The winless, undefeated Lions return home after a disappointing tie in Arizona to battle the Chargers. We take a look at the matchup. Justin Rogers, The Detroit News
Allen Park – Now in his fifth season, Lions safety Quandre Diggs has lined up against every NFL team.
But no team registers emotionally quite like the Chargers and Philip Rivers, who Diggs lined up against for his first game as pro in 2015.
“It’s crazy, playing against Philip,” Diggs said. “I’ve been growing up watching him my whole life.”
Diggs will play in front of the Ford Field crowd Sunday for the first time as a captain, and in attendance will be his brother, the reason for his childhood Chargers’ fandom and affinity for Rivers.
His “whole life” might be a stretch, but the 26-year-old Diggs was 11 when Rivers was taken fourth by the New York Giants and traded to San Diego, with three other picks, for Eli Manning in a 2004 draft day saga.
Diggs was 13 when the Rivers era began two seasons later after the departure of another likely Hall of Famer, as Drew Brees and his injured shoulder left for New Orleans.
Rivers took charge of a high-powered offense, while the defense was led in part by Diggs’ brother Quentin Jammer, a hard-hitting cornerback drafted No. 5 in 2002, two picks after the Lions selected Joey Harrington.
“I spent a lot of my time in San Diego, around the Chargers facility, around those guys, so it’ll definitely be different as a Detroit Lion,” Diggs said. “I freaking love Philip. I love everything about him. Great family man, great dude.”
Although Jammer, the 11-year Chargers’ mainstay, will be wearing No. 28 in Honolulu blue on Sunday, Diggs said Rivers was one of Jammer’s favorite teammates.
“Philip is going to bring the energy that he always brings, and we’re just going to go out there and have fun,” Diggs said. “Philip’s seen everything. Seen every coverage, every defense, there’s not going to be anything that you can do to fool him.”
Rivers and the Chargers (1-0) come in as an AFC favorite after surviving a Week 1 overtime scare against Indianapolis. The Lions (0-0-1) had no such luck against lowly Arizona, tying the Cardinals 27-27.
Since taking over for Brees, Rivers has started 209 straight games for the now Los Angeles Chargers, and will tie Manning for the second-longest streak ever on Sunday. Matthew Stafford has 129 straight starts for the Lions – incredible in his own right, but half-a-decade short of Rivers.
“He knows when to have a good time, he knows when to flip a switch and it’s all about business. He’s a good leader in the locker room, he’s extremely prepared,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “His preparation is just as good as any coach’s on our staff, to be honest with you.”
Rivers, who is playing his 16th season on an expiring deal, told the "Rapsheet and Friends" podcast this week that he envisions playing at least one more season after this.
“I’m in a good place,” Rivers said. “I’ve always said handful of years, handful of years, handful of years, and I know you can’t say that forever. And I don’t have an age limit number on it.
“But I’m at the point where I think, ‘One year at a time.’ I’m excited about this season and I am looking forward to 2020, and then after that, I don’t know. Doing that, just for me mentally, for our family, seems to be the most healthy way to approach it.”
You’d think – for a guy with nine kids – that the 37-year-old Rivers might be used to getting up a little early.
But as it turns out, the Chargers veteran quarterback doesn’t travel east very well for games where his team is on a 10 a.m. body clock.
Over his 14 NFL seasons as the Chargers’ starter, Rivers is 22-25 (.468) in regular-season games that start at 1 p.m. Eastern; he’s 30-27 (.526) in the rest of his road games.
Contrast that with Russell Wilson of Seattle, another West Coast veteran quarterback on a Hall of Fame trajectory, who is better in early road games: 12-8 (.600) at 1 p.m. EST games and 19-16-1 (.542) in the others.
For the relatively early kickoff, Lynn said the Chargers planned to travel to Detroit on Friday, wearing compression socks and what he calls “dress sweats” on the flight to get the blood flowing for the early start.
No matter what happens on the scoreboard this weekend, Diggs said the amount of kids is one score he’ll happily concede to Rivers.
Said Diggs, who became a father for the first time this offseason: “He can have that one.”
Chargers at Lions
Kickoff: 1 p.m. Sunday, Ford Field, Detroit
Records: Chargers 1-0, Lions 0-0-1
Line: Chargers by 2.5
Matt Schoch is a freelance writer.