In the eight seasons since the Chargers parted ways with Drew Brees and made Philip Rivers their starter, San Diego has acquired an unfortunate reputation for starting slowly.
In five of those eight seasons (six of the past seven), the Bolts have begun the year with more losses than wins. In most cases, they have been able to turn it around and finish respectably, but to say they have made things difficult on themselves in the past would be an understatement.
The Chargers have seen a lot of talent come and go during Rivers’ tenure as starter—Michael Turner, Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, Mike Tolbert, Antonio Cromartie—but by and large, it has been Rivers and lifetime Charger and future hall-of-famer Antonio Gates who have been asked to carry the team. They are the two pillars on a team that is otherwise completely made-over from its days as a Super Bowl contender.
Now in their 11th season together (9th since Rivers assumed starting duties), Rivers and Gates continue to be the NFL’s most dominant connection between quarterback and tight end. Even with the emergence of younger, faster athletes at the latter position, like Jimmy Graham and Julius Thomas, there is still no pair that does it better than Rivers and Gates. They have notched 65 touchdowns together, a record for quarterback/tight end tandems.
Just when it looked like Gates was too old and too beat-up to be the contributor he once was, he has resurged in 2014, catching three touchdowns for 214 yards in three games. Rivers continues to look his way, and behind the pair’s ageless consistency, the Chargers are off to their most promising start in years. They are a one-point loss to the undefeated Cardinals away from being the NFL’s only 4-0 team.
Individually, Rivers is having one of his best seasons. He averages 289 passing yards per game, and has thrown nine touchdowns with only one interception. That puts him on pace for 4,620 yards, 36 touchdowns, and four interceptions on the season—a record-shattering season, no doubt.
Rivers has been one of the better quarterbacks in the league for almost a decade now. Yes, he has had an off season here and there (his forgettable interception-filled 2011 and 2012 seasons come to mind), but the fact that he started in the NFL for nine seasons speaks to his consistency and reliability. Only the best last that long in the NFL.
Furthermore, Rivers had led San Diego to the playoffs five times, won three postseason games, and finished below .500 on the season only once (2012).
The 2004 NFL draft class featured two quarterbacks who have gone on to win multiple Super Bowls: Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning. Both are likely to find themselves in Canton’s Pro Football Hall of Fame when their careers are done. Rivers meanwhile, also drafted in 2004, has arguably superior stats to both. He has thrown 230 touchdowns (more than Big Ben and a close second to Manning’s 238), and far fewer picks than either (Rivers: 105, Manning: 176, Roethlisberger: 124). Keep in mind that Manning and Roethlisberger had played extensively for two seasons before Rivers took the reins in San Diego, which explains Rivers’ low picks total, but makes his touchdowns total all the more impressive.
It is fair to say that Rivers is just a Super Bowl ring away from having a legitimate hall-of-fame résumé, and by the looks of it, that last piece may be coming soon.
Finally off to a fast start, the Chargers are red-hot.