The last time the Los Angeles Chargers won a playoff football game was back in 2013 when the team knocked off Cincinnati in a Wild Card matchup. It’s been a long time coming for quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates and the rest of the Chargers, for that matter. After beating the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday on the road, the impetus could be focused on how well the Chargers defense played.
Posting seven sacks in a single postseason contest is nothing to shrug off. Beating the NFL’s top-rated defense at their own game-smashmouth football-is definitely an eye-catcher, especially if you’re Tom Brady and the New England Patriots as they eye a divisional playoff game with the Chargers. The Chargers played Ravens-like defense and sacked rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson seven times in posting their 23-17 win.
Defensively, the Chargers dominated Baltimore the way the Ravens got after their offensive unit back in Week 16. A day after the Chargers had beaten the Denver Broncos in the team’s regular-season finale, Charges head coach Anthony Lynn talked about his team bringing that defensive mindset to the postseason.
“Going into the playoffs, you always say you have to pack your defense when going on the road,” said Lynn. “That’s what we have to do. We want to come in and try to be the best defense in this game. I feel like, if we can go in and be the best defense in this game, we’ll have a good chance of winning this game.”
There is a lot of credit to be shared in the Chargers’ win against the Ravens. Not only did the Chargers defense produce seven sacks, but they also got into the takeaway game, forcing Jackson into an interception and three fumbles. Michael Badgley booting five field goals was a plus as well. But the real catalyst in this victory has been placed on Lynn and his steady hand to turn the Chargers from a notable mediocre team during the absence of their playoff appearances into a rough-rider type of bunch.
Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom got snapped into reality when the Chargers went to their house, spotted them what appeared to be insurmountable leads, and whipped them in front of their home crowd in come-from-behind victories. The Chargers have only lost one road game this season, and that was in Week 3 against the Los Angeles Rams at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“If you don’t win the division, you’re going to have to go on the road,” Lynn said at his weekly press conference after the Chargers had defeated the Chiefs in a Thursday night matchup on Dec. 13. “We’ve had some preparation [now], playing big games on the road. I think when you do that, it can bring confidence when you travel. I think our guys have played well on the road all year. To be honest with you, it doesn’t matter where we play. Whether we play at home or on the road, it’s still a game. You still have to play the game between the lines. We just respond to that.”
Not only can the Chargers play rough and gritty ball, but Los Angeles also plays with the discipline that Lynn brought to the team just last season. He is a no excuse type of coach. The field goal kickers that came before Badgley landed the job as the team’s official placekicker can attest to this fact pretty well. With the exception of their first encounter with the Ravens just a couple of weeks ago, the Chargers usually play solid football all around and typically don’t beat themselves.
That 0-4 start the Chargers got off to in 2017 during Lynn’s rookie season as head coach seems like eons ago. Well, it is ancient news. The Chargers have gotten better. A lot better. Since then, Lynn’s team have rolled to a 21-7 record during the regular season, including going 12-4 in 2018 and finishing second to the Chiefs in the AFC West. This marks the second time in the last two seasons that Chargers have finished as high as they have. This time, Los Angeles has an invite to the Super Bowl square dance party.
After beating the Ravens, the Chargers have already eliminated their first dance partner. Now with Brady and the Patriots on the dance floor, the Chargers might have to do some sort of Do-Si-Do in order to get to their third partner in the Super Bowl tournament. That’s neither here or there. The fact that the Chargers have gotten to where they are today is a victory in itself, though Lynn and his players would probably rather secure punching their ticket to Super Bowl LIII than celebrate any accomplishment they’ve achieved thus far.
That means preparing for the possibility of having to win three playoff games on the road.
“Well, how many teams have done it since [Pittsburgh]? Maybe one other. It’s not easy,” said Lynn. “One thing I will say for us, and this doesn’t mean anything about this game, but we went on the road this year a lot in some pretty tough places and our guys handled it. So does that mean it’s going to be that way in Baltimore? I don’t know, but I know this — our guys are hardened to a certain degree about playing in tough spots, in Seattle, in Kansas City, in Pittsburgh. Being down, being able to come back and win those games, that can help, I guess, as much as anything to prepare you for it.”
Lynn’s even hand has played out well on the field but behind the scenes getting the right players has proved crucial to the Chargers’ success the past two seasons as well. Lynn, of course, has been in the center of all of this, as the Chargers picked up notable playmakers in wide receiver Mike Williams (Round 1, No. 7 overall pick), Desmond King II (Round 5, No. 151), offensive tackle Sam Levi (Round 6, No. 190), and defensive end Isaac Rochell (Round 7, No. 225) from the 2017 NFL Draft.
It is to the testament of Lynn and his coaching staff, led by defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and George Stewart, that the Chargers placed seven players in the Pro Bowl. King, as well as hard-hitting free safety Derwin James and Adrian Phillips, have been selected to be part of the NFL’s First Team All-Pro club.
“They’ve been really consistent,” Lynn said. “I think when you get voted to the All-Pro list by people who I think understand this game and recognize the game — that’s an honor. It’s flattering, but it doesn’t surprise me. They’ve been consistent all year and have played well.”
The Chargers’ 2018 draft was made special by picking up James, the team’s defensive enforcer.
“He’s doing everything we thought he would,” Lynn said of James prior to the Chargers playing the Ravens in the postseason. “He’s a heck of a football player, man. We liked him a lot coming out [of college] and couldn’t believe he was there when we picked [in the NFL Draft]. He’s living up to the expectations, for sure.”
Along with the team signing center Mike Pouncey and Russell Okung during these two last seasons, Lynn has the type of guys he wants to help execute his vision for the Chargers on the field.