San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was one of 7,000 participants who successfully completed a 5K run/walk last weekend to benefit his charity foundation.
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His journey to the Super Bowl remains unfinished.
Road blocks and dead ends have increased as Rivers prepares to enter his ninth NFL campaign. After guiding the Chargers into the postseason in each of his first four years as a starter, Rivers has failed to lead San Diego to the playoffs for two straight seasons.
Rivers is optimistic that will change thanks to a slew of free-agent signings by a general manager (A.J. Smith) who has customarily built its roster through the draft.
“I’ve never thought we’re not going to be good, but we do have a chance to be as good as we’ve been,” Rivers told me and co-host Jim Miller on SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Now, I thought that last year, too, and we finished 8-8. We have to go do it, but we have the capability to be a really good team.”
That starts with Rivers rebounding from a subpar 2011 outing. Although he once again ranked among the league leaders in passing yards (4,624), touchdowns (27) and completion percentage (62.9), Rivers finished with a career-high 20 interceptions and also lost five fumbles.
“I turned the ball over too much,” Rivers admitted. “Much has been made whether I was hurt or this or that. I wasn’t hurt. I was as healthy as I’ve been throughout the year and I played really good at times. But then there were times when I made crucial turnovers at crucial times in games.
“That’s all it takes. You can play good football for 55 minutes and throw two interceptions and fumble and you lose the game. I need to play better and I’m preparing like crazy to play better.”
Rivers is doing that with a new supporting cast. Rather than use a franchise tag on Vincent Jackson or try to resign him to the type of five-year, $56 million mega-contract he received from Tampa Bay, San Diego used its cap space to add four free-agent wide receivers – Robert Meachem (New Orleans), Eddie Royal (Denver), Roscoe Parrish (Buffalo) and Michael Spurlock (Tampa Bay).
Meachem is expected to replace Jackson as San Diego’s top deep threat, while Royal already has earned praise from Rivers as the team’s “most exciting” offseason pickup because of what he can provide on shorter and intermediate routes.
“He gives us a dimension that was different than what we’ve had,” Rivers said of Royal. “We’ve had the big guys running up the field and making all the plays. He can push the ball up the field but has such a knack for all the things. He’ll be a great complement to (tight end Antonio) Gates.”
Gates is among the key Chargers players who have struggled with injuries in recent seasons. With San Diego signing 16 unrestricted free agents, re-signing nine others and adding seven draft picks, quality depth should no longer be a San Diego weakness.
“There’s been as much change as we’ve ever had,” Rivers said. “This year, we’re going to have guys who have been around the league play bigger roles as first-year players for us.”
Such moves had better pay quick dividends. Smith and head coach Norv Turner are squarely on the hot seat because of the team’s playoff drought.
Rivers believes rectifying the problem is bettering a .500 record the past two seasons against AFC West foes that the Chargers once crushed en route to winning four straight division crowns. Rivers also bemoaned the fact San Diego missed the playoffs last year when splitting its final two games. The Chargers were unable to take advantage of a window to make the postseason even with a 7-7 record like the ultimate Super Bowl XLVI champion New York Giants.
“We can talk about what’s wrong with the Chargers. I don’t think anything is wrong,” Rivers said of the criticism that has surrounded the team. “We’ve got to find a way to get in (the playoffs).”
If the Chargers can accomplish that once again, Rivers will have the chance to shed the “best-active-quarterback-without-a-Super-Bowl-title” label that is now placed on his 30-year-old shoulders.
“I would hate to think there’s a quarterback out there who thinks the window is closing if he has the confidence in himself under center,” Rivers said. “I say that humbly. But if I line up out there, I believe we’re going to win.”