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View from the O-Zone: A little hate – and maybe a lot of fun


JACKSONVILLE – This one could be fun.

One reason is hate, because a healthy hate – or at least a healthy dislike – adds a dose of fun to sports. And it should be easy for Jaguars fans to work up that kind of hate Sunday.

Philip Rivers, after all, is 'Bank-bound.

Few NFL players are easier to – er, dislike -- than Rivers, and perhaps no fan base and no team has more reason to hate Rivers than the Jaguars.

Doug Marrone didn't use the word "hate" when discussing Rivers this week. That's not the Jaguars' head coach's way. But his words about Rivers darned sure dripped respect.

"You're talking about a player that has probably played as well against our team as any player that has ever played," Marrone said as the Jaguars (5-3) prepared to play the Los Angeles Chargers (3-5) at EverBank Field Sunday at 1 p.m.

Marrone isn't given to exaggeration. In this case, it wasn't needed.

Rivers – the Chargers' talented and sometimes-underrated quarterback – is a blast to watch: crafty, smart and with an obvious love for the game. At the same time, he also is easy for any fan who doesn't love the Chargers to hate. He talks trash. He smirks when he wins – and he wins a lot.

"I like playing against him," Jaguars defensive tackle Malik Jackson said. "He's very competitive. He's one of the few quarterbacks who actually likes to talk a lot. It gets your juices flowing. It gets you riled up a little more. You have to play the game and see what happens."

I've written before that Rivers is as easy to love as he is to hate, and I've always had the idea he likes the second part – that to him, drawing the ire of thousands of opposing fans is all part of this wonderful boy's game he gets to play for a living.

As for that ire, he has earned it from Jaguars fans. Oh, has he earned it.

Exaggeration? No, Marrone's words above weren't that. Rivers' performances against the Jaguars indeed rival any by any opponent ever. He is 6-1 against them, including six consecutive victories over the last seven seasons. He has 18 touchdowns in those six victories, and he has completed 71.18 percent of his passes against the Jaguars. The record shows he last threw an interception against the Jaguars in 2011. It feels more like 1911.

Rivers visits the 'Bank again Sunday. Only this time there's a new feel.

It's not that the Chargers aren't good. After four close losses to start the season, they have won three of the last five. They are better than their record, and they can stay much alive in the postseason chase with a victory Sunday. They're dangerous.

But these Jaguars aren't the team that has lost to the Chargers the last four seasons. This time, they have one of the NFL's best defenses. They rush the passer as well as any team in the NFL, and they have caused a lot of quarterbacks this season to have really bad days. This doesn't feel like an old Rivers-Jaguars matchup where you just waited for him to dip and deal. This one feels like the Jaguars have a fighting chance, maybe better.

"It's a new year," Jackson said. "We took the mirrors off our car a long time ago. It's a new team. If you want to be a statistician, that's cool. But there are 11 humans out there, and we're going to make sure we're the best 11 out there."

Know this:

This love-hate thing with Rivers is far from the only reason Sunday could be fun; there's actually more reason for this game to be fun than any at the 'Bank in a long while. The Jaguars are playing better than they have in a decade. The defense is intoxicatingly good. The offense is improving by the week. Mostly, the Jaguars are winning. At last.

The atmosphere during Sunday's victory over the Bengals was as festive as the 'Bank has seen in years. Those who were there talked of the feel of long ago, when the crowd and players routinely felt as one.

Marrone has talked often about earning home-field advantage. Last Sunday was a step toward that. A victory Sunday would feel like a bigger step. It would mean a second consecutive victory at the 'Bank, another good feeling, another festive day in a stadium that hasn't seen nearly enough of those lately.

It would also mean beating a big-time nemesis – maybe their biggest nemesis. The Jaguars the last three years have entered matchups with Rivers feeling like the season had hope; somewhere during each of those victories, that hope seemed to die as Rivers smirked.

Sunday is the Jaguars' best chance in forever to send Rivers back to California smirk-less.

And that would be the most fun a lot of Jaguars fans have had in a while.

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