Chargers quarterback Rivers an intense competitor

Josh Katzenstein
The Detroit News

Without a Super Bowl title, Philip Rivers rarely enters the discussion of top-tier active quarterbacks, but when the Lions play the Chargers in San Diego Sunday, they know they’ll have to face one of the most consistent signal-callers of the past decade.

And if Rivers has some success against a Lions defense that ranked second overall last season, there’s a good chance he’ll rub it in because he’s known for talking smack. Even if it’s G-rated.

“There’s really not a lot of trash to it, honestly,” Rivers said in a teleconference Wednesday. “It’s all stuff I can go home and tell my wife and daughters and mother, so it’s not any hardcore stuff. But it’s just a passion for the game and the love to compete, I think more than anything. Just like being in the backyard with your brother or the backyard in the neighborhood growing up as a kid, when you got going or things were going good, or a play comes up how you want it to and you get in a little banter with an opponent. It’s just, it’s fun.”

The Lions hope to keep Rivers quiet by shutting down the Chargers’ new-look offense. Star tight end Antonio Gates, a Detroit native, won’t play as he serves a four-game suspension for a negative test for performance-enhancing drugs, but Lions safety James Ihedigbo said backup tight end Ladarius Green can be a threat, though he’s questionable with a concussion.

San Diego also will debut its new running back in rookie first-round pick Melvin Gordon.

That leaves Rivers as the most recognizable man on the Chargers offense, and entering his 12th season and 10th as a starter, the Lions know he’ll be plenty comfortable. While Rivers has worked with different coaches in his career, Ihedigbo said the offense is tailored to his skills.

Rivers has thrown for at least 4,000 yards in six of the last seven seasons. He’s also posted at least 26 touchdowns in seven straight years and has a career completion percentage of 64.7 percent. That, along with his burning passion, help mask Rivers’ lack of an elite physical talent.

“The one thing that maybe people don’t understand is he is one of the most intense competitors that you’ll ever see,” Lions defensive coordinator Teryl Austin said. “That drives the guy. It’s not the fact that he’s got a huge arm, or he’s a super athlete. He is very accurate with the football and he’s got great competitive spirit. So every time he steps on the field, every play, he wants to win that play, and I think that’s why he’s such a good player.”

Detroit News predictions: Lions-Chargers

With three touchdowns Sunday, Rivers will pass Dan Fouts as the leading touchdown thrower in franchise history and 15th in NFL history, but there’s a lot more to his game than passing the ball.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy explained that during training camp this year, Rivers and safety Eric Weddle actually convinced the coaches not to cut one practice early because of how much they enjoy competing against each other.

During Rivers’ freshman season at North Carolina State in 2000, Lions coach Jim Caldwell, who was coaching Wake Forest at the time, remembers linebacker Kelvin Moses hitting Rivers as hard as he’s seen a quarterback get hit.

“Typically, you’d see a guy who takes a little time to get up off the ground,” Caldwell said. “He got up off the ground so quickly, buckles his helmet back up and he’s right back in the huddle. That kind of gave you an indication of who you were dealing with.”

Lions vs. Chargers

When: Sunday, 4:05 p.m.

Where: Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego

TV / radio: Fox / 97.1

Line: Chargers by 3