Luck, circumstances helped Rivers become a hero

The idea that a quarterback "leads" his team to victory or defeat is an antiquated notion that applies to a small minority of cases and doesn't stand up to any sort of actual logical scrutiny.

Take Philip Rivers this week, for example. The game recap from The Associated Press starts: "The San Diego Chargers got lucky. Even better, they've got Philip Rivers."

Rivers is a great quarterback. This week, though? He was the one who got lucky, and the idea that he led the team anywhere but to a sure defeat is ignoring how and why the game got to the point where the Chargers needed an onside kick and a good drive from Rivers to win.

The Kansas City pass defense that Rivers faced on Sunday is putrid. Vile. Dilapidated. Pick your favorite adjective for "poor." The Chiefs are 27th in the league against the pass. They had, before Sunday, six sacks in 13 games. By comparison, the Cowboys had eight sacks against the best offensive line in the league on Sunday. The late Derrick Thomas had seven sacks … in one game. When the Chiefs sacked Rivers three times Sunday, they matched their entire total since Week 5.

Now, before you go blaming that on the offensive line, it has to go both ways. If you want to reward Rivers for his clutch performance on the game's final drive, you also have to give the offensive line credit for not allowing the Chiefs to sack Rivers on the Chargers' final two drives. Solely saying "Rivers led the team to victory" is inaccurate.

As for the performance of the Chargers' quarterback, well, it wasn't pretty in the slightest. Against that awful pass defense with the comically bad rush, Rivers wasn't effective. It seems strange to say that when Rivers was 34-of-48 for 346 yards, but just putting up raw stats belies the context of how they were gained and what they actually meant to the team's chances of winning the game.

First, there's the turnover situation. Rivers threw only one pick (against two touchdowns), but he lost a fumble on his first sack. He also fumbled again on his next sack, but the Chargers were able to recover it. Because our research has shown that fumble recoveries are random chance, Rivers gets an equal amount of blame for both fumbles, regardless of what happened after the ball left his grasp.

Rivers' biggest problem, though, was his performance on third down. Obviously, what a player does on third down has a disproportionate impact on how valuable his game was relative to other downs; if you throw an incomplete pass on second down, well, there's always third down. If you fail on third down, you're essentially turning the ball over to the other team. If you do convert, it's like giving your team three extra outs in the middle of an inning in baseball. Before those final two drives on Sunday, Rivers converted one of the 10 third downs he faced. He was sacked twice and threw an interception. He also failed on a fourth-down attempt in the fourth quarter.

Of course, on the game's final two drives, Rivers converted on both of the third-down attempts he faced. That's valuable, and our system knows it, but points in the fourth quarter don't count any more than points in the first three quarters do. If Rivers had been more effective in the first 55 minutes of the game, he wouldn't have needed the Chargers to recover an onside kick to give the team a chance at winning. Rivers is normally a great quarterback, but on Sunday, he led the Chargers to the brink of defeat.

Here are the rest of the best and worst players of Week 15, according to the Football Outsiders DYAR (Defense-adjusted Yards Above Replacement) statistics.

Bill Barnwell is an analyst for FootballOutsiders.com.