Sometimes a bright light can illuminate everything in its vicinity, and sometimes it burns so bright that it drowns anything else. Peyton Manning's comeback MVP-caliber 2012 season coupled with his soon-to-be record-setting numbers in 2013 has, understandably, captivated the attention of NFL fans and media. One unfortunate consequence of Manning's attention is that it has kept us from talking about Philip Rivers, playing for the relatively lowly San Diego Chargers next to the Denver Broncos in the AFC West.
On Thursday night, with focus again on Manning and his quest for the NFL single-season passing touchdown record, Rivers stood out. He went just 12-for-19 for 166 yards, but threw two touchdowns to Keenan Allen in the first half and had zero turnovers. More importantly, he was more proficient than Manning, who went 27-for-41 for 289 yards (7.0 YPA compared to Rivers' 8.3) and had a costly fourth-quarter interception to go with two touchdowns.
Rivers' performance would have been surprising if he hadn't been doing it all season. Heading into Thursday's game, Rivers was seventh in the NFL with a 106.4 passer rating (Manning was second), fourth with 8.4 yards per attempt (tied with Manning) and first with a 70.3 completion percentage (Manning was third). He had thrown 35 interceptions over his previous two seasons, but has thrown just nine through 14 games, including just one in his last four games. Perhaps even more impressively, he has lost just one fumble this season after leading the league with seven lost fumbles in 2012.
Rivers hasn't sacrificed effectiveness for efficiency. He has always had a knack for finding the end zone, and that hasn't changed in 2013. Through 14 games, Rivers now has 28 touchdown passes, surpassing his 16-game totals in 2011 and 2012. With some luck, he could beat his career-best 34 touchdown passes in 2008.
Granted, the touchdown total pales in comparison to Manning's 47 through 14 games, but Rivers also doesn't have Manning's supporting cast. A pass-catching corps of Keenan Allen, Antonio Gates and Danny Woodhead is nice, but it doesn't quite stack up to Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker, Eric Decker, Julius Thomas and a stable of versatile early-round running backs. The Chargers were without the top two wideouts on their depth chart, Danario Alexander and Malcom Floyd, for the season after Week 2.
David F. Marver at Chargers blog Bolts From The Blue made the argument that Rivers was actually having a better season than Manning before Thursday night's kickoff. Marver would probably find few fans outside of San Diego who would agree, but he does make a good point. Rivers' 2013 turnaround deserves your rapt attention, apart from Manning's superhuman accomplishments.
I'm not complaining about the media focus being on Manning rather than Rivers; it's understandable given the record pursuits and playoff implications. I just hope that when the two teams take the field on Thursday night, you remember to appreciate the quarterbacks taking snaps for both sides: they're both elite players having career years simultaneously.
Rivers is going through a renaissance, and you better be watching.