For the San Diego Chargers, this is a time of change. Gone are former head coach Norv Turner and ousted general manager A.J. Smith. After years of high expectations that were never quite reached, they have been replaced by newcomers Mike McCoy and Tom Telesco, respectively. Both are in their first year in their positions.
Also gone are the days of LaDainian Tomlinson, who the team flirted with this offseason in an attempt to bring him out of retirement. While certainly many fans in San Diego would have loved to see Tomlinson back on the field, he declined. Ryan Mathews, when he’s healthy at least, is the runner of the present. The future remains to be seen.
What remains as sort of a bridge between Chargers past and future is quarterback Philip Rivers. The 2004 first-round pick is 31 years old now. For NFL signal callers, that’s a crossroads of a sort. Certainly not the death knell it seems to be for most runners entering the free agent market, but the point where the end of your career is closer than the beginning.
For Rivers, the Super Bowl has to be not just a goal, but the goal. Like it or not, championship rings are how the legends of the game are judged. A four-time Pro Bowler, Rivers holds several Charger passing records. He’s gotten the individual accolades. He’s in the middle of a six-year, $92 million contract. However, after three years out of the playoffs, can Rivers lead this Charger team to the championship game?
The defense is out of his control, so let’s look at the offense. In 2012, Rivers threw for 3,606 yards on a 64.1 completion percentage. On its face, that doesn’t look too bad, but it also puts him in roughly the same category as Andy Dalton of Cincinnati Bengals , or Sam Bradford of the St. Louis Rams. Dalton did lead his Bengals to the playoffs, but then lost to the Houston Texans. Rivers wasn’t so lucky. His 26 touchdown passes tied him for ninth in the NFL, but his 15 picks also tied him for 10th.
The stats of late would seem to say that Rivers isn’t as good as we’ve all been led to believe, that he’s merely been a capable leader when times were good, and just good enough to escape the harshest criticisms when the team was losing. I tend to believe that he’s lacked anything resembling NFL-level protection, and the loss of Vincent Jackson and declining production of Antonio Gates are what has hurt his numbers. Keenan Allen should be an excellent addition to the receiving corps, so those numbers should come back.
Rivers’s biggest challenge is going to be keeping his team going through adversity. On paper at least, the AFC West still belongs to Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos. The Oakland Raiders are still several years from contention, and the Kansas City Chiefs are going through some massive coaching and personnel changes of their own. If Rivers is going to lead the Chargers to the promised land, this is the year to step up. They may not be able to take the division from Denver, but the playoffs are a realistic goal, and they absolutely must make a move now.
Telesco and McCoy both have come to San Diego singing Rivers’s praises. His play on the field this year had better back them up, or else he may not have many more chances.