FOXBOROUGH — Philip Rivers wears the same hat every day of the week. He wears it to practice, he wears it around the house, he wears it to each postgame news conference.
“I have it on right now,” Rivers said Wednesday.
The hat adorns a Latin phrase: “Nunc Coepi.”
“It just means, ‘Now I begin,’ I think in its most literal terms,” Rivers said. “It’s a different way of saying, one play at a time. You begin new no matter what. I use it in my personal life as well, family life, prayer life, whatever it is. You begin again. Good or bad day, or good play or bad play, or whatever it is. You have a chance to get back up and begin again. It’s something that’s really stuck with me.”
Rivers and the Chargers found new life this season. They are finally entrenched in Los Angeles after moving piecemeal from San Diego in 2017. And they are finally established as one of the AFC’s dominant teams again.
The Chargers are back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2013 season, set to face the Patriots on Sunday in the divisional round. They finished tied for the best record in the AFC (12-4), and dismantled the Ravens on the road last weekend.
Rivers, 37, is arguably playing the best ball of his career. He threw for 4,308 yards, 32 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions this season, while leading the Chargers to impressive wins over the Seahawks, Chiefs, and Steelers, all on the road.
“I think he’s an incredible player and has been since he came in the league,” Tom Brady said this past week. “I don’t know him that well. I’ve known a lot of guys that’ve played with him, and they all say great things. He’s a great leader, he’s a great passer of the football, he’s incredibly tough, and has just been a prolific passer.”
For Rivers, this year might be his last shot at reaching a Super Bowl. He is finishing up his 15th season in the NFL (13th as a starter), and hasn’t been back to the AFC Championship game since losing it to the Patriots in January of 2008.
“There’s no denying that you know that you don’t have a ton of years left,” Rivers said. “I want it for our team. I want our team to experience and us to accomplish our ultimate goal. We haven’t done it. It’s really not about me, it’s about us.”
And once again, Brady is standing in his way. Brady has won eight AFC Championship games. Rivers is hoping to just compete for one Super Bowl. Sunday’s game marks the oldest quarterback matchup in NFL playoff history, with Brady and Rivers combining for 78 years, 199 days.
“Nice and old,” Brady chuckled on Friday. “That’s pretty cool.”
Surprisingly, Brady and Rivers don’t have much of a history, even though both have played in the same conference since 2004. They squared off in a couple of playoff games in 2007 and 2008, and play each other every three years in the regular season, but that’s about it.
“I really have not ever had really any at length or at depth conversations with Tom other than the ‘good game’ afterwards, and they’ve all been good games from his side,” Rivers said. “Just respect from afar. Obviously, with the career he has had and what he has done over 20 years has been remarkable.”
Rivers’s history with Bill Belichick is only slightly deeper. Belichick “coached” Rivers at the 2011 Pro Bowl, and Rivers joked this past week about Belichick chewing out the quarterbacks for each throwing an interception in the first half of the game.
“I’ve had some great conversations with him, really enjoyed my time with him at the Pro Bowl and was very impressed by his knowledge of the game,” Belichick said. “He’s a smart guy, he’s a great guy, good football player, really cares and knows a lot about football. He’s an impressive guy to talk to.”
Rivers can create a new chapter on Sunday by actually beating Brady. He has never defeated Brady in his career, losing all seven matchups.
“Yeah, I think you’re aware of that stat that is out there, but it’s not something that I spend much time thinking about,” Rivers said. “It’s not something you think about a whole lot. It exists and it’s there but again, and I mean this, I don’t feel that I’m playing Tom.”
Rivers certainly has everyone’s attention in the Patriots’ locker room. They know Rivers has never missed a start in 13 seasons, and how he played through a torn ACL in the 2007 AFC Championship game against the Patriots.
“He just has that ‘it’ factor,” Patriots cornerback Jason McCourty said. “Fiery guy. He’s out there competing his butt off. I remember a few years ago, I think he had a torn ACL or something and he was still out there dragging his leg, competing for his guys. He’s just that type of guy and that type of quarterback. He’s one of the great ones, so you relish the opportunity to play against him.”
And Rivers relishes the opportunity to take on the Patriots again in the playoffs. The previous seven matchups didn’t go his way, but life begins anew on Sunday.
“I think, first, just fired up. Yeah, fired up to be in the final eight and to have a chance,” he said. “The fact that it is against this franchise and this team — and obviously, it’s unbelievable what they’ve done and what they’ve sustained over many, many, many years. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge. But certainly excited to have the opportunity to come there and have another shot at them.”