the letters to the editor in the Union-Tribune. There's a pattern here, and it's a disturbing one. So why shouldn't they be concerned? Better yet, why shouldn't you be?
Rivers: That's why you play the game. As of today, you might as well say let's cancel the second half of the year, and the Green Bay Packers get a second [Super Bowl championship]. Last year, if we had paused at this point, we would've said the season's dead [for us]. So who's your Super Bowl winner? Nobody would've picked the Green Bay Packers. In 2007, nobody would've picked the Giants. Nobody would've picked the Steelers in 2005, either. My point is at this point in the year they may have been having the same [concerns as us]. If you go around the league, the teams that are losing have some of the same problems we do. The reason you lose games are usually the same: You're turning the ball over, the quarterback's probably not playing very well, you're not scoring in the Red Zone and you're giving up big plays.
Q: You ever been through a funk like this before?
Rivers: No, not with this many turnovers. There was a span in 2006 where I didn't play well down the stretch. In '07 we were struggling a little bit early, and in '08 we were 4-8 before turning things around. The turnovers weren't the big deal; it was just more of a phase where we just couldn't get in sync at all. This time it's just, 'Let's cut out a few of these negative plays, and we may go on a tear.'
Q: I remember when you were young and emotional, vocal and fiery. There are some people who would like to see that again -- much as we saw Tom Brady last week bitterly throw down a cup of water after an interception. Is there an anger inside that we're not seeing on the outside?
Rivers: There's no doubt I still play with the same fire and passion, but I've tried to keep a little bit of a steadiness to where it's not [so visible] -- but not because I took so much heat in the first two years. That's not the reason why. It's more to make sure it doesn't affect you negatively. I heard about Brady, too, and I thought, 'So what?' That's not losing your cool. That's just, 'I wish I hadn't thrown the ball.' There's a time when things may not be going so well so you make sure it doesn't appear to every guy in this room that it's unraveling on you. But I don't feel like I'm holding anything in at all. The one thing that gives me and our team confidence is that we've gotten going late in the year. We can't rip up the first eight games. But you can say, 'Now, we have an eight-game season.' That's the bottom line. If you find a way to win the division none of this is going to matter.