The now-37-year-old quarterback played against the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship Game six days after suffering a torn ACL and meniscus in his right knee.
Although the Chargers lost 21-12, Rivers limping through the game sealed his status as one of the toughest players the league has seen. He has continued to prove it in every game since, with his active streak of 208 consecutive regular-season games played the longest in the NFL.
Rivers didn’t have one of his best games that Sunday in 2008, completing just 19 of 37 passes for 211 passing yards, with no touchdowns and two interceptions, as the Chargers failed to score anything but field goals.
But 11 years later, he finally gets another postseason shot at Tom Brady when the Chargers visit the Patriots on Sunday (1:05 p.m. ET, CBS) in a divisional-round playoff game. A win would return the Chargers to the AFC title game for the first time since Rivers’ ACL game.
“The fact that he played was unbelievable,” Brady said. “They played a good game. We made a few plays, got a couple turnovers from them. It ended up being a tough game. It was a hard-fought win.
“There’s a reason why both teams are playing here this weekend — because we’ve earned it and put ourselves in position for a great opportunity. Both our teams want to win, and it’s going to be a tough game, regardless of the outcome.”
Two graybeards, Rivers and Brady will have a combined age of 78 years and 198 days on Sunday, making it the oldest combined starting quarterback matchup in postseason history.
Back in January 2008, Brady was 30 and in his eighth NFL year and Rivers was 26 and in his fourth. The Patriots were at the end of a perfect season and trying to cement their status as one of the greatest NFL teams ever by reaching and winning the Super Bowl.
However, an injured Rivers playing with a balky knee stood in their way.
“Honestly, it wasn’t crazy pain,” Rivers said about playing with the injury. “It kind of buckled a few times in the game, but I really was thankful. Throughout the course of the game, I didn’t feel like it hindered me as much as I anticipated.
“We didn’t have our best day. It didn’t help, but we didn’t have our best day, and I really don’t attribute it to that.”
In addition to Rivers’ injury, running back LaDainian Tomlinson had a sprained medial collateral ligament (MCL) and tried to play, but he proved unable to make the cuts he normally made and gave way to Michael Turner.
According to Dr. David Chao, the Chargers’ head team doctor at the time, Rivers and Tomlinson were not the only players dealing with injuries.
Tight end Antonio Gates was hobbled and needed reconstructive surgery on his big toe. Fullback Lorenzo Neal (fibula fracture) and center Nick Hardwick (Lisfranc injury) had recently come back from surgery.
And outside linebacker Shawne Merriman had put off reconstructive knee surgery that ultimately led to his career being cut short.
“We really were in bad shape going in there as a collective unit,” Rivers said. “So, yeah, we had some guys with some things [back then].”
NFL Live’s Tedy Bruschi and Darren Woodson explain their picks for the AFC divisional matchup between the Chargers and Patriots.
After suffering the knee injury in a 28-24 playoff win at the Indianapolis Colts in the divisional round, Rivers was insistent that he would play against the Patriots the following week.
Even as fans taunted him when he walked off the field to the locker room at the RCA Dome, Rivers told them, “I’ll be back.”
Rivers was right.
“That entire week was really interesting because a lot of people on our team didn’t know Philip even had an ACL tear,” Hardwick said. “We knew that he had surgery, and that he had to unlock his knee.
“And we knew he wasn’t going to be out to practice until at least Friday, maybe not going to be available until the walk-through on Saturday, but we all understood that he was going to play. And I don’t think there was ever any doubt he was going to play.”
Thousands of fans waited to greet the players upon their return to Chargers Park from Indianapolis on that Sunday, but Rivers managed to slip through the back of the facility unnoticed, get in his truck and get an MRI that night, confirming the ACL and meniscus tears.
The Chargers had a competent backup the team trusted in Billy Volek, who finished out the game against the Colts. However, Rivers didn’t want to miss a chance to reach his first Super Bowl, so he pushed to play.
After receiving an MRI Sunday evening, Rivers had to make a decision on whether to have arthroscopic surgery the next day to repair the torn meniscus to unlock his knee.
Rivers met with the team’s medical staff and coach Norv Turner, remaining insistent that he would play.
“People ask about teams and coaches forcing players to play hurt,” Chao said. “But in my experience, it’s the players themselves that force themselves to play. Norv wasn’t telling Philip to get the surgery and come back quickly. He was like, ‘Take your time, Philip, we got you. You’ve got a long career, Billy’s got this.’
