Chargers QB Rivers hopes to avenge earlier loss to Ravens
COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Philip Rivers can speak from experience on how fleeting postseason opportunities can be.
Rivers led the Chargers into the playoffs the first four years he was the team’s starting quarterback, but Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens marks only his second appearance since the 2009 season and first in five seasons.
“When you’re younger you think this is it. You get a shot every year. Then when you don’t go once in the last nine or 10 years, you realize how fleeting it is and how hard it is to get in,” Rivers said on Wednesday.
“I’m excited about the opportunity. I think from the experiences I’ve had, both positive and negative, you take that with what you can, and you just go play.”
Rivers is one of 13 players on the active roster with playoff experience and one of six remaining from the franchise’s previous appearance in the 2013 season, when it defeated Cincinnati in the wild-card round before losing to Denver the following week.
Rivers enters the postseason coming off one of the best regular seasons of his 15-year career. His 105.5 passer rating equaled his career best from 2008 and ’13 and his 8.5 yards per attempt average is his best since 2010. His 68.3 percent completion rate also was the second best of his career.
Rivers and the Chargers were one of the NFL’s hottest teams in mid-December with wins in 10 of 11 games, which included key road wins against Pittsburgh and Kansas City. Rivers through has struggled down the stretch. He has thrown an interception on the opening possession in three straight games.
The 22-10 loss to Baltimore on Dec. 22 was one of Rivers worst games of the season. He threw an interception on his first attempt, was sacked four times and finished completing 23 of 37 passes for 181 yards and two interceptions. It was also only the third game in the past three seasons where he didn’t have a touchdown pass.
Rivers said the recent picks were just a combination of bad throws and a lack of execution.
The Chargers (12-4) expect to see plenty of pressure from the Ravens again. According to SportRadar, Baltimore rushed five or more defenders 41.5 percent of the time against Los Angeles. The Ravens come into the game with a 37.5 percent blitz rate, which is third-highest in the league.
Baltimore finished the regular season as the league’s top-ranked defense, limiting opponents to 292.9 yards per game. It was fifth in pass defense and its 80.6 defensive passer rating stood second, only behind the Bears’ 72.9 mark.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said he doesn’t expect to see any drastic changes from Baltimore this time, and that the key for his team is learning from the mistakes of two weeks ago and doing a better job handling one-on-one matchups.
Los Angeles was held to 198 yards, which was its fourth-lowest total since Rivers became the starting quarterback in 2006. It was also the first time the Chargers were held under 200 yards since Nov. 2, 2014, at Miami when they had 178.
“They just never let you get comfortable as an offense. It’s always something trying to keep you off balance,” Rivers said of Baltimore’s defense.
“It’s going to be back and forth. There will be times where we pick everything up just right and do everything just right. There will be other times where we’re going to have to, again, manage all those things that they do so well.”
The Chargers had three turnovers in the loss, which resulted in nine Baltimore points. Rivers knows he doesn’t want the game plan to be too conservative, but that they have to take advantage of matchups if the Ravens are aggressive.
“You always want to protect the football, but you don’t think you want to play scared to make a play or make a mistake, because then you won’t make any plays. You’ve definitely got to cut it loose,” he said.
Rivers is 4-5 in the playoffs, but three of those wins have come on the road. He also has a pair of wins when he has thrown less than 20 passes and had a completion rate above 70 percent.
His last postseason win could serve as a blueprint for Sunday. In that wild-card game at Cincinnati, the Chargers ran it on 40 of 57 plays while Rivers was 12 of 16 for 128 yards and a touchdown with one sack.
One thing that would help is a healthy running game. Melvin Gordon, who was ninth in the AFC with 885 rushing yards, was a full participant in Wednesday’s practice after tweaking his ankle in last Sunday’s win over Denver.
“Anytime you can run the ball in January is good. If you can run the football there’s nothing else you can’t do. So we need to be more efficient in the running game to get opportunities, for sure,” Lynn said.