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Rivers on pace to shatter Marino's passing record

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SAN DIEGO (AP)

To Philip Rivers, it's just a number.

A big number, at that.

Halfway through what's been a stinker of a season for his San Diego Chargers, Rivers has passed for 2,649 yards. That's more than any other NFL quarterback has thrown for in the first eight games and has Rivers on pace to shatter Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,084 yards in 1984.

Rivers is interested in the record pursuit only if it means more victories for the Chargers. The four-time defending AFC West champions are scuffling along at 3-5 because of an unfathomable number of turnovers and special teams blunders in Norv Turner's fourth season as head coach.

''That wouldn't be one of the things I even think about coming into a year,'' Rivers said of Marino's record. ''If we can keep going and executing like we are, protecting the ball and winning games, if that comes with it, I mean. ... Certainly where we sit at the halfway mark and all that, I'm not thinking, 'Ooh, let's make sure we go and do that.' We just want to go win. If we throw for 230 the rest of the way out and win the rest of them, I won't see it as a missed opportunity.''

Rivers is averaging slightly more than 311 yards per game, which projects to 5,298 through 16 games. Rivers has been part of the Chargers' problem this season, throwing seven interceptions and losing three fumbles. The Chargers have committed 19 turnovers, two more than all of last season.

But when he's on, the Chargers can be unstoppable. Rivers hasn't had all of his receivers available, mostly because of injuries and also because of Vincent Jackson's absence. Jackson sat out until last week in a contract dispute, and is one game into a three-game, team-imposed suspension.

Then again, as long as star tight end Antonio Gates can continue to play through the pain of a turf toe, the Chargers have one of the most lethal combinations in the league.

Rivers has completed 40 passes to Gates for 663 yards and nine touchdowns. Gates had five catches for 123 yards, including a 48-yarder for the go-ahead touchdown, in Sunday's 33-25 win against Tennessee that may have saved San Diego's season. Rivers also completed 14 passes to four running backs.

Rivers had 305 yards Sunday, his fifth 300-yard game of the season, tying his career high from last season. He needs three more to tie Hall of Famer Dan Fouts for the club record.

''He's playing as well as a guy can play,'' Turner said. ''He's seeing the field, handling pressure and throwing the ball where only the offensive guy can get it.''

Most of the time, anyway.

Rivers' 2,649 yards through eight games bettered the old NFL mark of 2,580 by Fouts in 1982.

''It's really humbling, to be honest with you,'' Rivers said. ''Just being a fan and the way I love the game, growing up watching these guys, when you sit down and humbly look at it, it's like, 'Man, am I really on a list with some of these guys?' ''

Fouts was in the CBS broadcast booth for the Titans game and will be again when the Chargers travel to Houston this Sunday. The two talk during production meetings. ''It's always fun,'' Rivers said. ''He always has different stories. It's always a pretty easy conversation there.''

Rivers and Fouts are the only Chargers quarterbacks to throw for 4,000 yards in a season. Rivers has two straight 4,000-yard seasons, including a career-best 4,254 last year.

If he can crack 5,000, he'd join a group that includes only Marino and former teammate Drew Brees. After the 2005 season, the Chargers kept Rivers and let the injured Brees leave as a free agent. Brees threw for 5,069 yards in 2008, 15 yards short of Marino's record.

Brees led the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl title in February. Rivers remains the only member of the Big Three of the 2004 draft class without a Super Bowl ring. Eli Manning - swapped for Rivers on draft day 2004 - has one and Ben Roethlisberger, two.

The Chargers profess to strive for balance - they ran for 156 yards on Sunday - but their best bet comes when the ball's in Rivers' hands.

''Man, you want him on your team because he's going to make something happen,'' running back Darren Sproles said.

''I think he's having a monster season,'' said left tackle Marcus McNeill.

McNeill doesn't like talking about midseason stats, though. He likens it to a teammate talking to a pitcher during a no-hitter.

''He's in a groove right now. Hopefully we can keep him in it,'' McNeill said. ''Just his character as a leader and his competitiveness is probably second to none in the NFL, especially at the quarterback level. He can take us wherever we want to go. A lot of times we end up hurting ourselves. Those are the mistakes we want to make sure we eliminate.''

Some of Rivers' yardage has come because the Chargers have been behind in so many games this year. His 455 yards at Seattle - he broke Fouts' single-game record of 444 - came in a loss, as did his 431-yard effort at Oakland.

''There's been games where we've been put in position to throw it a little more,'' Rivers said. ''But at the same time we've executed, in a lot of ways, the passing game at a high level. I think it's a reflection of all of us - the guys up front, to protect on those passes and the guys making plays. To say it doesn't mean anything would be inaccurate, but at the same time I certainly would trade it for a few more wins. But hopefully there's a lot more yards this second half and at the same time they're going to translate to a lot more wins.''

Tagged: Saints, Chargers, Drew Brees, Antonio Gates, Philip Rivers, Marcus McNeill

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