“But Philip remained steadfast to do what it took to play, and we moved forward with surgery.”
So how hard is it to play with a torn ACL?
“You could call the ACL an internal seat belt,” Chao said. “No question, you can drive your car without a seat belt on and get away with it. But in the NFL you’re racing NASCAR, and you better have your seat belt on.
“So it’s not normal to play without an ACL. In Rivers’ case, we had him in some special bracing that we felt could temporarily keep him safe. But even then, we made him aware of the risks, and he wanted to play.”
Hardwick said Rivers appeared to manage the injury well for the most part.
“I don’t remember anything about him not being able to execute his job,” Hardwick said. “It was pretty remarkable what he was able to do in such a quick turnaround. Not only having an ACL tear, but having a meniscus cleaned out the week before. It’s pretty gritty.
“That’s Philip. We knew it meant so much to him that he was going to find a way to get it done. He was not going to let this moment pass him by.”
Throughout his 15-year career, Rivers has dealt with his fair share of injuries, but has always answered the bell.
Rivers played through a chest injury and bulging disk in his back during the backstretch of the 2014 season, missing his first practice since 2007.
Rivers also was diagnosed with his first concussion during the 2017 season, and did not clear concussion protocol until Friday, two days before taking the field against the Buffalo Bills in a 54-24 victory in Week 10.
A devout Catholic who has always been outspoken about his faith, Rivers wears a medal around his neck of St. Sebastian, the patron saint of athletes. Leading up to the playoff game against the Patriots more than a decade ago, a concerned Rivers was buoyed by a comment over the phone from his mother, Joan, who reminded her son that St. Sebastian’s feast day was Jan. 20, the day of the Patriots game.
“The week following [the Colts] game was a very spiritual one for me,” Rivers told the National Catholic Register. “… Amazingly, maybe even miraculously, I was able to play [against the Patriots].”
Rivers knows the numbers.
He’s 0-7 overall against Brady, a future Hall of Famer and the GOAT. That includes an 0-2 record in the postseason, with Rivers completing only 48 percent of his passes, with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
The Patriots have won eight straight playoff games at Gillette Stadium, the fifth-longest home playoff win streak in league history, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
New England is 8-0 at home this season.
However, Rivers says this season is a new year, with the Chargers 9-0 when boarding a plane this season.
“This team is 0-0,” Rivers said. “We’ve never played them. Certainly, I was a part of all those teams that didn’t win in those games, but this team right here has never played them, and that’s the way I look at it.”
Hardwick remembers the confetti falling from the sky at the end of the 2008 game and his former college teammate and Patriots offensive lineman Matt Light celebrating a return trip to the Super Bowl as he watched from the sideline.
He’s looking forward to a better result for his former team this time around.
“We had our chance at them and we were unsuccessful,” Hardwick said. “For me as a former teammate of a couple of these guys and a fan of the rest of them, I really just wish them the best of luck. And I hope they go there and can execute their assignments and keep their emotions in check enough to be able to fulfill their potential.
“I really do feel that this is the best-coached Chargers football team that I can remember in quite a long time.”
Bortles reaches deal with Rams to back up Goff
— Los Angeles Rams (@RamsNFL) March 18, 2019
The Jaguars waived Bortles after five tumultuous seasons, just hours after signing free-agent quarterback Nick Foles.
Cutting Bortles, who was drafted third overall in 2014 by the Jaguars, was expected after the team benched him for backup Cody Kessler and fired offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett on Nov. 26, one day after the team lost at the Buffalo Bills. Bortles threw for 127 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions in that game, one week after throwing for 104 yards in a home loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bortles, 26, sat out the next three games, played in relief of an injured Kessler in the Jaguars’ victory at the Miami Dolphins in Week 16 and started the final game of the season. He threw for 107 yards with an interception in the Week 17 loss at the Houston Texans. Bortles finished his fifth season completing a career-high 60.8 percent of his passes for 2,718 yards and 13 touchdowns with 11 interceptions in 13 games.
Bortles had an up-and-down career with the Jaguars. He set single-season franchise records in passing yards (4,428) and passing touchdowns (35) in his second season, but he followed that with a disastrous 2016. His mechanics — especially his elongated delivery — deteriorated. He threw 16 interceptions (including three pick-sixes). He was admittedly somewhat of a mental mess. And the Jaguars won just three games.
