Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is ready for a fresh start in the playoffs
Philip Rivers has never played in a Super Bowl, but he unquestionably has his ring.
It’s a big, welcome 0.
“It’s all zero now,” the quarterback said Sunday after the Chargers’ 23-9 win over the Denver Broncos that was more lackluster than the score suggests. “Everything is zero.”
No team is hungrier for a 0-0 start than the Chargers, who were in the best-team-in-the-NFL discussion two weeks ago before a humbling loss at home to Baltimore and an unconvincing and uneven performance in Broncos Stadium at Mile High. Who wouldn’t want a clean slate?
Rivers embraces the Latin phrase “nunc coepi,” which translates as “now I begin.” He wears it on T-shirts and ballcaps. It’s a reminder that every day begins anew with a wealth of possibilities. And he has a special understanding of what lies ahead, this being his sixth trip to the playoffs in 15 seasons and first since 2013.
“Every year when the season ends you always reflect,” he said. “Those years when you don’t get in, your early-on emotions are disappointment and really just kind of sick that you didn’t even give yourself a chance in the postseason. So now that we have given ourselves a chance, it’s to embrace and enjoy it, and go fight like heck and see what happens.”
Rivers is 4-5 as the starter in postseason games, and has gotten to the AFC championship once, in 2008, battling gamely on a torn knee ligament but ultimately falling in the bitter cold of New England.
Now, for the second time in three weeks, the Chargers will face the Ravens, who boast a ball-hogging ground game — they ran for nearly 300 yards against Cleveland on Sunday — and the NFL’s top-ranked defense, one that repeatedly swarmed Rivers at StubHub Center.
“These guys smacked us around the last time we played,” left tackle Russell Okung said of the 22-10 defeat. “They got the best of us.”
It figures to be cool but not frigid in that early game Sunday. The long-range forecast on Weather.com calls for partly cloudy skies and temperatures ranging from 38 to 49 degrees.
As the Chargers showed in their victories at Seattle, Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Denver, they don’t need sunny skies or a friendly crowd to win. They can’t even rely on getting the majority of fans at home, so they’re accustomed to dealing with adverse conditions.
Counting London, the Chargers have won in five time zones and on several less-than-postcard-pretty days.
“Being a team out in Southern California, the expectation is that we want warm-weather games,” Okung said. “But again and again, each week as we’ve been putting together our body of work, we’ve proven that regardless of the surroundings, the environment, we’re able to come out on top. We get another chance to do that next week.”
These Chargers are resilient. They haven’t had consecutive losses and they finished 7-1 on the road.
“Our backs have been against the wall for so long,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “For a few years now, I’ve felt like it’s us against the world. We get a little chatter here and there, they pump us up a bit, and something bad happens and it’s, ‘Same old Chargers.’ We don’t really listen to it. All we know is fight.”
If they’re able to advance, these Chargers will really have to be ice-road truckers, going from the chattering cold of Denver, to Baltimore, to New England or Kansas City for the divisional round.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa sacks Broncos quarterback Case Keenum during a second quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Desmond King Jr. knocks the ball from Broncos running back Royce Freeman, causing a fumble that teammate Kyle Emmanuel returned for a touchdown at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Melvin Gordon runs for a 19-yard gain that was nullified by a holding penalty on tight end Virgil Green (88) on a third quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams is twisted down by Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom after a short gain during a third-quarter drive at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams pulls in a three-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers, beating Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom in the third quarter at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Denver cornerback Isaac Yiadom intercepts a Philip Rivers pass intended for receiver Tyrell Williams in the first quarter at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler makes a cut for a 41-yard run in the fourth quarter against the Broncos.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is tackled by Broncos nose tackle Shelby Harris after a two-yard gain during the fourth quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers receiver Mike Williams is tackled by Broncos cornerback Isaac Yiadom after a 14-yard pass reception during a fourth quarter drive.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr. celebrates with teammate Desmond King Jr. (left) after a 100-yard interception return on a two-point conversion attempt.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos defensive lineman Derek Wolfe knocks down a pass during the first quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward Jr., steps in front of Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton to intercept a two-point conversion attempt. Hayward returned it 100 yards, giving the Chargers two points.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos receiver Tim Patrick can’t hold on to a pass as Chargers cornerback Micheal Davis delivers a blow during third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Broncos quarterback Case Keenum fumbles a snap from center Conor McGovern during the third quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa dances after sacking Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the second quarter.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers defensive backs Casey Hayward Jr. (right) Jahleel Addae and Adrian Phillips take the field for warmups before taking on the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
Chargers fans line up for Joey Bosa during pregame warmups at Mile High Stadium.(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
By comparison, the Rams, seeded second in the NFC, won’t have to worry about weather. The winding path to the Super Bowl starts in Los Angeles and, should they advance, it stays there or winds through climate-controlled domes in New Orleans and, ultimately, Atlanta.
The path is especially daunting for the fifth-seeded Chargers. It’s rare that a wild-card team emerges to make serious noise in the postseason. Nine of the 10 participating teams in the last five Super Bowls were No. 1 seeds, with the only oddball being the second-seeded Atlanta Falcons.
The Chargers didn’t look Sunday like a team that will have a long life expectancy in the postseason. Denver intercepted two Rivers passes in the opening quarter, and the Chargers finished with a modest 276 yards and converted four of 11 third downs.
Since his robust passer rating of 115.4 at Pittsburgh, Rivers has dropped to 99.8 to 89.0 to 51.7 before a slight rebound against the Broncos to 60.4.
“Stats, you can read however you want to read,” he said with a shrug. “You can go the last couple of weeks, or the last 16 games. You can go the last 208 games. You can make that picture paint however. Every game is new.”
Now they begin. For the Chargers, the only number that counts is zero.
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer
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