The nature of the NFL is such that the Pittsburgh Steelers now have the capacity to raise a tarp two stories high to block the view into one of their practice fields.
The nature of Philip Rivers is such that Sunday he announced at the line of scrimmage — within cold earshot of the Oakland defense and the sideline microphones — which pattern tight end Virgil Green should run.
“It’s like a parent telling their kid not to touch something,” Green said. “You gotta listen. I have a lot of trust in him. When a guy like that tells you to do something you don’t ask questions. You just do it.”
The Internet-gold moment came late in the Chargers’ 26-10 victory at StubHub Center. As he surveyed the Raiders’ alignment from the shotgun formation, Rivers was heard to say, “Base defense, huh? Hey, Virg, you run a seam.”
Lined up on the left side, Green glanced over his right shoulder to acknowledge receipt of the instructions. He then ran a seam, although Rivers instead threw short to Keenan Allen for a three-yard gain.
“We’ve heard it all before in practice,” center Mike Pouncey said, smiling. “That’s just Philip. He’s in command of everything out there.”
Whether he was trying to confuse the Raiders, trick the Raiders or mock the Raiders isn’t really the point of revisiting Rivers’ laudable audible.
Rather, the incident illustrates perfectly just how utterly in command he has been through the first five weeks.
In his 15th NFL season and 13th as a starter, Rivers is assembling one of his finest years, his statistics matching his famous on-field bravado.
He is on pace to throw for nearly 4,800 yards, with a career-high touchdown rate and career-low interception rate, exploiting the current state of the NFL and its quarterback-centric rules.
“I see no decline in him at all,” said coach Hue Jackson, whose Cleveland Browns are up next for Rivers on Sunday. “If anything, I’ve seen him continuing to get better.”
Rivers has completed 70% of his passes, which is nearly six points higher than his lifetime average. He has 13 touchdowns and only two interceptions, the Chargers having turned the ball over just five times total.
True, he is doing this during a season in which completion percentages and touchdown passes are peaking at historic levels.
But he’s also doing this during a season in which Eli Manning — forever linked to Rivers thanks to being traded for each other during the 2004 draft — is being publicly dissected to determine how he’s completely finished.
“He’s taking care of the football,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “He’s going to throw one [interception] every now and then. But, for the most part, he’s taking care of the football. … He’s delivering the mail where it needs to go.”
And some of his recent throws have been special deliveries. In the second quarter Sunday, the Chargers’ first touchdown came on a play that began as a near catastrophe.
Pouncey’s shotgun snap was slightly high and wide, Rivers needing two chances to grasp the ball after an initial bobble. He then spun his 36-year-old hips and tossed to Austin Ekeler.
The second-year back made two Raiders miss and, in a relative blink, was in the end zone — the Chargers ahead and for good.
“After the snap, that was a special play by Philip just to give Austin a chance,” Pouncey said. “I couldn’t even celebrate the touchdown. I hate watching it on film because I’m the only one who felt bad during the play.”
Entering Sunday, Rivers leads the AFC in passer rating, his mark of 116.4 higher than highly publicized Kansas City phenom Patrick Mahomes, who appears to be attempting to redefine the limits of the position.
Rivers also has to be among the active leaders in brashness, his mic’d-up moments continuing to be must-hear TV.
Before signing with the Chargers as a free agent in March, Green played in Denver, where he spent four years with Peyton Manning, another player known to famously audible.
“Their brains think differently than everybody else’s,” Green said. “You gotta know the whole offense because anything could come up at any time and you gotta be ready to adjust.”