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.”
Jets’ Joe Flacco says he won’t be ready for opener after surgery
New York Jets quarterback Joe Flacco, who agreed to a one-year, $1.5 million contract Friday, confirmed speculation he won’t be ready for the Sept. 13 season opener against the Buffalo Bills because of his recently repaired neck.
“I can’t speak to exactly when I’m going to be ready, but it will not be day one,” Flacco said Tuesday in an interview with SiriusXM NFL radio. “Obviously, we’ll get with the doctors and I have another checkup come August, so we’ll see where that goes.”
Flacco, 35, who underwent surgery in early April for a herniated disk, could be cleared for contact in early to mid-September, sources said last week. He said he feels “normal right now” — he’s throwing and working out — but he probably will be limited to light work in training camp.
The Jets were aware of Flacco’s timetable when they finalized the deal. They’re confident he will be healthy enough to serve as Sam Darnold‘s backup for much of the season. The football calendar is up in the air because of the coronavirus pandemic.
“First and foremost, I want to help the team in any way possible and also be a guy Sam can lean on, that he can learn from,” Flacco said in his first interview since being released by the Denver Broncos after only one season. “I would say those are the two most important things: Help out the guys on the team and help out Sam to do all they can.
“For me, personally, I want to play football. I’ve had some things happen, got injured and had to have surgery. I have to find my way back into the league. I want to play for years to come. I think these guys have given me a great opportunity and hope I can make the most of my situation and make the most of whatever my role ends up being.”
The former longtime Baltimore Ravens starter and Super Bowl MVP admitted he wavered on whether to continue playing. He said he was “changing my mind every other day” earlier in the offseason.
“My mind was just all over the place, even a couple of months into the offseason,” he said. “I was just kind of going crazy about the whole thing. The fact that I finally got [the surgery] done and put all that behind me, I can move forward now and look forward to football.”
Flacco, acknowledging he knows “nothing at this point” about coach Adam Gase’s offensive system, is participating in the virtual offseason program. He said he wouldn’t hesitate to participate in a minicamp amid coronavirus concerns.
“It’s tough to talk about this and not get political, but I want to get back to work,” he said. “I think everybody wants to get back to work. It would be very easy for me and a bunch of the guys that play to sit here and say, ‘Ah, we can quarantine until this and this and this.’
“… I could quarantine forever — I’ve been lucky, I’ve been fortunate — but I want to get back to work. I think we all do, man. We need this. We need to get back to work and get things going.”
Saints DE Noah Spence tears ACL while training away from team
Spence was placed on the reserve/non-football injury list since the injury did not occur as part of New Orleans’ offseason training program — which was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. That means he can’t play for the Saints this year and won’t count against their 90-man roster. The NFL Network was the first to report the nature of Spence’s injury.
Situations like this could add another wrinkle to these unusual offseason circumstances. Teams aren’t required to pay salaries in the cases of “non-football” injuries. But they could decide to work out injury settlements or place players on injured reserve when rosters are trimmed in September and continue paying them.
Spence, 26, was scheduled to make $910,000 on a one-year deal if he made the Saints’ 53-man roster. He would have counted $750,000 against their salary cap as part of the veteran minimum salary benefit.
The fifth-year pro originally joined the Saints last December after being released by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins earlier in the 2019 season. He was a healthy inactive for all four games with New Orleans, including the playoffs. But he had a chance to earn a roster spot this year to provide depth behind starters Cameron Jordan and Marcus Davenport.
Spence (6-foot-2, 251 pounds) began his career as a second-round draft pick with the Buccaneers in 2016 and had a terrific rookie season with 5.5 sacks and three forced fumbles.
His production has tailed off since then, however, in part because of a nagging shoulder injury that limited him to six games in 2017. He had another sack and forced fumble with the Bucs in 2017 and one sack with the Redskins in 2019.
Miami Dolphins to open drive-in theater at Hard Rock Stadium
The Miami Dolphins will soon let fans drive their cars inside the stadium where football players typically play every weekend in the fall.
The Dolphins announced Tuesday that they are launching an outdoor drive-in theater inside Hard Rock Stadium that will be used to show marquee games in team history, classic movies, commencement ceremonies, concerts and more. They are also hosting an open-air theater which can host small groups for an intimate viewing experience in the complex plaza.
The Dolphins have mocked renderings of the drive-in venture, which they say can host up to 230 cars. They are promoting it as a family-friendly event that people can participate in amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Food and beverage can purchased through an online system and delivered to cars. Restrooms will also be made available for use. Fans can put their name on an email list via the stadium website to be notified when tickets are available.
“We’ve spent several weeks planning this to be able to provide people with a safe option to go out and enjoy movies, classic Dolphins content, concerts, and celebrate 2020 graduates,” said Dolphins and Hard Rock Stadium vice chairman and CEO Tom Garfinkel. “It’s a fundamental human need to physically experience and celebrate events and experiences together, and we’re trying to provide options for everyone where they can be safely socially distant and socially present at the same time.”
Hard Rock Stadium became the first public facility to earn the Global Biorisk Advisory Council’s STAR accreditation, the standard used for facilities to implement cleaning, disinfecting and infectious disease prevention work practices to control risks involved with infectious agents like the coronavirus.
Garfinkel and the Dolphins have been proactive and innovative in ways to function during the pandemic. They released mock-up plans earlier this month for what it could like to host approximately 15,000 fans in the stadium for NFL fans if the NFL and the government allows it in the fall. Owner Stephen Ross also said on CNBC Tuesday that there will “definitely” be a football season this fall and the plans as of now is to include having fans in the stands.
Hard Rock Stadium was the host for Super Bowl LIV. It also has hosted Miami Open tennis tournaments, several multiple large music festivals, college football championship games and international soccer games.
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