The Los Angeles Chargers are 5-8, out of the playoff race and have no home-field advantage as visiting fans routinely overtake 27,000-seat Dignity Health Sports Park.
But Vikings coach Mike Zimmer seems to be having an easy time convincing his team that mentor Bill Parcells’ famous quote about being what your record says you are doesn’t apply to the Chargers team that will host the Vikings on Sunday.
“They beat Chicago. And they beat Green Bay,” said Zimmer, whose 9-4 squad has done neither. “When they don’t turn the ball over, they’re pretty hard to beat.”
And that, of course, brings us to the ultimate wild card in any game involving the Chargers the past 16 years and 222 consecutive games:
Philip Michael Rivers.
He’s third in passing yards (3,748) this season but also third in interceptions (15). He has nine touchdowns and two turnovers in five wins, but he also has 11 touchdowns and 15 turnovers in eight losses, including a comeback-killing pick at the goal line in the final minute of a 13-10 loss to a Lions team the Vikings beat twice by a combined 25 points.
“He’s going to throw the ball into tight spaces,” Zimmer said. “He’s going to give the receivers a chance.”
And he’s never going to stop trying or talking trash, as this week’s video of Rivers agitating Jaguars defensive end Yannick Ngakoue illustrates beautifully.
In the clip from the Chargers’ 45-10 win at Jacksonville on Sunday, Ngakoue knocks Rivers to the ground on what became Rivers’ career-long 84-yard touchdown pass to running back Austin Ekeler.
As Ngakoue is helping Rivers to his feet, Rivers twice screams into Ngakoue’s ear, “NINETY-YARD TOUCHDOWN!” Referee Bill Vinovich steps in with a colorful way of telling Rivers to “get out of here.”
“Stay humble, bro,” Ngakoue says to Rivers.
“I can be excited,” Rivers responds.
“But don’t do it by my ear,” Ngakoue says.
“I will do it by your ear,” Rivers said. “That’s what I do!”
A lot of opponents have been on the end of Rivers’ sharp tongue over the years. Including Zimmer.
“He just likes to play the game,” Zimmer said. “He’s going out there and talking to the defense. He’ll talk to them all the time. He’ll probably yell at me a couple times during the game as well.”
Zimmer couldn’t recall any specific barbs he’s received from Rivers in the past. But he did say the QB with nine children does know how to keep the language kid-friendly.
“I don’t think he swears,” Zimmer said. “But he’s not afraid to voice his opinion about, you know, ‘You call that a blitz!?’ or something like that.”
A week ago, rumors swirled out west that Rivers could, or should, be benched. He responded with three touchdowns, no turnovers, a 14.3-yard average per attempt and a career-high 154.4 passer rating as the Chargers posted season highs for points (45), yards (525) and first downs (27).
“He’s made some throws he’d like to have back, but he’s also made a lot of good throws and put us in position to win some games as well,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said Wednesday. “He’s our quarterback.”
There are other reasons for the Vikings not to look past the Chargers. Such as:
• All eight losses are by seven points or fewer. The Chargers’ point differential of plus-38 is better than 10-3 Seattle’s.
• In Jacksonville, Ekeler topped 100 yards both rushing and receiving in just 12 touches, the fewest ever needed. Herschel Walker set the previous mark of 15 touches in 1986.
• Mike Williams has a league-high eight catches of 40 yards or more.
• The Chargers rank 10th in total offense, fourth in total defense and eighth in points allowed (19.3).
• The Chargers are getting healthier with key starters such as left tackle Russell Okung and safety Derwin James — a “game-wrecker,” according to Zimmer — back in the lineup.
And, oh yeah, they won at Chicago and also beat the Packers at home by 15 points while holding them to 184 yards and two third-down conversions.
Now, it’s just a matter of which Rivers shows up and whether he’ll do anything to talk some trash about.
“He’s a talker,” said quarterback Kirk Cousins, who models much of his game after Rivers. “He’s done it for 16 years. He’s got his ways of doing things and it works for him. And I think if nothing else, he’s entertaining.”