COSTA MESA — By now, Philip Rivers should be accustomed to heartbreak. Since taking over as the Chargers’ starting quarterback in 2006, it has taken on a variety of soul-crushing forms: The failed final drive. The late turnover. The winning kick blocked. The winning kick missed. The botched snap on a winning kick.
Statistically, no NFL quarterback matches Rivers’ pace of prolonged, late-game cruelty. Across 11 seasons and 178 starts with the Chargers, he has lost 25 games by a field goal or less. That’s 14 percent of his career starts. Only Drew Brees is even close — he’s lost 20 such games since Rivers entered the league.
In his 12th season as the Chargers’ starting quarterback, it’s clear these narrow losses have shaped the fierce, yet calm intensity for which Rivers has become known. Study him at any point, on any given week, and Rivers seems as if he’s in a perpetual state of down-a-score-with-two-minutes-to-go. His focus never breaks.
For all the fiery two-minute drills and fourth-quarter comeback drives, though, Rivers’ late-game intensity and gunslinging confidence haven’t exactly translated to wins in close games. At least, not lately. In recent years, declaring the Chargers to be better than their record has been an annual tradition. But the Chargers have responded with only increasingly heart-wrenching losses. Every year, it seems, they defy regression expectations and further perpetuate their reputation as the NFL’s most cursed franchise, doomed to an eternity of heartbreak by the football gods.
Rivers, in turn, has maintained the ethos of being a clutch quarterback on the NFL’s least-clutch team. As a six-time Pro Bowler, he’s certainly deserving of acclaim; without him, the Chargers would’ve lost many more games, by much more than three points. But when explaining the team’s litany of narrow losses, I find myself wondering: How much responsibility should Rivers bear?
The record of NFL teams in one-score games is generally erratic and unpredictable. It almost always regresses to the mean of a .500 record. But in the Chargers’ case, the numbers are bad enough to raise eyebrows, even for those who don’t believe in curses and football gods.
Already, in that sense, this season has not gone according to plan. After a slew of serious injuries saw them fall to 5-11 last season, they were this season’s perfect case for regression to the mean. Now, at 0-2, with the AFC’s hottest team on deck, the Chargers are…