Is Rivers healthy enough to lead Chargers?

Douglas Flynn

There’s no doubt about Philip Rivers’ mouth. His arm is plenty potent as well.

The San Diego quarterback’s knees though, that’s a different story altogether.

In fact, it’s been one of the biggest storylines of the week leading up to today’s AFC Championship Game at Gillette Stadium, and the plot will only thicken right up until game time this afternoon.

“As I've said all week, I'm optimistic I'll be able to play,” Rivers said. “I was able to take some repetitions (on Friday).”

That was the first action in practice Rivers saw since injuring his right knee against Indianapolis last week. He was relegated to the sidelines for the fourth quarter of that one, though he managed to stay active by jawing with the Colts fans.

Rivers, who was already playing on an injured left knee, was announced as having sprained the medial collateral ligament in his right knee, though other reports have him suffering a more serious anterior cruciate ligament tear. Despite his own optimism, he is officially listed as doubtful on the Chargers’ injury report.

If Rivers can’t go, that would put San Diego’s offense in the hands of backup Billy Volek, who hasn’t started a game since 2005 but did lead the Chargers on a 78-yard game-winning drive against Indy.

“He's done a great job preparing to play,” said San Diego coach Norv Turner of Volek. “He's been prepared to play each of the last 18 weeks, and I think that showed up the way he played Sunday.”

After completing just 3-of-10 passes for 6 yards and a pick in the regular season, Volek was 3-for-4 for 48 yards and ran in the winning score from a yard out against the Colts.

“Our guys are comfortable with him because he's taken a lot of practice throughout the year when Philip was banged up a little bit,” Turner said. “So if (Rivers) struggles or has a tough time and can't go, our guys are very confident in Volek.”

And the Patriots are confident they’re ready for either quarterback.

“We’ve got to prepare for everybody,” Pats coach Bill Belichick said. “Sure, each player has got his own unique style, but they’re still going to run their offense.”

And there are other weapons besides the quarterback for New England to worry about in that offense.

“I think the thing you look at whether Rivers is in there or Volek is in there, they’re relying on their playmakers -- (Darren) Sproles and (LaDainian) Tomlinson and (Antonio) Gates, right on down the line,” Pats linebacker Mike Vrabel said. “Whatever quarterback is in there is going to rely on those guys.”

The Pats aren’t about to get caught by surprise by anything Volek throws at them anyway.

“We’ve pretty much seen everybody,” Belichick said. “I mean, there isn’t anybody that plays in the league that we haven’t seen. Whatever there is (on film), we go back and find it or get it or whatever.”

With the way the Pats break down film on opposing offenses, Volek might have more catching up to do to learn the Chargers’ schemes than the Patriots. Playing behind Rivers has limited his reps at practice all season, but Turner isn’t too concerned.

“Well, to me, the whole key to having a veteran backup, a guy who has been in the league, who started games, a guy who has played, is that they don't need a lot of reps,” Turner said. “If your backup guy is a guy who needs a lot of reps, you should get a different backup. Billy has handled what we've done without having a lot of reps.”

Barring a minor medical miracle this afternoon, Volek is likely to get a few more reps when it counts most.

MetroWest Daily News