San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) walks the sidelines during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Oct. 30, 2016, in Denver. The Broncos won 27-19. (AP Photo/Joe Mahoney)
DENVER (AP) After another head-scratcher of a loss – most of them have been like that for San Diego this season – Philip Rivers did what he often does. He looked at the bright side.
''This feels a little like 2007 to me,'' he said.
If only that were true.
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In 2007, Rivers was a fourth-year quarterback, the Chargers roster was drenched in talent and a Super Bowl trip or two seemed like a foregone conclusion – if not that year, then soon.
Nearly 10 years later, the Super Bowl is still on hold. And though Rivers has surpassed Dan Fouts as San Diego's most prolific passer, his place in NFL lore remains in limbo, held hostage to a franchise that has let things slowly decline around its star quarterback since the days when the Chargers ruled the AFC West.
With every passing year, the odds of Rivers doing what Fouts couldn't – namely, take the Chargers to the Super Bowl, grow longer.
As was the case in Sunday's 27-19 loss to the Broncos that dropped San Diego to 3-5, some of that is Rivers' fault.
But much of it is not.
Philips threw for two touchdowns, three interceptions and had a miserable 48.8 passer rating against the Broncos.
Coach Mike McCoy gave him four chances to complete a 2-yard pass for a possible tying touchdown at the end of the game, and Rivers couldn't connect on any of them.
Of course, San Diego wouldn't have been in that situation had one receiver, Tyrell Williams, not batted a pass skyward and into the hands of Broncos defender Bradley Roby, who returned it for a touchdown. Or had kicker Josh Lambo made an extra point and a field goal earlier. Or had McCoy chosen to give the ball to 111-yard rusher Melvin Gordon on one of those four key plays.
It's always something, which is why Fouts' name still usually receives first mention when the subject of ''Greatest Chargers Quarterbacks'' comes up.
It's mentioned first even though his passer rating (80.2) is more than 15 points worse than Rivers', and his total career yardage (43,040) will be thousands behind, as well, by the time Rivers (43,732 and counting) hangs it up.
Fouts had the good fortune of playing for Don Coryell – who was reinventing passing game during the 1970s and `80s – and being flanked by some of the best offensive players of that era: from Charlie Joiner, to Wes Chandler, to Kellen Winslow, to Chuck Muncie and James Brooks.
''He's got to have a better team around him,'' Fouts said in an interview over the summer , when asked about Rivers. ''He's a championship-caliber quarterback, but a lot goes into it.''
In 2007, Rivers was part of a better team.
He had LaDainian Tomlinson and Darren Sproles on offense, Shawne Merriman and Antonio Cromartie on defense. Antonio Gates, the only other 2016 holdover from that roster, was among the eight Chargers who made the Pro Bowl that year.
The Chargers won their last six regular-season games and made it to the AFC title game, only to fall to the then-undefeated Patriots, 21-12. Rivers, who has started 177 straight games, famously played that game with a torn ACL.
''He's a competitor,'' offensive lineman Joe Barksdale said. ''I guarantee you that's why half the free agents they've ever signed have come here. He's a really good quarterback, a good leader. He does a good job of being the voice of reason for the team.''
After Sunday's loss, the voice of reason was the voice of optimism.
''I'm fired up,'' Rivers said. ''We've got two at home, we win those, get to 5-5 at the bye and go.''
He said the comparisons to 2007 had more to do with momentum and grit than the actual makeup of the roster.
''With all respect to our roster … I just meant, we were 1-3 (in both 2007 and 2016), we showed spurts of, `Man, that's the best team out there,' and showed spurts of `Man, they won't win a game.'''
The 2007 team had the talent to get to 5-5 and not lose again until January. Maybe this team does, too. The Chargers were, after all, good enough to hold double-digit leads late in three of their early losses. Numbers crunchers put the odds of them losing the four games they dropped en route to 1-4 at 30 million to 1 .
Rivers, whether by nature or by necessity, is only looking at what's ahead.
''I just don't know any other way,'' he said.
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