SAN DIEGO - If you are sitting at home, watching the flat screen, Philip Rivers is annoying.
He makes faces. He yells at his teammates. He yells at players on the other team. He yells at fans behind the bench. He never seems to be wearing his helmet. He has the look of a spoiled only child. He makes you want to grab his earlobe and walk him to a corner for a timeout.
Rivers is the anti-Tom Brady. He was a collegiate legend, a combine warrior, and a coveted draft pick. His playoff résumé is thin. He doesn't date supermodels - Rivers has been married since the end of his freshman year of college.
He knows his image is suffering. It started when ESPN caught him yelling at the Broncos on "Monday Night Football" Christmas Eve. Then he was yelling at teammates when the Chargers beat the Titans in the playoffs in the rain. Then he was yelling at the drunks at the RCA Dome while his backup led the Chargers into the AFC Championship game. A commentator compared him to Ryan Leaf. Ouch.
"I really don't get too caught up in it," Rivers said this week. "It's kind of surprising, really, to be honest with you. I'm out there having a good time, as I did in the backyard since I was 5 years old. There's no profanity being used. I know what I'm about, my teammates know, my family knows, and everything else I can't worry about. When it stops being fun, that's when I'll stop playing.
"If you're out in the backyard, playing with a buddy and you're wearing him out - you're not going to jab at him. If their parents walk outside, you tell him, 'I'm killing you today!' That's all it is. If we can't do that, I don't know, I really don't know. Anybody can be critical and criticize, but nobody really knows what's being said. Other than what's caught on camera and everything that's been caught on camera is clean. And that's all it will ever be. So I don't worry about it.
"I know the people that know me and the people I care about. There's no doubt in my mind that they know how I am and who I am."
Good answer. Our 24-7 sports media machine specializes in carving images of star athletes, but too often we rely on a small sample. We see a few games on TV, listen to a guy in front of a podium for a few minutes, and go to work shaping image and opinion.
Rivers (he sounds remarkably like Trot Nixon) knows that he's looked bad on TV the last few weeks. No doubt he hears about it. But he also knows himself and he's not going to let himself be defined by sports commentators or the NFL Network.
The larger issue, of course, is what he can do on the field Sunday against the Patriots. Rivers sprained his right medial collateral ligament throwing a 56-yard touchdown pass to Darren Sproles on the final play of the third quarter of the Chargers' victory at Indianapolis. Backup Billy Volek took over in the fourth and led the Bolts to a dramatic victory while Rivers cemented his reputation as a cementhead with rabbit ears.
Volek has taken all the reps so far this week, but Rivers said, "I'm treating it like crazy. Obviously, the goal is to be ready to play on Sunday and I'm optimistic I'll be able to do that."
Rivers grew up in Decatur, Ala., son of the head football coach at Decatur High School. He went to North Carolina State, where he emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the nation (Rivers left school as the second-leading passer in NCAA history with 13,484 yards) - along with Eli Manning.
There's nice symmetry with Rivers and Manning, two of the four starting quarterbacks still playing in this postseason tournament. They were traded for one another (along with a raft of draft picks) in the draft circus of 2004. Rivers became a starter and a Pro Bowler in 2006, but had a flat game (14 of 32, no TD passes, one pick) against the Patriots in San Diego's excruciating home loss last January. That was the day an enraged Rivers got in the face of New England cornerback Ellis Hobbs and called him the sorriest corner in the league.
Rivers wasn't Brady this year, but he completed 60 percent of his passes and threw 21 touchdown passes with 15 interceptions. Coach Norv Turner gave him the game ball after his playoff performance against the Titans, but Rivers is still looking for a breakout game against New England. All the Chargers this week have been reminded of September's 38-14 thrashing at the hands of the focused Patriots in the first game after Spygate.
"I hear all along that if there's anything vulnerable about the Patriots, it's their defense, but I don't quite see it," said Rivers. "They haven't lost a game . . . People have moved the ball on them, but haven't been able to do it consistently enough to stay up with their offense. They're a little different than the Colts. The Colts were a little undersized, fast, and young. These guys have a little more experience. They're savvy as you get. They know how to play the game.
"You think back to Week 2. Obviously we're a different team now, but I think we had a 15-play, seven-minute drive. That would be huge if we could put together some drives like that. Everything you list of what you need to win a football game, we need 'em all. They're going to be ready. They've been in these types of games plenty of times and not many of us have.
"I've grown, just like we've all grown . . . I just have to keep playing and not get carried away with the negativity from the media and everything. Just keep playing and keep grinding."
Asked about Foxborough frostbite, he dropped a Belichick on us.
"When you get out there it is what it is," said the QB. "I don't know that anybody ever gets used to playing in that kind of weather. But it's championship weather and you've got to be thankful that you get to play in that weather."
Don't expect him to be wearing earmuffs. Rivers wants to hear everything.
Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.