SAN DIEGO -- Sometimes, all it takes is a certain look for Philip Rivers to get his point across.
Or maybe it’s a high-pitched yell leading his team out of the locker room. A quick clap of the hands, a pat on the butt, and it’s on to the next guy.
Motivation can be delivered with a glaring stare and a growl from across the field for a misread on a route. Or perhaps it’s a quiet moment, pulling a player aside on the sideline amid the frenzied din of an NFL stadium, offering a few words of encouragement.
Whatever the interaction, Rivers is usually at the center of communication for the San Diego Chargers, creating a synergy for the team’s unlikely playoff run this season.
The son of a high school football coach, Rivers brings an enthusiastic, no-nonsense approach to the game.
“He’s like a high school coach,” Chargers linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “High school coaches are out there doing it for nothing, coaching a bunch of rug rats that are up there every day just because they love ball. He’s like that, but at the highest level.”
And the driving force behind Rivers’ nonstop energy is a competitiveness that rivals any player in the NFL, as the team readies for Sunday’s AFC wild-card matchup at Cincinnati (1:05 p.m. ET).
“It might come down to him and [Antonio] Gates, but I think he nudges out Gates on the competitive nature,” Chargers center Nick Hardwick said. “He’s wildly competitive with everything. It doesn’t matter at all in life what it is, he’s competitive about it. He wants to win.
“It’s funny, sometimes in the huddle if things aren’t going well, him and I will get into it, and everybody else kind of stirs up around that. He’s fired up all the time because he’s alive on game day. His fire really comes out. He gets everybody going -- a little angry and on edge. You’re happy on game day and you smile a lot, but you should have a little bite to you, too. And he brings that.”
By all accounts, Rivers experienced a rebirth in his 10th season. Rivers had thrown 48 interceptions over his past three years heading into the 2013 season. But during the offseason, Rivers said he worked on his footwork, throwing mechanics and being more patient in the pocket.
That offseason work, coupled with offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt’s implementation of an up-tempo, rhythm passing game that gives the quarterback more freedom to call plays at the line of scrimmage, led to a renaissance for Rivers.
Like Peyton Manning, the no-huddle offense is right in Rivers’ wheelhouse, allowing him extra time to read the defense and get his offense in the right play.
Rivers finished the season with an NFL-high 69.5 completion percentage. Rivers also finished fourth overall in touchdowns (32), passer rating (105.5) and fifth in the league passing yards (4,478), earning his fifth Pro Bowl invitation at 32 years old.
“It’s definitely something you love to have,” San Diego coach Mike McCoy said about his quarterback. “He just approaches every week the same. He’s just a guy who shows up and works extremely hard every day. ... You’ve got a player like Philip Rivers, you’ve got a chance.”
Ask Rivers about his rebirth this season, and he will say his skill set never diminished.
“To overstate that I’ve all of sudden figured out how to play again is reaching a little bit,” Rivers said.
But there’s no denying that he’s playing more efficiently than in years past. Along with the change in scheme, Rivers said he’s benefited having backup quarterback Charlie Whitehurst at his side to serve as a sounding board on the sideline and in the film room.
Whitehurst competed against Rivers when the two played in the ACC -- Whitehurst at Clemson and Rivers at North Carolina State. And besides a two-year stint in Seattle, Whitehurst has been a backup in San Diego for six seasons.
“For one, we speak the same language just from being from the South,” Rivers said, smiling. “We follow each other very easily. He has no problem speaking up if he sees something or thinks something is there, because he knows that I know it’s sincere that he is trying to help us win. He’s trying to help me in any way he can.”
Added Whitehurst: “There’s times when you want to give an honest answer. If he asked me, ‘Well, what did you see there?’ I’m going to tell him what I saw. You’ve got to know your spot for sure. He’s out there playing. If I feel like I can help him, I’ll tell him something. But I kind of feel like Sundays are for whoever is out there playing -- that’s their thing. I’m not going to really offer anything up unless he really asks for it.”
Rivers joked that Whitehurst also serves as his fashion consultant, helping the quarterback coordinate his affinity for bolo ties and rattlesnake-skin cowboy boots for road trips.
“That’s his own style,” a smiling Whitehurst said. “That’s him, but I think it’s pretty cool. He’s definitely unique. Nobody does it like he does it.”
Rivers is not the most fleet of foot. Hardwick described Rivers as running like a stork when he scrambles outside of the pocket. But at 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds, Rivers moves well inside the pocket, anticipating the rush and possessing an array of different arm angles to accurately make throws downfield under pressure.
San Diego players take comfort in the fact that they have a franchise quarterback like Rivers leading them into the playoffs.
“You know that he’s going to be 100 percent prepared,” receiver Eddie Royal said. “He’s going to do everything he can to put us in the best position to win the game. He’s going to fight, and all that you want from the guy beside you is to fight -- give it everything you’ve got. And there’s never been a question that he does that every single play. And it means a lot to have a guy like that leading your team because it rubs off on everybody."
With a 3-4 postseason record, Rivers understands that he’s running out of chances to win a Super Bowl.
“I’ve always taken it as the role of the quarterback to find a way to help your team win the game,” Rivers said. “If you don’t do that, then your grade’s a minus. If you get it, your grade is a plus, regardless of what the stats say.”