Luck is the first thing that comes to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s mind when pinpointing reasons for the Chiefs’ recent success against the Chargers and quarterback Philip Rivers.
“We’re fortunate, probably,” Sutton said.
Yes, some of the Chiefs’ nine-game winning streak in the series, with Rivers starting all of those matchups, can be credited to a good bounce.
In 2015, the Chiefs denied Rivers a potential game-tying touchdown pass with a Dee Ford breakup in the end zone on the game’s final play.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
In the 2016 opener, the Chiefs overcame a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to win in overtime.
Andy Reid arrived in Kansas City in 2013 and was swept by the then-San Diego Chargers. The Chiefs have applied the broom every year since — to the Chargers of San Diego and Los Angeles — and look to complete their fifth straight sweep in an AFC showdown on Thursday Night Football.
This one is different in this sense: The Chargers, 10-3, have already won more games than they have in any season since 2009. With a victory on Thursday, they’ll clinch their first playoff appearance since 2013.
The Chiefs, 11-2, are assured of their fourth straight playoff season and fifth in six years.
The game matches the teams with the best records in the AFC, and the Chiefs’ recent domination in the series doesn’t lessen their respect for Rivers.
“I think he’s playing right now as well as he’s ever played,” Sutton said.
Some numbers are tracking that way. Rivers has 29 touchdown passes and is bearing down on his career best of 34. His interception per pass attempt of 1.5 percent is the lowest of his career.
“He’s a guy who can make all the throws,” Chiefs cornerback Kendall Fuller said.
Rivers did just that in the season opener, when he passed for 424 yards, with more than half of that in the fourth quarter as the Chargers fell short, 38-28.
Rookie Chiefs defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi was impressed the first time he saw Rivers.
“He’s been playing for so many years,” Nnadi said. “He’s ready for pretty much anything.”
The game earlier this season was Rivers’ most productive yet against the Chiefs, and he’s had many of them, especially in the first half his career. His current nine-game losing streak to the Chiefs, which includes 14 interceptions and nine touchdown passes, makes him 13-13 for his career against Kansas City.
Success against the Chiefs came early, when the Chargers were playoff regulars, winning the AFC West from 2006-09. Thursday will mark his 215th consecutive start, including the postseason. Only Brett Farve, Eli Manning and Peyton Manning have longer starting streaks among quarterbacks in NFL history.
Rivers also has Sutton’s full attention.
“His importance to his team is to me second to none,” Sutton said. “One of the things you respect about the guy, I’ve seen him play when they’ve had a lot of injuries and he doesn’t blink. He doesn’t change his expectations for himself or the other players. He’s a tough customer.
“He’s a daring quarterback too, He’s not shying away. He has a lot of confidence in his ability. He’s going to stick the ball in tight windows. If you’re fortunate on defense, you can get him. … He’s an amazing dude.”