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Philip Rivers Jersey

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INDIANAPOLIS — Colts quarterback Philip Rivers continued his season-long list of accomplishments when he jumped Dan Marino for fifth on the NFL’s career passing touchdown list in the first quarter of Sunday’s win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

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Rivers, who signed a one-year, $25 million contract with the Colts in March, threw the 421st touchdown pass of his 17-year NFL career when he found wide receiver T.Y. Hilton on a 6-yard touchdown on their opening drive.

Only Tom Brady (581), Drew Brees (568 entering Week 17), Peyton Manning (539) and Brett Favre (508) have thrown for more touchdowns than Rivers. All are future first-ballot Hall of Famers.

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Rivers finished 17-of-27 passing for 164 yards with one interception as the Colts doubled up the Jaguars 28-14. At 11-5, Indianapolis settled for an AFC wild-card berth while Tennessee won the AFC South.


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Rivers threw the first 397 touchdown passes of his career during his 16 seasons with the Chargers. He threw at least 30 touchdown passes in six of those seasons.

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Sunday was just another accomplishment for Rivers, who has redeemed himself from a disappointing 2019 season with the Chargers.

In Week 3 against the New York Jets he became the sixth quarterback to top 60,000 career passing yards. He passed Marino for most career passing yards against the Tennessee Titans in Week 10.

INDIANAPOLIS — Sunday’s game is one of the reasons the Colts brought quarterback Philip Rivers to Indianapolis.

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The Colts didn’t sign Rivers to just hand the ball off to the running backs, make quick underneath throws to crossing receivers or throw deep posts to T.Y. Hilton.

It’s all those things … and to win games.

There’s no game more important than Sunday’s contest against the Jacksonville Jaguars (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). If things go the way the Colts hope on Sunday — having either the Dolphins, Browns or Ravens lose in the early-game window — they will have to just beat the Jaguars in order to clinch a playoff spot.

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Here’s how the postseason bracket looks at the moment and what scenarios lie ahead.
• Playoff picture (ESPN+) »
• Playoff Machine: See scenarios »
• Standings » | Football Power Index »

Sure, the Jaguars (1-14) are perhaps the NFL’s worst team and haven’t won since beating the Colts (10-5) in Week 1, but that doesn’t minimize the pressure.

“I think what makes Philip great is he is the same every day. Because if you allow yourself to get too up or too down based off the opponent or what you deem as a big game or what you deem as not as big a game, I just think that leads to inconsistent play,” Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni said. “Philip just prepares the same way each week and we like to do that as coaches. … You just have to go to work the next day, be the same guy and prepare like it’s your last game or your playoff game, the Super Bowl or the first preseason game — all the same. That’s what I respect and admire about Philip, that he does that. He’s been the same guy each day this year.”

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Sunday will be the fifth time Rivers has played in a Week 17 game with a chance to clinch a playoff spot. His teams are 3-1 in those games, with the last being during the 2017 season, a 30-10 Chargers victory over Oakland. The Chargers made the playoffs in only two of those three victories because they needed help from other teams. In 2017, they didn’t get it.

One of these things needs to happen — along with a Colts victory — in order for Indianapolis to make the playoffs.

Baltimore loses to Cincinnati

Miami loses to Buffalo

Cleveland loses to Pittsburgh

Tennessee loses to Houston

The Colts will win the AFC South and get a home playoff game if they beat the Jaguars and the Titans lose to the Texans.

Philip Rivers has played in Week 17 games with the playoffs on the line four times, and is 3-1 in those games. AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar
The Steelers, who have clinched the AFC North, have already ruled out four key veterans — quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, center Maurkice Pouncey, linebacker T.J. Watt and defensive end Cam Heyward — against the Browns on Sunday. There’s no guarantee that will help the Browns because they’re dealing with COVID-19 issues that left their facility closed for a couple of days this week.

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It’s uncertain whether the Bills will rest any of their starters against the Dolphins in their game. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has come off the bench to spark the Dolphins this season — is out after testing positive for COVID-19.

“Every scenario involves Colts beating the Jags,” Rivers said. “That’s the only one we have a say in, so I think just be focused on what we can control. Find a way to get win No. 11 and don’t be distracted by all the other games that have an impact on us moving forward.”

Rivers’ Colts debut came against the Jaguars and didn’t go well. He threw for 363 yards, but he also had two interceptions, including one in the fourth quarter of their 27-20 loss to Jacksonville to open the season on Sept. 13.

