IRVING, Texas -- You can critique his numbers, you can point out his lack of a career-defining win and you can definitely note that his team has missed the postseason for three straight years.
One thing you can't do, however, is criticize how well this quarterback has played to start the 2013 season.
At this point you're probably asking yourself if we're discussing Tony Romo or Philip Rivers. The answer is actually "both." There has been no shortage of peaks and valleys for both signal-callers since they took starting jobs to start the 2006 season, but Rom and Rivers are riding high as they prepare to square off this Sunday.
The difference is probably most pronounced for Rivers – the former No. 4 overall draft pick. It seems like ages since Rivers had San Diego in annual contention for the AFC Championship. The 35 combined interceptions and 15 combined wins of the past two years offsets four straight AFC West championships -- a period from about 2007-10 when he was considered one of the game's best quarterbacks.
"In '09 we went 13-3 and have a bye, and we get beat there in the first round. And it was downhill from there," Rivers said. "We didn't go to the playoffs the last three seasons, so it's been a tough stretch."
Even with a losing record, Rivers has avoided the turnover bug so far this season. Through three games, he's completed 70 percent of his passes for 798 yards, eight touchdowns and – most importantly – just one interception.
The 10th-year veteran said the difference has come in not forcing the ball.
"I think the one thing I've learned is, when you have so many games that you lose that are close, and you lose four, five, six in a row like we've done the past few years, you can start trying to make every play and try to will things to work that aren't there," Rivers said.
That's probably a testament to Rivers' competitive streak. Cowboys coach Jason Garrett said the most telling part of Rivers' game was his competitiveness, and he wasn't the only one who felt that way.
"He's a quarterback, but he's got a D-Line mentality – he's just a dog, man," said defensive tackle Jason Hatcher. "He's a competitor, he's tough, he talks noise. It starts with him, so they go as he goes."
The Chargers might not be trending the same direction as Rivers, but it's not for lack of trying. The Chargers sit at 11th in the league in total offense, and they're only a handful of plays away from having a much different record. It took a 17-point rally for the Texans to down San Diego in Week 1, and the Titans needed a 94-yard drive in the last two minutes to grab a win against the Chargers.
"It's been a heck of a start, in the sense that every game has come down to the wire," Rivers said.
The story is similar for Romo, though for different reasons. After tying a career high in 2012 with 19 interceptions, Romo has been the model of efficiency to start this year. His completion percentage of 72.2 is second only to Peyton Manning (and, fittingly enough, one in front of Rivers). On top of that, he's managed six touchdowns to just one pick – a pick that came from a miscommunication with a rookie receiver. [embedded_ad]
Romo said this week it's a result of better protection. He has been sacked just five times this season, and he hasn't had to make many throws under pressure.
"If you're throwing 50 balls and you've got 20 of them, 25 of them under duress, it's just bound to have negative effects throughout football games," Romo said. "When you're trailing like we have been in the past –things of that nature, for any quarterback, it happens across the league every week."
It's just one more similarity in a career full of them between the two. Both quarterbacks took the starting job in 2006, and in that span are within 2,000 career passing yards, 14 career touchdowns and two career interceptions of each other.
They've each had four 4,000-plus yard passing seasons, and they've each had two 30-plus touchdown campaigns. The congruencies, both positive and negative, have generated plenty of mutual respect.
"He's the kind of quarterback that, no lead is ever big enough, and he can be in the toughest of situations but he finds a way. So he's always fun to watch," Rivers said.
Added Romo: "Phil has been a good quarterback for a long time. I think he does a good job getting through progressions, and he gives his team a chance really every week he plays."
Ironically enough, a mistake this weekend by either one could determine the game in favor of the other.