With the Chargers down four points just under two minutes away from halftime on Monday, Philip Rivers tried to help his team win. On a reverse to Austin Ekeler, the Chargers quarterback tried to be the running back’s lead blocker. Rivers, 37 and the oldest player on the field by six years, caught nothing but air.
There were a few highlights and quite a few lowlights for the Chargers against the Chiefs, but none capture the essence of their 24-17 loss like Rivers trying to throw a block but creating a light breeze. The Chiefs won, but it was Rivers who beat the Chargers and effectively ended their playoff hopes on Monday Night Football.
Playing without both starting tackles, Rivers completed just 28 of 52 passes (54 percent) for 353 yards (6.8 yards per attempt) with one touchdown and four interceptions. The four picks tied Rivers’s career high. He would have had five interceptions had Tyrann Mathieu not dropped the easiest interception of his life. Luckily for Mathieu, Rivers had already spread the wealth by that point. On the third play of the second quarter, defensive end Frank Clark ran past backup left tackle Trey Pipkins and got to Rivers while he was throwing. The ball landed in the arms of defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi for an interception. On the Chiefs’ next possession midway through the second quarter, Rivers threw a ball intended for Keenan Allen but was intercepted by Mathieu, who returned it back to the 6-yard line. LeSean McCoy rushed for a touchdown on the next play to give the Chiefs a 7-3 lead.
Honey Badger don’t care. @Mathieu_Era intercepts the pass and the @Chiefs take over.#ChiefsKingdom | #MexicoGame2019 | @nflmx— NFL (@NFL) November 19, 2019
: #KCvsLAC on ESPN
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Rivers’s third pick came two quarters later, with the Chargers down 24-17 with just over four minutes remaining in the game. Facing a third-and-10, Rivers launched a pass that was intended for rookie receiver Andre Patton but was intercepted by cornerback Rashad Fenton. The throw looked exciting and reckless but amounted to an accidental arm punt that gave the Chiefs possession 50 yards downfield. The Chiefs ran six plays and punted back to the Chargers, who had just under two minutes to drive 91 yards with no timeouts. After six plays of hunting for a deep shot, Rivers struck gold on the seventh try of the drive by launching a pass downfield to Mike Williams, who somehow came up with it.
Four plays later, Rivers—once again under pressure from Clark—underthrew a jump ball to Ekeler (who is 5-foot-10) that was intercepted by safety Daniel Sorensen (6-foot-2).
“Not scoring in the red zone and turning it over, that gets you beat,” Rivers said in his postgame press conference. “That’s what’s gotten us beat all year.”
He’s right. The Chargers started 2-2 but have gone 2-5 since September ended. From Week 5 onward, the Chargers have 15 turnovers, the third most in that span. Rivers has seven interceptions in his last two games, the most in a two-game span in his career. The Chargers entered Monday turning just 50 percent of their red zone trips into touchdowns, one of the 10 lowest rates in the league. The turnovers and red zone failures have mattered. All seven of the Chargers’ losses have been by seven points or fewer. One-possession games are generally a coin flip, so their 2-7 record in such games could easily have been 4-5 with better execution (like Rivers’s three interceptions in a two-point loss to the Raiders last week). What stings most about Monday’s game is that despite all of that, a win tonight would have rejuvenated L.A.’s season. If the Chargers had won, they would have been 5-6 and within striking distance of both the Chiefs (who would have been 6-5) and the Raiders (who are 6-4). Instead, the Chargers are 4-7 and their playoff hopes are all but over.
Making the loss even more infuriating is how beatable the Chiefs looked. Patrick Mahomes had perhaps his worst game as a professional, completing 19 of 32 passes for just 182 yards, one touchdown, and his second interception of the season. (He also had a career-high 59 rushing yards on five carries, mostly on scrambles when the Chargers were in man coverage with their backs to the pocket.) The Chargers held Mahomes to a first-half career-low 63 yards. Some of Mahomes’s play may have been due to playing on a turf that looked horrendous weeks after dislocating his kneecap. A year after Chiefs-Rams on Monday Night Football was canceled because of poor field conditions, the turf at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City was deemed safe by the league despite looking anything but during the game. Chiefs receiver Byron Pringle slid trying to change direction like there was a baseball field buried underneath.
Exceptionally safe. Totally normal. pic.twitter.com/p6HwAS98oi— Warren Sharp (@SharpFootball) November 19, 2019
Still, both teams had to play on the turf, and the Chargers defense dominated while the Chiefs offense struggled. Receiver Tyreek Hill left with a hamstring injury in the first half. The Chiefs committed eight penalties for 102 yards, 42 more than the Chargers. A combination of stellar Chargers defense and outrageous Andy Reid clock management led to four Chiefs punts in the fourth quarter while they were up just seven points.
The loss can’t entirely be blamed on Rivers, especially when Kansas City’s highest-paid defender is teeing off on a backup left tackle. There were also plenty of Chargers mistakes, including Ekeler staying inbounds on their final drive when he got the ball near the red zone and defensive end Melvin Ingram being called for an illegal-use-of-hands penalty that extended a Chiefs series and contributed to their only long touchdown drive of the night. But Rivers threw unforced error after unforced error like he was Josh Allen on Monday.
Rivers, who turns 38 in December, told reporters last week that he plans to “regroup” after the season—the final of his current deal—and decide his future. He has previously stated that he intends to be the Chargers’ starting QB when they take up residence in Inglewood, and while he said that’s still his plan, it sounds like that stance has somewhat softened.
While Rivers’s 2004 draft classmates Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger were benched and placed on injured reserve, respectively, in the same 24-hour period after Week 2, Rivers has kept chugging. Unlike Manning, Roethlisberger, and every other starting quarterback in the NFL over 35, Rivers does not have a Super Bowl ring, and he won’t get one this season.
Rivers has the third-most wins for a quarterback without a Super Bowl of all time behind Dan Marino and Fran Tarkenton. He hasn’t missed a regular-season game since 2005, so the end is not necessarily nigh, but his comments last week indicated that could change at any time. Until it does, every Philip Rivers season is beginning to feel like that block he tried throwing for Ekeler that became a light breeze (or Brees lite): trying hard, getting close, but coming up empty.