Savior gets last chance to impress

The San Diego Chargers will face the San Francisco 49ers in San Fran on Thursday and a suddenly epic battle will finally reach its climax. Head Coach Marty Schottenheimer has not yet named a starting quarterback – meaning Philip Rivers still has a chance to unseat Drew Brees for the first game of the year in Houston.

The coaches' pause is enough to make everyone ponder the possibilities. Was it a move aimed at enhancing the play of Drew Brees or a clear-cut sign that Philip Rivers will start the year from the get-go?

With Marty Schottenheimer facing his own push year, the tide has been swaying towards Rivers getting the nod to begin the season.

It is a hot topic amongst the players:

"Everybody wants to know about the quarterback situation," wide receiver Tim Dwight said. "Everybody is talking about Rivers and Brees and Flutie.

"I think both guys you are talking about, because Brees was the starter last year and you have Rivers coming in, I think both guys have a lot of strengths to them."

Rivers, by way of a contract stalemate remains the underdog. His first game had its ups and went down real fast. He also had a few dropped balls that contributed to his lack of success from a numbers standpoint.

He is getting increased repetitions in practice with the regular season just on the horizon.

"He is not immune to errors," Schottenheimer said of Rivers. "It is going to take some time certainly for him to get where he is going to be comfortable. As long as you are moving forward we are going to be pleased."

The pace at which he moves forward will be crucial to his chances. A solid game on Thursday could sway the vote, despite Schottenheimer saying the final preseason game will not be the determining factor.

Why would he be playing both quarterbacks if it wasn't yet to be decided? Normally the last preseason game is met with a hint of caution. LaDainian Tomlinson won't be playing and many starters around the league will have the day off as they maintain their health for the regular season and when the games count.

Considering the ramifications, Rivers may get some time with the first team offense. He does not have any semblance of timing down with any of his weapons. Game time is when that can be accelerated.

Rivers is ready to roll in San Francisco.

"It's going to be exciting," Rivers said of his return to the field. "The emotions and everything are a little bit cranked up. That is how it always is on game days."

Don't rule out Brees. He had been playing well until his poor showing against Seattle. With Rivers on the sidelines, Brees burst at the seams. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

"Brees is playing a lot better football right now," Dwight said. "He is used to the system and he is a vet, he expects a lot of things from himself out there."

Still, Rivers is the heir apparent and why not begin the season with your newest franchise quarterback. With a tough schedule and a bumpy ride expected anyway, it would be nice to see Rivers grow with the talent that exists on the team.

He is a rare player that makes everyone around him better and veterans have taken notice.

"Rivers is making some plays that you don't think rookies can do," Dwight responded. He is putting the ball in certain spots where he is making us go get them. That is what you like about him."

Then there is the Doug Flutie dilemma. Schottenheimer has stated he may keep four quarterbacks and unless Rivers sparkles and Brees is traded it is believable.

Flutie may have been bold enough to state his case in the past but he knows his role with the team. It will be a bitter pill to swallow if he is third string, but unlike earlier in his career he is not about to make waves.

"Both guys are coming on and Flutie is not getting as many reps," Dwight said. "I mean Flutie doesn't even need reps. He comes in and wins ballgames. I know he is a little frustrated but at the same time he understands the situation. He is our savior."

Schottenheimer knows Flutie is a crutch he can always lean on for a quick pick me up but he is banking on Rivers being the savior of the bunch. His job may very well be staked on that claim.

Denis Savage can be reached at denis@sandiegosports.net

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