That loss could be one of the reasons the Colts end up missing the playoffs. Jacksonville, despite its dreadful record, is 7-3 in its past 10 games against the Colts.

“Yes, we are focused on Jacksonville only, but our mind has got to believe that we’re going to be playing more football after this weekend,” Rivers said.

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According to the team’s head coach Frank Reich, the Indianapolis Colts plan on continuing to rotate their three tailbacks as part of a running back by committee attack—prominently featuring the trio of Jonathan Taylor, Nyheim Hines, and Jordan Wilkins (via The Athletic’s Zak Keefer):

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Frank Reich with no love for fantasy owners out there: “We’re gonna look at our three running backs as starters. I know it’s frustrating for fantasy players, but it’s just the way we’re gonna roll.”

The Jonathan Taylor/Nyheim Hines/Jordan Wilkins rotation worked on Sunday.

— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 23, 2020
That doesn’t mean that the Colts won’t ‘ride the hot hand’ though, as in recent weeks, Taylor led with 22 carries against Green Bay (Week 11), Hines led with 12 carries vs. Tennessee (Week 10), and Wilkins led with 20 carries facing Detroit (Week 8) respectively.

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While sometimes it’s nice to have ‘the guy’, the Colts utilizing each of their three running backs and maximizing their strengths situationally keeps opposing run defenses off balance—as they’re forced to adjust to contrasting rushing styles and unique skill-sets: ‘pick your poison’. It also should keep each of the Colts’ running backs fresh down the final stretch of the season—as none of them have recently been overworked.

Otherwise, Reich indicated that the team plans on continuing to utilize primary backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett with certain packages—presumably in short-yardage situations—where he’s been ‘a specialist’ of sorts recently this season:

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Frank Reich says this is the 1st time in his coaching career he’s experimented with the 2-QB system. Early on, he wanted to allow Rivers to establish himself.

“It feels like it’s just the right thing to do,” Reich says of keeping a package in the game plan for Jacoby Brissett.

— Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) November 23, 2020
This isn’t the 2006 Florida Gators’ National Championship version of Chris Leak and Tim Tebow ‘1-2’ QB tandem by any means, but credit Brissett for staying involved, available, and finding a way on the field to help his team win football games again—even in a reduced offensive role during 2020.

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This may not be what he ultimately envisioned, but he’s still making a meaningful impact.

Always a team leader of the Colts’ locker room, Brissett showed a lot of fight and perseverance on a 4th and 1 QB sneak around the 5:00 mark of the 3rd quarter—plowing Packers’ defenders in the process for extra yards well past the sticks:

Not your average QB sneak by Jacoby Brissett @JBrissett12 @Colts


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— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) November 22, 2020
Despite the limited playing time this season, Brissett may have found a niche in certain short yardage and goal line situations with the Colts offense—as he’s effective quarterback sneaking it (something that veteran quarterback Philip Rivers is completely incapable of doing) and although not fast, Jacoby can be deceptively mobile at times—which presents another threat to consider/respect for opposing defenses:

Jacoby Brissett QB sneak TD

Colts take a 34-17 lead over the Titans

(via @NFL)

— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) November 13, 2020
Featuring Brissett within the Colts offense situationally is a nice wrinkle for Reich.

While Reich ‘shouldn’t overdo it’ (as the team still needs Rivers behind center much more often than not out there) or get too cute with it at times, it’s currently adding a nice touch to the Colts offensive attack—which had previously struggled in short yardage situations.

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Say what you want, but it’s been pretty effective as of late—so the Colts should clearly keep it up.

The surprise isn’t that Jacoby Brissett’s quarterback sneak worked to perfection Thursday night, though it did, resulting in a game-clinching, two-yard fourth-quarter touchdown plunge to give the Colts a 34-17 advantage. What is a bit of a surprise is that Frank Reich and the Indianapolis Colts hadn’t turned to it and him sooner.

There’s no doubt the decision to pull Philip Rivers, a potential future hall-of-famer, off the field isn’t an easy one for the Colts coach to make, but the reality is this: The Colts have struggled in short-yardage situations, while Brissett has historically flourished in those same spots.

Entering the year, it seemed as if the Colts were primed to deploy Brissett in short-yardage scenarios. Reich even teased a package of plays specifically tailored to suit Brissett’s strengths in that area.

