FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — At the end of each workday, Philip Rivers commutes from Los Angeles back to San Diego, where he has continued to reside since the Chargers relocated prior to the 2017 season.
Then, the 15th-year quarterback turns his attention from a playbook to textbooks, helping his eight kids — with another on the way — with their homework when called upon. Math is his specialty.
With the Chargers set to play the Patriots at 1 p.m. Sunday in an AFC divisional-round playoff game in Foxborough, it would be understandable if Rivers told his kids he needed to do some extra studying of his own after dinner this week.
That wasn’t the case, though. The plan has been to stick to a routine that helped the Chargers go 12-4 and make the playoffs for the first time since 2013 before they upset the Baltimore Ravens in the wild-card round last weekend.
“The way I look at it is if you’re going to try harder this week or prepare harder, then we've been cheating each other,” Rivers said Wednesday. “We’ve been cheating our teammates the last 17 games.
“Obviously, I say that seriously and understanding the magnitude of the game, so certainly you don’t leave any stone unturned from a preparation standpoint. But, yeah, I’ll try to keep it as normal as possible.”
Rivers, who turned 37 last month, has proven to be exceptionally durable and productive since the Chargers acquired him (and two picks) from the New York Giants for Eli Manning in a draft-day deal in 2004.
Rivers became a starter two seasons later and hasn’t missed a game since, making 208 consecutive regular-season starts (along with 10 in the playoffs). That’s the longest current streak in the NFL.
While prototypically sized at 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds, Rivers has a quirky, sidearm motion. It has served this eight-time Pro Bowler well, though, as he ranks sixth all-time in touchdown passes (374) and 10th in wins (111), and is nearing the end of one of the finest seasons of his career.
“He’s played great; he plays great,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “Very accurate, obviously a smart guy, offense runs through him, handles things at the line of scrimmage, makes good decisions with the ball, uses everybody, as he always does.”
Rivers has done enough to one day merit consideration for the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But there are still two prominent items remaining on his checklist — beating the Tom Brady-quarterbacked Patriots and leading the Chargers to the Super Bowl.
Rivers is 1-7 all-time against the Patriots, the lone win achieved against Matt Cassel, with Brady sidelined with a knee injury in 2008. He’s thrown seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions, including at least one pick in all seven games, when going head-to-head with Brady.
“It’s not something you think about a whole lot,” Rivers said. “It exists and it’s there, but — and I mean this — I don’t feel that I’m playing Tom.”
If Rivers and the Chargers can get past the Patriots, they’ll be one step closer to the Super Bowl, a game the Chargers have only reached once in franchise history. That was in 1994, when they were routed by the San Francisco 49ers.
“One of these eight teams is going to win it,” Rivers said. “So, to have that opportunity and, again, to get a step closer this weekend will be a heck of a challenge, but we’re going to prepare like crazy and be there ready to go."
Gronk: No room for excuses
Rob Gronkowski frequently didn’t look like his usual tackle-breaking, defense-wrecking self this season, with multiple injuries no doubt playing a significant role in the decline of his physicality and productivity.
The four-time All-Pro tight end appeared on the injury report with an ankle issue in Week 3, and six weeks after that, his perpetually bad back flared up, as well. Gronkowski remained on the injury report until the final week of the regular season.
During that time, the 6-foot-6-inch, 268-pound Gronkowski consistently struggled to get open as a receiver and was limited to yards after contact as he was — say it ain’t so — unable to shed would-be tacklers.
On Wednesday, Gronkowski acknowledged that there were times when he walked back to the huddle thinking about how he could have made or extended a play if not for his banged-up body.
“I mean, I’ve been in situations like that before, no doubt,” Gronkowski said. “Practice, games and how you’ve dealt with things like that before and have thought like that before. But it’s the game of football; there’s no room for excuses.
“Everyone is dealing with something and you just have to keep on moving forward and you have to find a way. That’s what makes this game great — you have to be mentally and physically prepared at all times to keep on going.”
The weather factor
In the event it does snow Sunday, the Patriots will be prepared.
The team had perfect attendance Thursday, which was the second practice of the AFC divisional week, and a chance to practice in the elements. The forecast saw the temperature dip to 33 degrees with a flurry of snow falling as practice started.
The temperature for Sunday’s playoff game against the Chargers won’t be much better — currently forecast to be a high of 29 degrees. There was talk of snowfall at the 1 p.m. game time.
All this week, players have been asked about the weather and the impact it could have on a team coming from the West Coast.
“This time of year, with teams of this caliber, they’re going to be ready to go,” said special-teams captain Matthew Slater. “Whether it’s rain, sleet, snow, sunny, they’ll be ready to go.”
The last time the Patriots had a snow game at home was during the 2009 season against Tennessee. They won 59-0. Under Belichick, the Patriots are 12-1 in the snow.
The only player on the Patriots' injury report Thursday was defensive end Deatrich Wise, who was limited with an ankle injury. Safety Devin McCourty, tight end Dwayne Allen and receiver Cordarrelle Patterson were all removed from the injury report. That means McCourty has cleared the NFL's concussion protocol and should be good to go Sunday.