Don’t Gas Up The San Diego Chargers

In recent years the San Diego Chargers have gathered slightly less nationally intrigue than Ja Rule’s comeback attempt. Local interest in the Chargers has waned to the point that a consortium of sponsors had to buy up tickets in order to avoid another blackout.

Anyone who watched the Chargers scrap in the mud and dirt with the Indianapolis Colts probably wishes they’d blacked this one out too. Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck’s names were on the marquee, but the climax never arrived. In a matchup between the black sheep of the 2003 Draft and the gold standard of the 2012 NFL Draft, old-school, grind-it-out football was revitalized.

This weekend at the box office, Tom Hanks’ Captain Phillips intercepted Gravity’s Oscar buzz. On Monday night the narrative revolved around, Captain Philip Rivers stealing a win at home from the marauding Indianapolis Colts. The Hollywood-doctored Captain Phillips script chronicles the 2009 incident that forced a container ship captain to use his wits and keep his crew out of harm’s way after their ship is taken hostage by desperate Somalian pirates. Captain Phillips' plot and Tom Hanks’ virtuosity acting is on the opposing end of the spectrum from Rivers’ flawed performance.

In the shark-infested AFC West behind a pair of 6-0 squads, the Chargers have quietly scudded through the choppy first six weeks of the season to a 3-3 start.

However, before we anoint Rivers with excessive superlatives for barely beating an NFL sophomore starter at home, keep in mind that this is the tenth season of Rivers’ career and his quarterbacking resume lacks a signature moment. It was running back Ryan Mathews who carried the load.

While Emo Eli and Big Ben are cratering, Rivers has been soaring. Manning and Roethlisberger have reached Super Bowl Cloud Nine on multiple occasions. The highest NFL peak Rivers has reached are visible from the heights of a crop-duster.

On Monday night, Rivers didn’t win it. The Colts just couldn’t find a reason to get out of their own way.

Even in victory, he lived up to his erratic archetype. Elite signal callers get the ball into their receivers hands in the end zone. Rivers marooned the Chargers on their half of the field by leading the Chargers to one touchdown out of five scoring drives. Rivers’ penultimate attempt to run out the clock while leading by a touchdown beginning with 7:21 left on the clock was also pathetic.

Rivers threw an incompletion, was sacked for a nine-yard loss, then completed a screen pass to Danny Woodhead that resulted in a positive 10 yard gain and a three-n-out punt.

Rivers began the weekend as the NFL’s third-leading passer, but his stats are an illusion of the Criss Angel variety. A magician never reveals his secrets, but a closer look shows that most of Rivers' numbers were piled up in raids of the Eagles, Cowboys and Raiders Pillsbury defenses.

His 205 yards per game against defenses with functioning nervous systems pales in comparison to the 410 average yards he racked up against the zombie defenses Rivers ate up and spit out. While Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski have hijacked Antonio Gates’ thunder in recent years, Rivers’ favorite target has risen from the depths of an injury-plagued couple of seasons. Partly as a result of injuries to Malcolm Floyd and Vincent Brown, entering Week 6, Gates was the NFL’s second-leading yardage leader. Gates was handcuffed and Rivers couldn’t overcome.

While NFL fans spent the last week ripping Romo for one throw, Rivers has been living off an unearned reputation for years. A win that was earned by Ryan Mathews barely eclipsing 100 yards for the first time in 19 starts shouldn’t give Rivers cover.

This is what the Chargers have become adept at doing during the Rivers era. They lead their dwindling fan base into the depths of despair, offer a glimpse of salvation and hold them hostage until December while yo-yoing with those emotions. 

It only gets more difficult for the Chargers. Four matchups lie ahead against the Chiefs predatory defense and the Broncos numbers-running offense. Monday night may have supplied hope to San Diego, but it’s a recipe for disappointment.

It may appear that Rivers has righted the ship, but even if their division foes don't get 'em, Captain Philip Rivers will eventually steer the Chargers vessel into an iceberg. It’s what he does.

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