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Chargers’ Philip Rivers getting better with age; Steelers await

Joe Rutter

Until he threw a combined five interceptions over the past two weeks, Ben Roethlisberger was playing some of the best football of an NFL career that has spanned 15 seasons.

And despite his recent hiccups, Roethlisberger remains on pace to set career marks in yardage and touchdown passes.

These days, however, the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback isn’t even the most productive member of his 2004 draft class.

That honor would go to the Los Angeles Chargers’ Philip Rivers, who was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week on Wednesday after establishing multiple NFL records in a 45-10 victory against Arizona on Sunday.

Rivers set standards by completing his first 25 passes and finishing with 28 completions in 29 attempts for a historic 96.6 completion percentage.

Rivers has helped the Chargers craft an 8-3 record that will be tested Sunday at Heinz Field against Roethlisberger and the 7-3-1 Steelers.

“He’s an MVP-caliber player, and he’s playing at an MVP level right now,” Roethlisberger said Wednesday. “What he did last week was pretty spectacular.”

It’s a continuation of what Rivers has done all season. His 3,119 yards rank eighth, but his 9.1 yards per completion is fourth and his 115.7 passer rating is a career high and ranks third behind Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes.

Rivers has a 69.5 percent completion percentage that is tied for the highest of his career. He also has thrown just six interceptions against 26 touchdown passes.

“You can tell from his energy that he loves the game,” defensive end Stephon Tuitt said, “from the way he’s throwing the ball and the way he’s doing some of the things he’s doing is kind of awesome.”

Like Roethlisberger, Rivers is putting up his eye-popping numbers at an advanced age. He will turn 37 in two weeks.

“Forty is the new 30,” Roethlisberger said. “It’s fun to watch a guy like that play. You sit there and say (he’s) 37, but then you look at guys older than him, (Tom) Brady, Brees, that are still playing at a high level, too.

“It tells you that if you take care of yourself, you can still be successful later in your career.”

Brady is chugging along at age 41, leading the Patriots to an 8-3 record and top spot in the AFC East. Brees, at 39, has directed the Saints to a 10-1 record that is tied for best in the NFC.

Roethlisberger, 36, isn’t surprised some of the NFL’s oldest quarterbacks, himself and Rivers included, have guided their teams to first-place records or potential wild-card berths.

“You see a lot, the game does slow down a little bit, you understand your offense, you understand defenses, you’ve been in different situations,” Roethlisberger said. “You go through wins and losses, highs and lows.”

From the celebrated 2004 draft class, only the New York Giants’ Eli Manning is experiencing the lows this season as evidenced by his team’s 3-8 record. The 37-year-old Manning, though, has two Super Bowl wins on his resume as does Roethlisberger.

Rivers, of course, is still searching for his first appearance in NFL’s showcase event.

Thanks to Rivers’ increased ball security, he might lead the Chargers to their first Super Bowl appearance in 24 seasons. Under coach Anthony Lynn and offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, Rivers has cut his interceptions drastically.

He has thrown 16 interceptions combined in the past two seasons after throwing a career-high 21 in 2016.

“He’s always played winning football, and he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the game,” said Lynn, who is in his second season. “We emphasized a formula to win. Taking care of the football is one of the pieces of that.

“He’s done a heckuva job of doing that. He carried it over from last year.”

The game Sunday will pit two of the best late-season quarterbacks of their generation.

Roethlisberger has a 46-15 record (.754 winning percentage) in December and January regular-season games in his career. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Rivers is 39-19 (.672).

“We try to peak at the right time,” Lynn said. “You should get better as the season goes on. That’s a great example and that’s what I want every player on the team to do, get better each week. Phil’s a great example of that.”

Joe Rutter is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Joe at [email protected] or via Twitter @tribjoerutter.


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Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers makes pass in the second half against the Cardinals on Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018.
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Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers prepares to throw against the Arizona Cardinals during the first half Sunday, Nov. 25, 2018, in Carson, Calif.
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