The Four Pillars: Part I

San Diego is a team of stars, featuring 14 players with at least one Pro Bowl under their belts. However, there are four players the team depends on more than all the others, and three of them have never been to Hawaii. examines the four pillars of the team in this new series.

The first pillar is the most obvious -- QB Philip Rivers. The five-year vet has shined since supplanting Drew Brees in 2006, leading the Chargers to a 33-15 record during that span. He has guided the Chargers to three straight division crowns, the longest streak in the NFL, and has won three playoff games already.

"I think there is something to be said about having some experience in the playoffs," Rivers said.

Rivers' stats prove he belongs in the upper echelon of signal callers. He averages more than 3,500 yards per season; he completes more than 62 percent of his passes; and he boasts a touchdown-to-interception ratio of better than 2:1 (78-36).

QB Philip Rivers
Laurence Griffiths/Getty

The numbers are impressive, but numbers will only get a quarterback so far. The QB position is all about intangibles, and Rivers has those in abundance.

It started in the AFC Championship Game against the New England Patriots in January 2008, when Rivers played without an ACL and put on a gutsy showing. He won the respect of the locker room with that outing and has only built on his legacy since then.

Rivers underwent knee surgery after the conference championship game and was back under center by the following mini camp. Despite enduring an exhausting rehab regiment and wearing a bulky knee brace, Rivers got himself ready for a record-breaking 2008 campaign.

More impressive than the gaudy stats was the way Rivers improved on each of his shortcomings. He showed better mobility in the pocket; he did a better job of protecting the football; and he improved his deep ball (12 passes of 40-plus yards).

He also showed how far he's come as a leader. Firstly, he cut back on his trash-talking ways that drew so much ire from opposing fans and the national media. Secondly, he played a key role in holding the locker room together and preventing in-fighting when the team got off to a 4-8 start.

"I think it's just a matter of we stuck with it all year long through the tough times, obviously the lowest being 4-8," he said.

The Chargers finished the season with four straight wins to become the first 4-8 team ever to advance to the playoffs. During that four-game stretch, Rivers completed 80-of-121 passes (66 percent) for 1,054 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception.

That kind of team-carrying performance is what makes Rivers one of the pillars of the Chargers, and the only one on offense. Check back later this week for the second of the team's four pillars.

Michael Lombardo is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America and a long-time contributor to the network. His analysis has been published by the NFL Network, Fox Sports and MySpace Sports. He has followed the Chargers for more than 15 years and covered the team since 2003.

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