Yes, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers is on a mission to win the Super Bowl for the first time in his glorious 15-year career.
Yes, he will do everything possible to make that happen now that the Chargers, coming off a 12-4 regular season and a 23-17 win over the Ravens in the AFC wild-card round, have advanced to the divisional round.
But Rivers also will take a moment — not as the Chargers’ quarterback but simply as an NFL fan — to behold what he’s about to see Sunday afternoon at Gillette Stadium.
The Chargers will face the Patriots, who have dominated the NFL like no other team, winning the Super Bowl five times beginning with the 2001 season and looking to qualify for their eighth consecutive berth in the AFC Championship Game.
“On some level, I’m a fan of those guys,” said Rivers, who hopes to join Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger as quarterbacks from the draft class of 2004 who have won the Super Bowl. “I have a lot of respect for New England. You’re going against a Bill Belichick team and a Tom Brady-led team. You’re talking about arguably the greatest of all time.”
Rivers, 37, knows his opportunities are dwindling, which is why he never takes these moments for granted. Not now, and not before, as he harked back to his days battling Peyton Manning.
“Peyton’s always a favorite,” said Rivers, who was 22-for-32 for 160 yards and led six scoring drives against the Ravens’ No. 1-ranked defense. “It is special to look over and say, ‘Peyton Manning is leading that team over there.’ That’s special to me. Tom Brady’s leading that [Patriots] team, and that’s special. I’m not going against Tom, but it’s special. Just that franchise. They’ve been in eight, nine straight conference championships? Our task is to see if we can stop the streak.”
Rivers inflated the Patriots’ record conference championship game streak just a bit, but who can blame him? It sure feels like eight or nine.
Playing the Patriots has been a Sisyphus-like proposition for Rivers, who is 0-7 against the Patriots when Brady plays. His only career win over New England came after Matt Cassel replaced an injured Brady in the 2008 season. Two of Rivers’ losses to the Patriots came in the playoffs, including the AFC Championship Game in January 2008, when Rivers played despite a torn ACL.
“It’s going to be a heck of a challenge,” he said. “When you have a chance to go against them 11 years after we had that opportunity, yeah, it’s awesome.”
A chance to avenge one of his most painful defeats? Well, yes and no.
“Only one other guy on that [Chargers] team is here,” Rivers said, referring to tight end Antonio Gates.
The passage of time has dulled the pain, but Rivers very much looks forward to staying alive for at least another week.
“It’s exciting to get another chance,” he said. “Just goes to show, unless you’re the Patriots, it’s hard. For most of us, it’s not that easy to get in, and when you get in and now you know you’re one of eight teams, that’s all you ask for is a chance.”