Following a 41-28 road loss in Foxborough over the weekend, Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers was headed back to Los Angeles while the Patriots were on to Kansas City.
With the loss, 37-year-old Rivers, a three-time loser in the playoffs to New England, likely blew his last and best chance of making it to, and possibly winning, a Super Bowl.
And he’s not the only quarterback from the star-studded 2004 draft class who probably no longer has a shot at playing on Super Sunday as the chances of making the NFL’s championship game have also gotten incredibly slim for Rivers’ peers Eli Manning and Ben Roethlisberger.
The trio, who have been inextricably linked after being selected first (Manning), fourth (Rivers) and 11th (Roethlisberger) overall in ’04, will watch the Super Bowl from their couches – and there’s no reason to expect that to change next season or beyond.
The reasons for each are different but, even as older quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Drew Brees continue to vie for titles, it seems the Super Bowl window for Rivers, Manning, and Roethlisberger has slammed shut.
For Manning, who quarterbacked the Giants to a 5-11 record and missed the playoffs for the second straight season, that’s most obviously the case.
With a combined record of 47-65 (.419%) over the seven seasons since he won Super Bowl XLVI and was named MVP of the game, Manning took 47 sacks this season and looked unable to make easy throws to open receivers at multiple points throughout the season.
Though his final stats for 2018-19 weren’t actually that awful – 66% completion rate, 21 touchdowns, and nearly 4,300 passing yards – Manning has clearly regressed and may not even be a starter in the NFL next season.
Even if he is, it will almost certainly be for a team – be it the Giants, the Jacksonville Jaguars or Denver Broncos – that has little chance of making the playoffs, let alone advancing to the Super Bowl.
And, at age 38, next season is Manning’s final kick at the can in all likelihood (and one he may not even take).
While the circumstances for 37-year-old Rivers and 36-year-old Roethlisberger aren’t nearly as dire, they are both clearly facing an uphill battle
For Roethlisberger and the Steelers, the biggest issues are off the field, not on it.
Despite having one of the most talented rosters – on paper – in the NFL, Pittsburgh routinely dropped games it should have won this season and failed to make the postseason despite being an early Super Bowl favorite.
Now, with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell (who sat out all season thanks to a contract dispute likely headed for greener pastures and All-Pro wideout Antonio Brown probably following him out the door, the Steelers are going to be worse off than they already are and Roethlisberger will be a year older to boot.
Also, the Steelers play in a division with a pair of teams on the rise (Browns and Ravens) and in a conference with a number of established teams that should be at least as good, if not better, next season (Chiefs, Patriots, Colts, Texans) as they were this year.
Given all that, it seems far more likely the Steelers and Roethlisberger – who haven’t made a Super Bowl since 2010 – will be outside of the playoffs looking in than playing on Super Sunday.
Which brings us to the third member of the ‘o4 trifecta, Rivers.
On Sunday, while on the field with a league-high seven Pro Bowlers (including himself), Rivers was unable to get anything done for nearly a half of football and went into halftime trailing 35-7. The game, despite having 30 minutes left to play, was essentially over.
In the second half of the game, despite being protected by Pro Bowl center Mike Pouncey and having wide receiver Keenan Allen and running back Melvin Gordon available to him as offensive options, Rivers once again struggled to move his team down the field and put points on the board.
To his credit, Rivers did toss a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to make the final score look respectable, but the game was far, far out of reach at that point.
Throughout the game, Rivers was Dan Marino-esque … screaming at teammates, ripping into officials, and openly pouting after missing throws or taking hits. It was not the look of a Pro Bowler, an MVP candidate, or someone who looks like he will be competing for a Super Bowl anytime soon.
Could Rivers lead the Chargers back to the playoffs next year? Sure. Could they even win a round? No doubt about it. But, at this point, it’s downright foolish to expect the former San Diego Charger to change his stripes even though he now plays in LA.
With plenty of playoff trips and four Super Bowls wins between them, Rivers, Manning, Roethlisberger – who collectively occupy the sixth, seventh and eighth spots on the all-time lists for passing touchdowns, yards and completions – have all had stellar careers and represented their draft class well.
But that era is over and their shared Super Bowl opening has shut. If it’s not, it’s only open by a tiny window none of them could throw a pass into any longer.