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Jacoby Brissett (7) of the Indianapolis Colts falls into the end zone for a fourth quarter touchdown on the quarterback keeper, Indianapolis Colts at Tennessee Titans, Nissan Stadium, Nashville, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020. Colts won 34-17.
“Everybody knows who Jacoby is, he is not Lamar Jackson as far as speed, but Jacoby is tough to bring down,” Reich said. “So there are situations on the field and circumstances that we have a lot of trust in Jacoby. We were really good in a couple areas last year on offense. I don’t want to go into these in-depth, but there were a couple situational-football areas that we were really good at.”

More Colts coverage:

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Birthday boy Nyheim Hines scores 2 touchdowns, guides Colts offense to dominant win

Reich didn’t need to specify what football areas he was referring to. Brissett’s situational stats are glaring: He was outstanding in late-down, short yardage situations.

As IndyStar wrote in April: On third and fourth downs of 3 yards or less, Brissett completed 75.9% of his passes (22-of-29) with three touchdowns and 19 first downs, leading to a fantastic 132.0 quarterback rating. … He was even more prosperous on the ground. On 11 carries in those scenarios, Brissett ran for 33 yards, picked up 10 first downs and scored a touchdown.

Those 33 combined touchdowns and first downs gave him a 72.5% conversion rate, third best in the NFL.

Bringing those numbers back to Thursday night, 10 of Brissett’s 11 conversions on the ground came on quarterback sneaks. In fact, Brissett went 10-for-10 on third and fourth downs of 1 yard or less last season. For his career he’s 13-of-14.

While Brissett (and his offensive lines) deserve plenty of credit for their successes on quarterback sneaks, including the one Thursday night when left guard Quenton Nelson and Ryan Kelly each got excellent push up the middle, the truth is that there is no better short-yardage play in the NFL.

According to Sharp Football, quarterback sneaks result in first downs an astounding 78% of the time, while handoffs only enjoy a success rate of about 60% (stats since 2015).

Given Brissett’s credentials and the outstanding success rate of the quarterback sneak across the league, it seems surprising the Colts haven’t gone to it and him more often. It’s even more surprising given their issues in short yardage this year. On third and fourth downs of two yards or less (when a sneak would be most applicable), the Colts have a 58.3% success rate. On just running plays, that number dips to 54%.

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“(Short yardage) is one area that we definitely have to improve on,” Reich said Monday. “We’re not going to make every one. … I’m realistic in that regard, but we need to make a few more than we’re making.”

Despite their limitations in short yardage — and knowing Brissett’s reliability for converting on those plays — the Colts have called upon Brissett only one other time in a short-yardage situation this season (in a competitive game). It came two months ago during the season-opener in Jacksonville, when Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack sacked Brissett on a run-pass option play on second and goal from the two-yard line.

Reich confessed the next day to being “outcoached” on that play. He conceded he shouldn’t have called for a quarterback read on Brissett’s first snap of the season, chastising himself for being too predictable.

Perhaps the Colts failure in Jacksonville kept Reich from going back to Brissett again in similar situations. However, after Thursday night’s touchdown, it doesn’t sound as if Reich will hesitate to go back to Brissett in the future.

“Jacoby (Brissett) has been very successful (on sneaks),” Reich said. “It’s not like I would never do it with Philip, but definitely want to do it with Jacoby. Obviously, when we bring Jacoby in there, it’s not just going to be quarterback sneak. We have to complement that. We have to start somewhere so that was a good starting point. I’m hoping we can build off that.”

At this point, surely there are Colts fans thinking that if the sneak is so wildly successful, then why don’t the Colts just let Rivers run it?

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That’s not an easy question to answer. Suffice it to say, the sneak has not been a part of Rivers’ game for going on five seasons now. For one reason or another, he doesn’t do it. He used to earlier in his career and, no surprise for a stout 6-foot-5 quarterback, he was quite good at it. However, he has sneaked just one time in the past five years.

When asked directly about his lack of sneaking, Rivers told the San Diego Union Tribune in 2018, “It’s never anything I’ve necessarily been against.”

Frankly, Rivers’ affinity — or lack thereof — for the sneak shouldn’t much matter. The quarterback sitting behind him on the depth chart is fantastic at it. While Reich will have to mix up his play-calling with Brissett on the field so as to avoid predictability, there’s no reason Brissett and the sneak shouldn’t be a bigger part of the Colts offense going forward.