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SAM FARMER / ON THE NFL

San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers takes to the air with ease

He is both fearless and feared as he upholds the 'Air Coryell' tradition. He is looking to extend his December winning streak to 18 games as the Chargers play at Tennessee.

December 25, 2009|Sam Farmer
  • Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers have won nine games in a row to help clinch the AFC West Division title.
Quarterback Philip Rivers and the Chargers have won nine games in a row to… (Donald Miralle / Getty Images )

Philip Rivers is a country boy and a family man, and his vehicles reflect that. When he's not driving his Ford pickup truck, he rolls around in a minivan, earning him all sorts of ribbing in the San Diego Chargers locker room.

But in the eyes of the greatest quarterback in Chargers history, Rivers spends every Sunday behind the wheel of a vintage roadster, a tire-squealing offense assembled decades ago.

"It's great to see the thing that 'Air Coryell' was all about is still successful today," said Hall-of-Fame quarterback Dan Fouts, who threw for 43,000 yards in the jet-fueled offense of legendary coach Don Coryell. "To have a guy like Philip there is perfect. . . . It's just a fearless commitment to let it fly."

Rivers is both fearless and feared. He has the AFC's top passer rating, 102.8, with 25 touchdowns and nine interceptions. In four years as a starter, he has never lost a December game. Today, he's looking to extend that winning streak to 18 when the Chargers play at Tennessee.

Five days after clinching their fourth consecutive AFC West title, the Chargers can secure a first-round bye with a victory today. That's no simple task considering Tennessee has won seven of eight and has flickering playoff aspirations.

"They're playing as well as any team in the league right now," said Rivers, whose own team has won nine in a row.

The Titans are facing some very long odds of reaching the postseason. With two games to play, they're in a pack of six 7-7 teams who are a game behind wild-card leaders Baltimore and Denver.

If the Titans and their 31st-ranked pass defense aren't careful, Rivers could give them real problems. He has been largely overshadowed by Peyton Manning and Drew Brees this season but absolutely deserves some most-valuable-player consideration. Rivers shrugs off the comparisons.

"The guys you mention, when you mention Drew Brees and Peyton Manning, they've done it at a high level for a long time," Rivers said. "I think the more you do it year after year, respect and recognition and things like that will come with it."

Fouts says he isn't surprised a quarterback with Rivers' arm and accuracy is flourishing in this system. What started with Sid Gillman and Coryell was passed on to long-time assistant Ernie Zampese and then to current Chargers Coach Norv Turner. (Turner and Zampese were fellow assistants on the Los Angeles Rams.)

"I remember talking to Jimmy Johnson when he took over in Dallas about Norv," Fouts said, referring to Turner's stint as Cowboys offensive coordinator from 1991 to 1993. "And he asked me a couple questions about Norv, and then he said, 'Now the most important question, will he bring that offense to Dallas?'

"I said, 'Absolutely.' And of course the results were a couple of Super Bowl wins."

Will Rivers take the Chargers that far? Fouts likes his chances. He doesn't put much stock in the fact the emotional Rivers isn't the most popular guy in the league (even though people who spend any amount of time around the team know Rivers to be more approachable and unassuming than most NFL quarterbacks.)

"When a guy's beating your brains in and telling you about it, if you're a fan of that team, those people aren't going to like you," Fouts said. "But if you go looking for fans on the road, that probably means you're not a very good player.

"You don't want them happy to see you coming."

Cold place, warm welcome

The player who needs no introduction in Philadelphia is getting one anyway.

Denver's Brian Dawkins, who was among the most popular Eagles when he played in Philadelphia, will be introduced before Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field.

Typically, a visiting team takes the field as one. But the visiting coach can request that one unit be introduced, as Denver's Josh McDaniels did for his defense -- a nod to seven-time Pro Bowler Dawkins. The Eagles agreed to do so.

"Obviously it has crossed my mind what's it going to be like," Dawkins said in a conference call with Philadelphia reporters. "Whatever it is, I know they've appreciated me just like I've appreciated them over the years, so I don't expect anything crazy."

Dawkins was asked if he planned to skip pregame warmups because he might get too emotional.

"I don't know," he said. "Nothing is going to be preplanned. Whatever I'm feeling. If that be the case -- overhyped, or even more hyped than usual -- maybe I'll chill out, and think about it."

What are the odds?

The Saints might have a blemished record now, but their odds of winning the Super Bowl didn't take a hit with last weekend's loss to Dallas. New Orleans is still the co-favorite with 5-to-2 odds -- with 14-0 Indianapolis -- to win it all, according to BetUS.com.

Minnesota has the next-shortest odds, followed by San Diego at 7-1 and New England at 10-1. Defending champion Pittsburgh is 100-1.

Of the teams still in the postseason running, Jacksonville and Houston have the longest odds at 250-1.

sam.farmer@latimes.com

twitter.com/LATimesfarmer

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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