Philip Rivers has faced the New England Patriots seven times before.
The first start brought along a Marlon McCree interception return that was met by Troy Brown. The last start brought along a Mike Scifres punt that was met by Brandon Bolden.
Sunday’s 1 p.m. ET kickoff at Gillette Stadium will mark the next encounter. One that the 35-year-old Los Angeles Chargers quarterback hopes will go better than most of those previous, but one he knows could also go very much the same.
“They’re like they’ve been for a lot of years in terms of what they do,” Rivers told reporters in his press conference Wednesday, per Chargers.com. “They never allow you to get comfortable. They give you multiple looks. They do some things that I guess you could call unorthodox. But watching them doing it, knowing the history they have there over the years, it’s not unheard of for them.”
Rivers has been under center for just one win over New England. It was a 30-10 triumph on Oct. 12, 2008, against a Matt Cassel-led Patriots’ offense, when he threw for over 300 yards with touchdowns to Vincent Jackson, Malcom Floyd and Antonio Gates.
It stands as the only time Rivers went without throwing an interception against the defense.
Rivers has seen the coverage drops and the three-man rushes. He’s seen the different front structures, the unders and overs. The Patriots, according to him, never let things be. Yet sometimes they dial up looks that are “what you’d call normal.”
“I think it’s going into one of those games where it’s truly read-it-out and kind of play it by the book,” Rivers said of pre- and post-snap adjustments. “Don’t try to do too much. Take what they give you, because shoot, that’s what they’ve been for a long time.”
Rivers has taken his shots. He’s thrown nine interceptions over the course of his six losses versus the Patriots, which include a pair of playoff bouts a decade ago. He’s been sacked 15 times, from the likes of Rosevelt Colvin, Junior Seau and Adalius Thomas to Mark Anderson, Brandon Deaderick and Mike Wright. And he’s endured the tenures of four head coaches, from Marty Schottenheimer to Norv Turner to Mike McCoy and now Anthony Lynn.
But Rivers’ body of work remains. Bullet notes like six-time Pro Bowler, comeback player of the year, passing yards leader, and passing touchdowns co-leader don’t get removed from a Wikipedia page.
“I have the utmost respect for him and all that he's done throughout his career,” Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia said of Rivers on his conference call Tuesday, via Patriots.com. “Every single time that we've had to play him it's been an absolute battle.”
RIVERS’ CAREER VS. PATRIOTS
- Jan. 14, 2007 – 24-21 loss: 14-of-32, 230 yards, zero TDs, one pick
- Sept. 16, 2007 – 38-14 loss: 19-of-30, 179 yards, two TDs, two picks
- Jan. 20, 2008 – 21-12 loss: 19-of-37, 211 yards, zero TDs, two picks
- Oct. 12, 2008 – 30-10 win: 18-of-27, 306 yards, three TDs, zero picks
- Oct. 24, 2010 – 23-20 loss: 34-of-50, 336 yards, one TD, one pick
- Sept. 18, 2011 – 35-21 loss: 29-of-40, 378 yards, two TDs, two picks
- Dec. 7, 2014 – 23-14 loss: 20-of-33, 189 yards, one TD, one pick
“Look, I still remember him coming out here and his knee was all banged up, it was the AFC Championship Game and that guy played as tough as anyone I've ever seen,” Patricia added of Rivers, who fought through a partially torn ACL in that 21-12 Chargers loss. “I have the most respect for him, absolutely.”
Bill Belichick, who coached Rivers at two Pro Bowls, does, too.
“He's a real football guy like Tom [Brady], like Peyton Manning, guys like that,” New England’s head coach said of Rivers earlier this week. “They're just deep into it. He has a ton of experience. He does a great job of making adjustments on the line of scrimmage whether it's changing protections or if he sees a certain coverage he can get into a play that will attack that coverage.”
The No. 4 overall pick in the 2004 draft has thrown for 1,816 yards, 12 touchdowns and five picks thus far into his 14th season. And the Chargers, who began 0-4 with a combined losing margin of just 21 points, have since won their last three games with Rivers complementing a Melvin Gordon ground game and a Melvin Ingram-Joey Bosa pass rush that’s become no small task of its own.
Rivers has collected six of his touchdown passes and only one of his picks during the win streak. Though for that streak to continue, another will have to reach its end. And the shorthanded New England defense, now without green-dotted captain Dont’a Hightower for the remainder of the campaign due to a torn pectoral, is still a unit Rivers is cautionary of.
Many names have comprised it since he first faced it. A 153-of-249 passing line for 1,829 yards, more turnovers than touchdowns, and a 1-6 record have followed.
“They want to make you earn every yard you get, and they also want to take your best guys away,” Rivers said. “So, gosh, I mean the times we’ve played them, and just times you’ve watched them over the last, shoot, 14 years for me being in the league, they do a heck of a job of that – making it hard for you to do what you really like to do best, and make you make those adjustments and execute your plan.”