FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Philip Rivers didn’t grow up an NFL fan.
He grew up a fan of quarterbacks.
A northern Alabama native, college football games on Saturdays were his sports meat and potatoes. The NFL was dessert.
“The quarterbacks were the ones I had posters of,” Rivers said. “The quarterbacks were the ones I picked who I liked, and what numbers I liked and everything.”
Brett Favre, Troy Aikman, Dan Marino, Joe Montana, John Elway, Steve Young. His walls were living monuments to the game’s best.
It’s why Rivers said he doesn’t take for granted the opportunity he’ll have Sunday when Los Angeles (3-4) takes on the New England Patriots (5-2) and Tom Brady.
“When you’re going against a guy that’s won all these Super Bowls and is still playing at the level he’s playing at 40…to me, it is a big deal. It’s special,” Rivers said. “I’m looking forward to getting another shot.”
Rivers is just 1-6 against the Patriots, winning his lone game in 2008 in San Diego, when Brady was sidelined by a knee injury.
If Rivers can post his first victory in Foxborough, it would also be the fourth straight victory for the Chargers, who are coming on after starting the season 0-4.
Brady said he has always admired Rivers from afar.
“He’s really not fazed by much. He has kind of seen everything,” Brady said.
A victory would also be four straight for the Patriots, who have also found a groove over the past three weeks — particularly on offense. Brady leads the NFL with 2,208 passing yards, and is tied for second with 15 touchdown passes.
After two early season losses at home, New England would like nothing more than to enter its bye week with a victory.
“You want to finish on a high note and you want to go in feeling really good about what you’ve done,” Brady said. “The problem is this team — they’re hot, they’ve won three straight, they’ve got a really good defense. There’s nothing easy about it.”
Here are some things to know for Sunday’s game:
HIGHTOWER OUT: The Patriots will be short-handed on defense this week. A person familiar with the situation told The Associated Press that linebacker Dont’a Hightower will miss Sunday’s game and is facing season-ending surgery on his right shoulder. The surgery will be for a torn pectoral muscle, the person said on the condition of anonymity because it has not been announced by the team.
Hightower left last week’s win over Atlanta in the second half with the shoulder issue. He’s missed two games this season with a knee injury.
The injury comes as a blow for a Patriots defense that has improved in recent weeks, but continues to rank last in the NFL in total defense, giving up 426.7 yards per game.
His snaps are expected to fall to Kyle Van Noy and veteran David Harris.
“Dont’a is a special player and he does a lot for this team,” Van Noy said. “It’s gonna take a group effort.”
STAT WATCH: Rivers has 3,967 completions and needs 22 to pass Hall of Famer Warren Moon (3,988) for eighth in NFL history.
SACK ATTACK: The Patriots’ offensive line struggled early in the season to protect Brady, allowing him to be sacked 16 times through their first five games.
Brady was only sacked twice in New England’s past two victories, but he is expected to see pressure from the Chargers’ defensive end tandem of Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram.
Bosa has five sacks and two forced fumbles in the past three games. With 7½ sacks on the season, he and Ingram (8½ sacks) can become the fifth pair of teammates to each get at least nine sacks in their team’s first eight games since the sack became an official statistic in 1982.
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates has seen the value placed on his position change a lot during his 15 NFL seasons.
When he first arrived in the league in 2003 he remembers the position being defined by just a few standout names. Today, game planning against tight ends has become the norm as offenses utilize them more and more.
“I don’t even think there’s a team that doesn’t have a tight end that can’t beat you,” Gates said.
He said Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski “is one of the best that’s doing it right now.” Gronk enters Sunday’s game ranked second among NFL tight ends with 452 receiving yards and is tied for second with four touchdown catches. He has four touchdown catches in three meetings with the Chargers.