Atlanta Falcons

Falcons share unique history with Philip Rivers

After 17 seasons, Philip Rivers announced his retirement from the NFL this week. He spent 16 seasons with the Chargers and played his final year in the league with Indianapolis, where he led the Colts to a playoff berth at 39.

Rivers is ending his career with 63,440 passing yards and 421 touchdowns, which ranks him fifth all time in both categories. He is also retiring as one of the greatest quarterbacks to never play in a Super Bowl.

Although drafted four years before Matt Ryan, Rivers shares history with Atlanta because of his numerous connections with the Falcons quarterback. They were both selected in the Top 4 of the NFL draft, though, Rivers never played for the team that drafted him (New York Giants). With the exception of 2020 for Rivers, each played for franchises that never had much success before their arrival.

But in more than a decade and a half, Rivers posted a .549 win percentage with the Chargers. Despite no Super Bowl appearances, he led them to the playoffs six times. Before his arrival, the Chargers had advanced to the NFL playoffs just seven times.

Ryan can still improve upon his record, but through 13 seasons, he owns a .551 win percentage. Ryan has also led the Falcons to the playoffs six times and has recorded a 4-6 record in the postseason. Including the loss with the Colts, Rivers went 5-7 in the playoffs.

Like Ryan, Rivers was an iron man. After becoming the Chargers’ starter in 2006, Rivers started 240 consecutive games — a streak he never broke. Including the playoffs, Rivers started 252 straight contests, which is the second-longest quarterback streak in NFL history.

Ryan owns the fifth-longest streak with 163 consecutive games played from the end of the 2009 season to Oct. 2019. Ryan has only missed three games in his entire career.

Of course, Ryan has the edge over Rivers with an MVP award and conference championship. Falcons fans hope their quarterback can avoid entering the conversation of greatest signal callers without a ring when Ryan retires in a few years.

Even with all those similarities, perhaps the most interesting connection Rivers has to Falcons and NFC South history is with Drew Brees. The Falcons have Rivers to thank for Brees landing with the New Orleans Saints. The Chargers chose to trade Brees even though he led the team to a playoff berth in 2005 and moved on with Rivers.

Despite their long careers, Rivers and Ryan met only three times with the last matchup the most notable one in 2016. Each quarterback had a touchdown and an interception, but Rivers threw for almost 100 more yards in the Chargers’ overtime win.

The Falcons took a 10-point lead early in the fourth quarter, but Rivers led the Chargers back. Josh Lambo forced overtime with a 33-yard field goal with 22 seconds remaining.

Ryan nearly pulled off a miraculous story. In just 21 seconds at the end of regulation, he completed two passes for 35 yards and moved the Falcons into fringe field-goal territory. Matt Bryant missed a 58-yard attempt as time expired.

The overtime story belongs to Dan Quinn but not in a good way. After one first down, the Falcons faced third-and-1 and then fourth-and-1 at their own 45-yard line. Quinn elected to go for it. The Chargers stopped Devonta Freeman for a one-yard loss.

Rivers completed one pass, and the Chargers were right back into field-goal range. Lambo made a 42-yard attempt to win.

However, the blown fourth-quarter lead and poor coaching decision did not doom the Falcons, and the comeback was not a turning point for the Chargers. The Falcons went 7-2 after that loss and advanced to the Super Bowl. Meanwhile, the Chargers finished 2-7 and were 5-11.

That was the only time Rivers beat Ryan. In each of their other two matchups, Ryan completed more than 73 percent of his passes and threw for multiple touchdowns. The Falcons beat the Chargers by six in 2008 and 24 in 2012.

Rivers and Ryan will never face each other on the field again, but the Falcons quarterback figures to follow Rivers’ lead at least one more time — to Canton.