Of the four quarterbacks who started the season leading AFC West teams, only one remains in the lineup. Kyle Orton of the Broncos was benched, and the Raiders' Jason Campbell and Matt Cassel of the Chiefs are both hurt. The last man standing is also the one who is the best of the group, Chargers Pro Bowler Philip Rivers. That should be good news for San Diego, who just happened to be the preseason favorite to capture the division.
Yet, it is the Chargers who are in last place in the AFC West, mainly because of the play of their quarterback. Rivers has been off all season, the latest example being a two-interception performance in a Week 11 loss to the Bears, the fifth consecutive loss for a San Diego team that once stood at 4-1. The quarterback is not reading defenses like he once did, consistently failing to deliver the ball where it needs to go. He is the primary reason why the Chargers are one of the biggest disappointments in the league.
Against Chicago in Week 11, Rivers threw two fourth-quarter picks, eliminating any chance the Chargers had of winning.
On the first pick, Rivers and WR Vincent Jackson had a miscommunication in the endzone, resulting in a pass aimed directly at Bears FS Major Wright, who didn't drop the gift. On the second, Rivers was trying to just throw the ball away, but wound up throwing it into the arms of diving Bears CB Corey Graham.
The plays could be excused as a rough performance if they weren't the latest in a series of foolish end-of-game errors by Rivers. He has committed a fourth-quarter turnover in each of the five games the Chargers have lost in their recent skid.
There was a costly pick when they were looking to take the lead against the Jets in Week Seven, a fumbled snap when the game was theirs for the taking the following week against the Chiefs and bad interceptions thrown with the game on the line against the Packers and Raiders.
"This is a five-game stretch that not any of us have ever been a part of, at least here in San Diego," Rivers said following the 31-20 loss to the Bears. "We've just got to find a way to win."
In order to do that, Rivers will need to play a lot better. Though WR Malcom Floyd is still out, most of the Chargers' offensive skill-position players are healthy. Both of Rivers' top targets — Jackson and TE Antonio Gates — had TD catches in Week 11, and the team's highly criticized and injury-riddled offensive line played very well, not allowing Rivers to be sacked once. Rookie WR Vincent Brown is emerging too, leaving Rivers with plenty of options.
With six games remaining, there is still enough time for the Chargers to turn things around if Rivers can get his act together. In Week 12 they face the Broncos, who just happen to be the last team San Diego beat. When asked what is the biggest difference between the teams since their Week Five meeting, Rivers said simply, "our record."
In a division full of second-string and replacement quarterbacks, Rivers and the Chargers should be surging ahead. Yet because of all the fourth-quarter errors, they lag behind.
With the fourth quarter of the season looming, the Chargers' only chance of turning things around is if their QB does the same.