San Diego Chargers: What Befits a January Quarterback the Most?

Ross Warner@@Lucab12Contributor IIIJanuary 15, 2013

SAN DIEGO, CA - DECEMBER 30: Philip Rivers #17 of the San Diego Chargers throws the ball against the Oakland Raiders on December 30, 2012 at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, California. (Photo by Donald Miralle/Getty Images)
Donald Miralle/Getty Images

In 2009, Philip Rivers seemed to have finally figured it out.

After locking up the No. 2 seed in Tennessee, NFL Network’s Jason La Canfora looked to be in utter amazement during his on-field interview. That’s how well he was playing.

Rivers had shown that he could lead important late-game drives on the road in East Rutherford and Dallas. He marched the Chargers down the field against Cincinnati and set Nate Kaeding up for a clutch, game-winning field goal. Let that one sink in for a while.

But after the Jets knocked Rivers off his lofty perch in January, he hasn’t been the same since. He drove around San Diego with the score of the game, 17-14, emblazoned on his truck in the form of a custom-made bumper sticker. But he simply hasn’t found his mojo. 

I’ve already written at length about the oft-hyped 2010 campaign that followed.

Rivers hasn’t led a Charger comeback since that Giants game in 2009. If he’d done so this year, the team might have sneaked into the playoffs. Incidentally, he’s 2-0 against Eli Manning but 0-2 versus Mark Sanchez. As the Chargers look for their next coach, the biggest question on many Boltheads’ minds is whether the eventual selection can fix Rivers.

More than ever, quarterbacks are evaluated on their success in January.  A team’s playoff record used to only be attributed to the head coach. Now, everyone knows what a signal caller’s postseason history is. We know their fourth-quarter statistics and even how they fare in one-possession games. Some might say that this is due to the fantasy football boom, but I disagree.

It also seems that a postseason run isn’t always predicated on a strong regular season. With zero playoff wins up until that point, Eli Manning won three road games on the way to his first Lombardi Trophy. He played consistently well last season, but the team’s run to Indianapolis seemingly came from nowhere.

The Giants, of course, not only had strong quarterback play on their side—they also had the double whammy of a suffocating pass rush from their defensive line. These factors are like pitching in October baseball or goaltending in the Stanley Cup playoffs: they trump most everything else, and can take a seemingly flawed team to a title.

I think the reason for the discrepancy between regular season and playoff performances from quarterbacks is due to the parity caused by free agency and the salary cap. Since 1993, it’s been harder to keep a strong team together, and the margin between winning and losing has become correspondingly thin. Field goal kickers have become more important than ever as well.

I think this is why quarterbacks can “heat up” once the regular season ends. Rivers’ fall from grace is largely attributed to the deterioration of his offensive line. I’ve also written this year about my fears for Rivers going forward. 

While I understand that Rivers might feel increasingly like he has to make things happen, he made enough foolish errors last season for him to understand the effect of his mistakes.

The Chargers need to provide him with some semblance of a running game, pass protection and healthy guys who can get open. But can’t that be said for every quarterback? As much as Rivers publicly lavished Norv Turner with praise, his performance and record show that he’s regressed beyond belief since 2009.

No matter who is hired to take over, their biggest job may be to protect Philip Rivers from himself.