SAN DIEGO -- Showing he is more than just a pretty arm, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers bolted for a key first down in the third quarter of the Chargers’ runaway victory over the back-in-the dumps Denver Broncos in a chilly Monday night game.
The man is almost on pace to throw for more yards than anyone in the history of man, but he showed he can do it all even though San Diego tight end Antonio Gates jokes that Rivers looks like he is runs “with boots on.” After the 9-yard chug on third-and-8, on cue, the astute San Diego crowd erupted into an “MVP” chant.
It has a point. Who‘s been better in 2010?
“I agree 100 percent with them,” San Diego right tackle Jeromey Clary said. “Philip is playing at a special level right now.”
Playing with a depleted offense, Rivers has thrown for 3,177 yards in 10 games. He didn’t have to show off in San Diego’s easy 35-14 win over Denver. He threw for just 233 yards because the game dictated it. But he made every yard count. Rivers completed 15 of 24 passes. Four of his completions went for touchdowns. It was Rivers’ second straight game with four touchdown passes.
Again, find a player having a better season.
The biggest knock on Rivers’ MVP candidacy was that he plays for a loser. Not anymore. San Diego is now 5-5 after rolling off three straight wins. The Chargers are tied with Oakland for second place in the AFC West, a game behind Kansas City at 6-4. After hammering the Chiefs last week, Denver reverted to its porous ways. It is 3-7 and virtually out of the playoff race, even in the muddled AFC West.
San Diego, however, is very much alive. After a tough Sunday night game at Indianapolis in Week 12, San Diego has back-to-back home games against Oakland and Kansas City. If the Chargers are going to win the AFC West for the fifth straight season, it will be because of how they play in December.
That bodes well. Rivers has never lost a December game since becoming San Diego’s starter in 2006. The Chargers are used to getting hot late. In 2007, San Diego won its final six games. In 2008, it won its final four games, and last season, it won its final 11 games.
Monday night, San Diego, which went on a 35-0 run after Denver scored on it first possession, played well in all three phases. Yes, even its season-long albatross, special teams, pitched in with a fake punt pass from punter Mike Scifres to running back Mike Tolbert that turned the momentum of the game early. If San Diego can keep its balance, it will be dangerous.
And if not, Rivers will probably carry the team, anyway.
“He’s a top quarterback in the league,” Denver linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “He’s a guy you have to account for. Look, he just threw another four touchdown passes.”
Because he threw for just 233 yards, Rivers fell off pace to set the NFL single-season record for yardage in a season. Barely. He is on pace to throw for 5,083 yards. Miami’s Dan Marino set the mark in 1984 with 5,084 yards. Yes, Rivers is only a yard off the pace.
“We’re not focused on it as a team and I don’t think he is, either,” Clary said. “If Philip breaks Dan Marino’s record and we are sitting at home in January, it doesn’t matter. The playoffs are what matters.”
Meanwhile, Denver's Kyle Orton was on pace to throw for 4,988 yards entering the game. That would be the third-highest total in NFL history. Orton, who had a rough night, passed for just 217 yards. He is now on pace for 4,836 yards, still a stellar season.
But Monday night was about Rivers and the Chargers.
“It was awesome to hear the fans chant,” San Diego safety Eric Weddle said. “It’s deserved. What Philip is doing this season, with all the issues we’ve had with injuries, is amazing.”
Gates was out for the second straight game with a foot injury and there is no guarantee he will be back in Week 12. Starting receiver Legedu Naanee has been out for a month with a hamstring injury. Starting receiver Malcom Floyd came back Monday night after a long layoff with a hamstring injury. Patrick Crayton, the team’s No.4 receiver who has been starting lately because of injuries, suffered a wrist injury Monday night. He is unsure when he will be back. Starting tailback Ryan Mathews was out Monday with an ankle injury. In his place, Tolbert rambled for 111 yards on 25 carries.
There is relief coming for San Diego’s offense. Vincent Jackson is eligible to play at Indianapolis after holding out and then serving three games on the roster exemption list. Expect Jackson to be used often down the stretch. Jackson and Rivers have a strong chemistry, especially in the deep game. Thus, Rivers should be even better with Jackson on the field -- if that’s possible.
“The thing about Philip is his impact on games,” Gates said. “He didn’t have the big yards, but he made an impact in every phase of the offense … Nobody does what Philip does.”
If late-season wins continue to pile up for San Diego, expect the “MVP” chants to increase in both noise level and validity.