"All of a sudden he's now getting up there in age," Moon says of Rivers, who turns 31 in December. "It's not that he's old, but he's going to start losing some of his skills here pretty soon because he was never an athletic guy. He's really got to have a great offensive line in front of him to keep him upright."
Rivers's cause has not been helped by the slow trickling away of key offensive pieces. Running back Michael Turner was allowed to leave as a free agent in 2008, Tomlinson was released in '10, running back--returner Darren Sproles was not re-signed in '11, and wideout Vincent Jackson was allowed to leave as a free agent this year. With Gates, a three-time All-Pro, struggling with injuries the past few seasons, Rivers has not had the caliber of skill-position threats he had during his early years as a starter.
"Philip can play great, and he competes like no other," says San Diego linebacker Shaun Phillips, "but if other guys aren't playing at that level, it can be hard to win."
It will be nine years and counting if he doesn't do it this year. That's a lot of aggravation, and a lot of Hail Marys.