OAKLAND, Calif. — Derek Carr had appeared to pass Philip Rivers in the pecking order of AFC West quarterbacks two years ago. He put together a season worthy of MVP consideration while Rivers led the NFL in interceptions on the way to a last-place finish.
Carr looked like one of the NFL’s up-and-coming stars, while Rivers seemed to be on the downside of a career that started in 2004.
The script has flipped heading into Sunday’s meeting between Rivers’ Los Angeles Chargers (6-2) and Carr’s Oakland Raiders (1-7). Rivers is playing as well as he has at any point in his 15-year career, while Carr is struggling to find his way in coach Jon Gruden’s offense.
“Obviously quarterbacks get way too much credit and way too much blame already, but I think we don’t give enough credit to guys who have played that long,” Carr said. “I’ll say it this way, the hardest part mentally going through a season is the days leading up to the game. Sunday is fun, man. You cut it loose and you give it everything you have. Having to recover, ice tub, wake up early to get treatment, the lift, to lift heavy when everything hurts, that’s when those guys don’t get enough credit.
“Here I am at five years, I’m fine. I’m good. I’ll keep doing this and I’m good. But, those guys that are in their 15th, 20th season, we don’t give them enough credit to mentally be that strong. It’s awesome.”
Rivers has career highs in yards per attempt (9.1) and passer rating (116.5), and is on pace for a career-high 38 touchdown passes while leading the Chargers to five straight wins.
The Chargers have strengthened their offensive line, have a potent running threat in Melvin Gordon, have plenty of outside targets with Keenan Allen, Tyrell Williams and Mike Williams, and a strong defense.
That has all taken pressure off Rivers to carry too much of the load.
“These last almost 20 games or so, we’ve had good balance,” Rivers said. “Leaning on one another offensively and defensively taking care of the ball — all of those things are important. So we’ve done a nice job of it so far.”