Colts QB Philip Rivers toed the line on friendly trash talk

(Editor's note: This story was originally published on Oct. 10, 2020. Rivers announced his retirement on Wednesday.)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The off button, when it comes to Philip Rivers' mouth, doesn't always work when he's in the game.

The Colts quarterback always has his mouth moving. On the sideline. Running onto the field. Before the snap. After the whistle has been blown.

And the odds are Rivers is often talking to the other team during those moments.

One of Rivers’ exchanges in Week 4 went viral when he was caught talking trash to Chicago Bears linebacker Roquan Smith.

Rivers, after failing to draw the Bears offside with a hard count, decided to start talking trash to Smith, whom the Colts thought about selecting with the No. 6 pick in the 2018 draft (Smith went to Chicago two picks later). The quarterback wanted to make sure the linebacker knew everybody saw Colts rookie running back Jonathan Taylor beat him on a route earlier in the game.

“He turned the corner on you,” Rivers repeatedly told Smith, without being hurtful or swearing.

“Obviously, much was made over the last weekend,” Rivers said following the following week. “I think a lot of it had to do with the atmosphere, being in an empty stadium. It really did feel like we were in the backyard.”

Rivers has a history of trash-talking during games in his 17-year career, the first 16 of which were spent with the Chargers. His back-and-forth commentary with the opponent often makes him a favorite to have a microphone on during games. It’s not surprising when his comments end up going viral, as with his banter with Smith.

“Regret is probably a little strong, but there are certainly times where you go, ‘What am I doing?’ I think there is certainly a line there not to cross in terms of not getting consumed at all,” Rivers said. “I think much more was made of it in my 20s even. I’ve played the game ever since I was a kid in the backyard and I’ve always played it that way. So I think there is an element of that you can’t get rid of and it’s in an element of that where I’m really at my best. Had anything not been ever caught on video, I wouldn’t had even give it two thoughts' worth, because after the game it’s a 'Good game. Man, that was fun.’ Then you move on to the next one.”

But Rivers doesn’t go into each game with the desire to be a pest to his opponent. He has more important things to worry about, such as moving the ball down the field to score points.

It’s more of a feeling-out process for the quarterback.

“I tell the guys all the time, ‘Hey, everybody has their own personality. We’re a team. We do what is best for the team, but within the team setting, everybody is free to express themselves in their own unique ways,’” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “We love and appreciate Philip’s competitiveness and fire. It’s good for our team and I think it’s good for the game. Philip is also professional enough to know how to draw the line on it. I think he’s come up close to that line a few times in his career, but I think he does a good job of staying on the right side of the line.”

What makes Rivers’ trash-talking even more enjoyable is he’s able to do it without name-calling or using expletives. He keeps it clean while enjoying every second of it. Rivers will drop an occasional “dadgummit” in his Southern drawl every now and then.

“[Rivers] is a little more clean than maybe [wide receiver] Zach Pascal is at times or [running back] Jordan Wilkins is at times,” offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “I can see that. It’s just him being him. That’s how he plays and that’s how he functions. I think he gets the best out of himself when he does that, and he knows what makes him tick and he knows how to play his game and that’s just part of his game.”