He is a hot topic in all the Chargers’ meetings this week, even the meetings that include a single player.
Defensive lineman Damion Square said he was at home Tuesday with his wife, Brandi, when they found themselves discussing, of all things, Tom Brady.
It wasn’t Xs and O’s. It was more GOAT.
“ ‘How many times have we seen this guy in this game?’ ” Square said he asked her. “It’s Tom Brady. This guy always plays in the big game. It’s an honor to step on the field and play against him.”
It’s an honor and a burden, the Chargers about to take their celebrated road show into the NFL’s most unwelcoming stop for road teams.
New England has won 15 consecutive games at Gillette Stadium and, in the playoffs, is 19-3 at home since Brady became the team’s quarterback.
So this won’t be just another tilted venue, just another ornery crowd to overcome for a team that has yet to lose outside of Southern California this season.
In these Patriots, the Chargers also will find another challenge stunningly unfamiliar to them: they’re facing a quarterback more accomplished than their own.
“You think about all the different teammates that have come in and out of that building, and he’s still playing at the highest level,” Philip Rivers said of Brady. “We know that this is when he and this team have always been the best.”
Rivers has done so much during a career that has continued without the slightest interruption since his first NFL start 13 seasons ago. His right arm could be dipped in bronze the moment he stops using it.
But there are two things he never has done. Rivers never has reached the Super Bowl, and never beaten Brady.
Finally clearing one of those obstacles would put him one win from finally clearing the other.
“It’s about this team,” Rivers said, attempting to dismiss all those yesterdays and focus solely on Sunday. “We have a chance. We’re one of eight that are alive. … So we have a chance to get one step closer.”
Rivers has defeated the Patriots once, in 2008, when Matt Cassel was starting at quarterback after Brady suffered a season-ending knee injury.
He’s winless in seven other starts, including two in the playoffs in the back-to-back seasons of 2006 and 2007.
Combined in those two losses — one of which he played on a torn knee ligament — Rivers finished 33 of 69 for 441 yards, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
For a player who has built such a mountain of statistics, those numbers represent a molehill of production.
“I think you’re aware of it, but this team is 0-0,” Rivers said about the current Chargers against the Patriots. “We’ve never played them …That’s the way I look at it. …Shoot, we can’t go back and win.”
No, all Rivers can do is look forward, to the latest opportunity to go into revered Foxborough and lead his team past the one being led by Brady.
On Sunday, the two will became the eldest pair of quarterbacks to start an NFL playoff game. They are combined 78 years old, with 41 of those years belonging to Brady.
Between them, they’ve completed 10,522 passes for 125,170 yards and 891 touchdowns. And that’s just in the regular season.
In discussing Rivers and the Chargers this week, Brady used the word “great” four times in one answer.
He praised the “mental toughness and character” the Chargers displayed last weekend by winning in Baltimore.
He never once noted that his only two losses to the Chargers came so long ago that Drew Brees was the opposing quarterback.
Brady doesn’t need to tout himself, not when history touts him plenty. He has won five Super Bowls and 27 playoff games and is trying to take the Patriots to their eighth consecutive AFC final.
“Tom Brady is the greatest ever,” Chargers safety Jahleel Addae said. “We all know that. The Super Bowl goes through them. That’s the opportunity that we have on our hands right now.”
The defensive back’s word choice was interesting, opportunity generally described as something that arrives in a more pleasant manner. On our hands? Sounds more like a dilemma.
In considering this latest matchup, Rivers recalled feeling as wide-eyed as a kid the first time he saw Peyton Manning trot on the field as an AFC West rival with Denver.
“There was a piece of me that was 12 years old,” he said, before suggesting the sensation could be similar Sunday. “Tom's worried about our defense just like I am theirs. But it is pretty special.”