Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers has more career yards than John Elway, 101 more touchdowns than Joe Montana, more Pro Bowls than Kurt Warner and Terry Bradshaw put together.
Right or wrong, all the numbers on Rivers’ résumé are overshadowed by the number of Super Bowl appearances he has: Zero.
Other than perhaps Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid, nobody left in this season’s playoffs would improve their legacy more with a Super Bowl win than Rivers. Without a championship, Rivers’ Hall of Fame candidacy will be an interesting debate. With three more wins this season, starting Sunday at the New England Patriots, he’ll make Canton without much argument. More than any other position in any other sport, we celebrate NFL quarterbacks who win big in the playoffs, and Rivers has a surprisingly unremarkable playoff history. Quick, what’s your favorite postseason memory of Rivers? Right.
Rivers has an odd legacy as he heads into a divisional round playoff game against the Patriots. He’s either a competitor or a whiner, depending on which team you root for. He has certainly been productive over a long time, in the top 10 all-time in yards and touchdowns. Perhaps he’s already a Hall of Famer in your mind. But nobody would say he has been a winner. It’s not fair to put that all on one player’s shoulders in a team sport, but that’s the life of an NFL quarterback.
At 37, Rivers might not have much more time to change the perception. With a 12-4 Chargers team, this might be his last chance.
Rare for QBs to make Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl
There are 26 modern-day quarterbacks in the Hall of Fame. Only five who played a majority of their careers in the Super Bowl era made the Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl title: Dan Fouts, Jim Kelly, Dan Marino, Warren Moon and Fran Tarkenton. Kelly, Marino and Tarkenton each started in a Super Bowl but lost. Moon won five CFL Grey Cup championships in his six seasons there, and his CFL success is a reason he’s in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
That leaves Fouts as the only Super Bowl-era quarterback in the Hall of Fame without as much as a conference championship (or five CFL titles). Poor Chargers fans.
Rivers has led the NFL in passing yardage just once, and touchdowns just once, but he has led in interceptions twice. He has never won an MVP. He got two of 50 MVP votes in 2008 and again in 2009, and that’s as close as he got. His numbers as a whole make a good Hall of Fame case, but not an obvious one, especially without much playoff success.
Troy Aikman never won an MVP or even came close. Bradshaw never led the NFL in passing yards. Warner had just four good seasons, maybe five. But they have rings. And they’re all in the Hall of Fame. A lot of people would probably say Rivers is a better quarterback than fellow 2004 first-round pick Eli Manning of the New York Giants, but they’d also say Manning has a better chance to make the Hall of Fame. Manning has won two Super Bowls.
Philip Rivers has had problems vs. Patriots
One reason Rivers’ playoff résumé is thin is because he played in the AFC at the same time as Tom Brady.
The Chargers have faced the Patriots eight times with Rivers at quarterback, and are 1-7. The only time Rivers and the Chargers beat the Patriots was 2008, when Matt Cassel was at quarterback for New England because Brady was out for the season with a torn ACL. Two of those losses against the Patriots came in the playoffs, including in an AFC championship game when Rivers played through a torn ACL. That was at the end of the 2007 season, and Rivers hasn’t been back to an AFC title game since.
There can be a fair debate over how much an individual player should be judged based on the small sample of the playoffs, but it’s undeniable that Rivers’ postseason résumé is thin. His best game was probably a 264-yard, three-touchdown game at the Colts in the 2007 season, but that’s the game Rivers hurt his knee and Billy Volek led the comeback win off the bench. Rivers has 11 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 10 playoff games, and an 84.7 passer rating. His career regular-season rating is 95.6.
That’s what gives Sunday a little extra importance. Rivers doesn’t have a signature postseason moment. If he can’t beat the Patriots now, with a very good Chargers team, there’s no guarantee he’ll have another shot to get this deep in the playoffs.
It’s not crazy to believe we’ll look back years from now and realize that Sunday’s result was the difference in Rivers being a Hall of Famer or not. Rivers knows better than anyone these chances are rare.
“I think it just goes to show, unless you’re the Patriots and I know there’s some other teams that get in the postseason a lot, it’s hard,” Rivers said, according to the team’s website. “They’ve been in the conference championship I think seven or eight in a row or whatever, but for most of us it’s not that easy to get in and when you get in and now you know you’re one of eight teams, that’s all you can ask for is a chance.”
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