Colts can be a playoff team when Philip Rivers knows his limitations

The Latin phrase that helped Rivers begin again (2:11)

Chargers QB Philip Rivers explains the Latin phrase "Nunc Coepi," meaning "now I begin," and the role it plays in his life. (2:11)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts knew what they were getting in Philip Rivers when they signed him last spring.

It was far from any secret.

Frank Reich spent three seasons with him with the Chargers, and the Colts coach watched every throw that he made when he committed 23 turnovers while throwing for 4,615 yards in 2019.

Rivers, although he doesn’t have the same arm strength as in previous years, can lead the Colts and be a threat with his arm, as he was in Sunday’s victory over Cincinnati. But at the same time he can be a liability, especially at the age of 38, when he’s not making smart decisions by trying to attempt passes he probably shouldn't be trying.

So which Philip Rivers have the Colts gotten through the first six weeks of the season? A combination of both, and that might end up being the case the rest of the season.

Rivers had a flashback moment against the Bengals. The Colts spotted Cincinnati a 21-0 lead before Rivers started slinging the ball around the field, finding receivers the way he did in his prime years with the Chargers.

The veteran had his best game as a Colt, going 29-of-44 for 371 yards and three touchdowns in their 31-27 come-from-behind victory. About the only blemish Rivers made, which could have cost the Colts the game, was when he was intercepted by throwing into double coverage in Cincinnati territory when they were trying to extend their lead in the fourth quarter. The 371 yards passing were the most Rivers has thrown for since he had 401 yards against Denver in November 2018.

“I’ve been around Philip enough to know that when he gets in the zone, which is more times than not, this is the kind of performance that we expect from him,” Reich said after the game. “He played great ... Philip was in the zone. You could feel it, you could see it, and I just felt like any pass we were going to call, he was going to find a way to get a completion and make plays -- just put it in his hands at that point.”

The Colts have only two losses this season, and unfortunately for Rivers, he played a significant role in both defeats.

He threw two interceptions in their Week 1 loss at Jacksonville and then threw two more interceptions, including a pick-six, and was responsible for a safety by intentional grounding in a Week 5 loss at Cleveland.

The equation is pretty simple for Rivers. He’s thrown for 992 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions in their four victories. He’s thrown for 662 yards with one touchdown and four interceptions in the two losses.

That’s why Sunday’s performance was needed for Rivers. It helped calm the questions for the time being about his ability to play at a high level, a week after Reich had to answer a question about the possibility of benching his starting quarterback following the Cleveland game.

Rivers didn’t shy away in saying he read what was written about him in the days after the Browns game because he was responsible for nine Cleveland points in a game in which the Colts lost by nine points.

“I made the decision last week, I’m going to read. I want to read what [the media] wrote,” he said. “It comes with it. If you stink it up, they better write, ‘Rivers better get with it,’ and you expect it. I don’t know you guys, so it was interesting for me this week. I went back and forth. I said, ‘Dadgummit, I’m going to find them [the stories].’ Not to be motivation, not to be anything. I just want to see.... I’m not going to look to read it this week because, shoot, I feel like I was the same guy I was last Sunday night. Just played a heck of a lot better than I did last Sunday. I’m the same guy. It’s one week at a time. It’s that nunc coepi that you guys know that you guys referenced this week.”

You might be kidding yourself if you think Rivers has turned the corner and he won't throw anymore interceptions because of a bad decision or that he'll struggle at times making throws outside the numbers.

The pressure is on Rivers -- and the Colts -- in the final 10 games of the season after the bye week. There will be times where he'll have to fling the ball around in a high-scoring game in order for Indianapolis to have a chance to win.

Six of the Colts' final 10 games are against teams that are averaging at least 29.8 points per game. The Colts are averaging 26.2 points per game this season.

“We talk to every player at every position; there is a discipline to putting the last game behind you whether you played lights out or whether you didn’t play lights out," Reich said last week. "We’ve been talking a lot about this year really as a team, of just taking that same approach, of not riding the wave of results. If you want to be great in this league -- and obviously Philip has done it a long time -- that’s what you do. You block that out and you reset whether it was good or bad, in the middle or anywhere in between. You block it out, you move on and you focus on the next opponent.”