The first part of the 2017 season wasn’t much better. Bortles had a five-interception practice early in training camp and got pulled from a practice days later. Coach Doug Marrone opened up the quarterback job after Bortles’ dismal performance in the second preseason game.
But Bortles won the job back, played solidly but not spectacularly for much of the season, was the league’s top-rated QB for three weeks in December, then played turnover-free football in three playoff games. He completed 60 percent of his passes for the first time and cut down on his turnovers significantly (16, which was five less than his average during his first three seasons).
Bortles’ performance in the playoffs — 594 yards, three TD passes and no turnovers in the Jaguars’ run to the AFC Championship Game — after his improvement in the regular season was what clinched the front office’s decision to sign him to a three-year extension worth $54 million with $26.5 million guaranteed.
That move drew heavy criticism from the national media and anonymous league executives. Bortles quieted those critics with a good first month of the 2018 season: He completed 64.7 percent of his passes for 1,095 yards and seven touchdowns with three interceptions. Bortles threw for 376 yards and four touchdowns in a Week 2 victory over the New England Patriots and 388 yards and two TDs two weeks later in a win versus the New York Jets.
Bortles’ season devolved after that. He threw for a career-high 430 yards but also committed a career-high five turnovers (four interceptions) in a loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, including an interception that bounced off an offensive lineman’s helmet. Bortles was benched early in the second half two weeks later after he lost a pair of fumbles, but he regained his starting job before finally losing it after the Buffalo loss.
Bortles is second in Jaguars history in passing yards (17,646) and passing touchdowns (103) in 72 starts, but his maddening inconsistency is making the franchise start over at the position.
Bortles is one of only 15 quarterbacks to surpass 100 touchdown passes (he has 103) since he entered the league in 2014, but he also leads all signal-callers in interceptions (75) and all players in turnovers (94) during that span.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco contributed to this report.
Redskins sign OT Flowers to 1-year deal
Flowers, 24, was the ninth overall pick in 2015 by the New York Giants but never played at the high level expected of a top-10 pick.
He started at left tackle in 49 of the 52 games in which he played for the Giants from 2015 to ’18 but lost his starting job last season in Week 3 to Chad Wheeler, who signed with the Giants as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
The Giants cut him on Oct. 10, and the Jaguars signed him two days later to a one-year contract worth $705,000. A rash of injuries along the offensive line forced him into the starting lineup, and he started the final seven games of the season.
ESPN’s Michael DiRocco contributed to this report.
Dolphins fill void at QB, sign veteran Fitzpatrick
Terms were not disclosed, but Fitzpatrick received a two-year contract, a source told ESPN’s Cameron Wolfe. A source told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that the $11 million contract contains incentives that could boost the deal to between $17 million and $20 million.
Prior to Fitzpatrick’s addition, the Dolphins had just two quarterbacks on their roster: Jake Rudock and Luke Falk. Neither has started an NFL game, and they have combined for five career passing attempts.
Miami is expected to continue its search for a franchise quarterback in the NFL draft — in 2019 or 2020.
Fitzpatrick, 36, stepped in for the suspended Jameis Winston in Weeks 1-3 last season and led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to upset wins over the New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games and led the NFL with 1,230 passing yards in that span.
He would step in for Winston again in 2018 when the former No. 1 overall pick was benched. Fitzpatrick played in eight games with seven starts, finishing with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions and completing 66.7 percent of his passes — the highest completion percentage of his career.
Fitzpatrick’s greatest issue is stringing consistent games together over long stretches of time, as he struggled with interceptions when former Bucs coach Dirk Koetter moved him into a starting role.
Fitzpatrick, who has also played for the Rams, Bengals, Bills, Titans, Texans and Jets, has thrown for 29,357 yards with 190 touchdowns and 148 interceptions in 141 games. He could become the first player to throw passes for eight NFL teams, breaking a tie with six other players, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
He also becomes the second owner of the “FitzMagic” nickname on the Dolphins roster. In September 2018, defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick filed a trademark application with the United States Patent and Trademark Office to own the nickname in hopes of selling merchandise and apparel.
Minkah Fitzpatrick, who said he had the nickname since high school, had his trademark request denied in January.
ESPN’s Jenna Laine contributed to this report.
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