How Philip Rivers’ AFC Championship Loss To Patriots Defined QB’s Career

Rivers started every game for 15 seasons but never played in a Super Bowl


Jan 20, 2021

On Jan. 14, 2008, Philip Rivers tore his ACL and meniscus in a playoff victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

Six days later, he took the field against the juggernaut New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game and played every snap in a 21-12 loss.

That game, which was played in 20-degree temperatures at Gillette Stadium, is largely forgotten in Patriots lore since New England lost its undefeated season two weeks later.

But it stands as a signature moment in Rivers’ NFL career, which officially came to an end Wednesday. The 39-year-old quarterback announced through Kevin Acee of The San Diego Union-Tribune he was retiring after 17 seasons — 16 with the Chargers and one with the Colts.

“It’s just time,” said Rivers, who already has a high-school coaching job lined up in his native Alabama.

Rivers’ toughness, durability and competitiveness, as much as his funky throwing motion or penchant for curse-free on-field tantrums, defined his generation-spanning run as an NFL QB. After backing up Drew Brees for his first two seasons, Rivers started every single game from 2006 through 2020 — 240 straight regular-season starts over 15 years. In NFL history, only Brett Favre owns a longer consecutive start streak (297).

Rivers was consistently productive, too. He retires ranked fifth all-time in passing yards (63,440), passing touchdowns (421) and completions (5,277), tied for 10th in yards per attempt (7.8) and 12th in career passer rating (95.2). He was an eight-time Pro Bowler, threw for more than 4,000 yards 12 times and led the league in passing yards, passing touchdowns, passer rating and completion percentage at various points in his career.

But that aforementioned loss to the Patriots also exemplifies another undeniable fact about Rivers’ career — one that always prevented him from rising to the level of fellow 2014 first-round draft picks Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger and other elite contemporaries like Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

Unlike all six of those quarterbacks, Rivers never won a Super Bowl. He never even reached one. In fact, that frigid loss in Foxboro was his only appearance in a conference title game, and it came in just his second season as a starter.

Rivers won a grand total of five career playoff games. In his six postseason appearances with the Chargers, he lost once to Peyton Manning, once to Roethlisberger and three times to Brady, including the 2006 divisional-round stunner that ended a 14-2 season for San Diego.

Rivers’ Chargers also were upset by Mark Sanchez and the New York Jets after going 13-3 in 2009. His lone Colts campaign culminated in a divisional-round loss to Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills two weeks ago.

The case for Rivers as a Pro Football Hall of Famer is a strong one based on his supreme longevity and superb stats. He’ll most likely wind up in Canton one day. But in an era that produced some of the best quarterbacks in NFL history, his ugly playoff résumé ultimately excluded him from that group.

Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images
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