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The big talker

Chargers' Rivers, who may not be able to start against Patriots, catches flak for chatter

January 17, 2008|Sam Farmer | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO -- It's not clear whether San Diego's Philip Rivers will be healthy enough to line up at quarterback Sunday when the Chargers play at New England in the AFC championship game.

But Rivers can still play defense -- at least verbally.

That much was clear Wednesday when Rivers, who sat out of practice with a sprained right knee, addressed the criticism that he does too much trash talking in games, most recently barking at hecklers in Indianapolis on Sunday in the wake of San Diego's upset of the Colts.

"It's kind of surprising, really, to be honest with you," he said of going from lightning bolt to lightning rod. "I'm out there having a good time, as I did in the backyard when I was 5 years old.

"I'm not saying anything out of line. There's no profanity being used. I know what I'm about. My teammate knows. My family knows. Everything else I can't worry about."

What concerns the Chargers is the availability of their starting quarterback, who suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament after throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles on the last play of the third quarter against the Colts.

Although Rivers said he's going to try to practice Friday, there's a chance the Chargers will start backup Billy Volek, who played well in relief of Rivers at Indianapolis.

"We have been in this situation a couple of times this year already," Chargers Coach Norv Turner said. "Billy took all the reps today, and Billy had a good practice. There are things that he does differently and things he does the same.

"We just have to get everybody else ready to play so if Philip is playing, then they're playing at a high level. And if he isn't, I think Billy is ready to step in and play well."

Rivers' right leg was wrapped in bandages as he spoke to reporters. Critics have suggested he mummify his mouth.

A junk-jawing timeline:

After New England's divisional playoff victory at San Diego last season, an irate Rivers, angered by what he considered taunting celebrations, approached Patriots cornerback Ellis Hobbs and called him the "sorriest corner in the league."

When the struggling Chargers opened a home game against Baltimore with a three-and-out, there was a trickling of boos from the crowd. Cameras caught Rivers saying, "Shut up!" to no one in particular.

In a home game against Denver on Christmas Eve, after the Chargers made a big defensive stand, Rivers and others came onto the field to congratulate the defense -- and to yell some words of discouragement to Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler.

A few days later, Denver cornerback Champ Bailey said of Rivers: "I don't really care for the guy, first of all. He's not a respectable guy right now because you talk too much trash and do this and that, but you're really not a great player in this league right now."

Some Oakland fans cheered in the regular-season finale when Rivers was slow to rise after a big hit. As the quarterback walked off the field, he lifted his arms at his side and urged the crowd to cheer louder.

There were two notable exchanges in the Indianapolis game. The first came early in the fourth quarter, when Rivers was making his way to the locker room to have his injured knee checked. When some Colts fans yelled at him, he sarcastically responded: "Thank you, I'll be back."

Then, in the waning seconds of the 28-24 upset, he bickered with fans sitting behind the bench.

It was the latter exchange that got the attention of Turner, who this week defended his quarterback but also suggested he might want to pick his battles.

"Philip gets a lot of exposure, but he doesn't talk nearly as much as they show him talking," the coach said. "Personally, he doesn't need to be turning around talking to some guy that has had 12 beers in the stands."

The typically easygoing Rivers became agitated Wednesday when asked about the chatter.

"Anybody can be critical and criticize, but nobody really knows what's being said -- other than what's caught on camera," he said. "And everything that I've know that's been caught on camera is clean, and that's all it will ever be. . . . I don't worry about it."

Some in the media have compared Rivers to Ryan Leaf, the combustible bust who fizzled with the Chargers from 1998 through 2000.

That was the case in the following SportsCenter exchange between ESPN analysts Mark Schlereth and Merril Hoge:

Schlereth: "I think the San Diego Chargers need to take a video clip of Ryan Leaf and say, 'Look it, you don't want to end up looking like this.' "

Hoge: "He's starting to."

Schlereth: "That's not what you want to look like down the road. That's not how you want people to remember you, so act like you've been there before."

Asked about the Leaf comparison, Rivers said: "It's kind of unbelievable. I'm not going to sit here and turn and put down Ryan Leaf. But sometimes you wonder what gives people the authority to make comparisons? . . .

"If you've followed me around since I was 5 years old, you'd see the same thing every Saturday afternoon in the backyard, you saw it for 51 games at N.C. State, and you'll probably catch something this weekend."

As for the Chargers, they're hoping to make lots of catches Sunday -- from a quarterback healthy enough to back up his words with action.

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sam.farmer@latimes.com

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Status report

Five key Chargers starters sat out practice Wednesday with injuries:

PHILIP

RIVERS

QB

Right knee

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LaDAINIAN TOMLINSON

RB

Left knee

--

ANTONIO GATES

TE

Left toe

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JAMAL WILLIAMS

NT

Ankle

--

SHAWNE MERRIMAN

OLB

Illness

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Source: Associated Press

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AFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMESan Diego (13-5) at New England (17-0)

Sunday, noon PST, Channel 2

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NFC CHAMPIONSHIP GAMENew York Giants (12-6) at Green Bay (14-3)

Sunday, 3:30 p.m. PST, Channel 11

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