Chargers must prepare to do whatever it takes to win

One of the most famous lines in cinematic history was uttered by Sean Connery in Brian De Palma’s epic drama The Untouchables. In one of the memorable scenes in the 1987 film, Connery, riddled with bullets and blanketed with blood everywhere,  grabs the hand of his friend and asks Kevin Costner’s character Eliot Ness, who is in hot pursuit of crime boss Al Capone, one specific question: “What are you prepared to do?”

That question can easily be posed to the Los Angeles Chargers. After going winless in their last four games, what are the Chargers now prepared to do in order to change the course of their season and make it into the playoffs?

That may be a tall order to ask but the alternative will not be a good look. There are not a whole of words to say when you’re mired in a losing streak. A pat on the back won’t fix it. Adoring platitudes won’t make it go away. The simplest solution to this dilemma is to win. Or you can choose to stay home if your team has plans on vacating a postseason appearance.

In a nutshell, you either win or get ghost.

This is the conundrum the Chargers face at the moment as they try to regroup and figure out how to right the ship of what is left of the 2020 season. Five games in and the Chargers sit at the bottom of the AFC West Division with a 1-4 record. Who would have thought? Then again, who would have guessed that rookie Justin Herbert would be considered the next rock star quarterback? 

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The best summarization of how things have turned out thus far for the Chargers as well as for the league this season is that you can count on the predictable turning into the unpredictable. There are no guarantees in life. And there are no guarantees in the NFL. Not even a potential walk-off winning field goal.

When placekicker Michael Badgley failed to nudge in a 50-yard field goal attempt in between the two goalposts as time expired at the end of regulation of an eventual 30-27 overtime defeat to Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints during a Monday Night Football contest, the miss simply represented what the Chargers have not been able to do in their last four games: finish.

In Week 2 against the Kansas City Chiefs, the Chargers were officially done in by a critical late-game interception and the Patrick Mahomes factor in a 23-20 overtime loss. In Week 3 against the Carolina Panthers, miscues were the culprit. Against Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Week 4, the Chargers stopped pushing the pedal to the medal after jumping out to a 17-point lead. As an end result, Brady and the Bucs came away with a 38-31 win.

And now Week 5. A primetime game against a future Hall of Fame quarterback. Herbert delivered on his end, throwing for 264 yards and four touchdowns, including completing a 64-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Michael Williams for a go-ahead score with 3:40 left in the ballgame. The Chargers couldn’t close the deal.

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“It’s tough, man. We’ve been in a lot of these games; just got to find a way to pull through,” said Chargers running back Justin Jackson, who rushed for 71 yards on 15 carries in the road defeat to the Saints. “Everyone is fighting their a– off. Just got to make a few more plays here and there. That’s how the league is. Always comes down to close games. We don’t have to make it a close game. We need to keep our foot on their neck if we get a big lead…we just got to finish.”

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn has no doubt that his team can turn things around. With injuries and the losses stacking up, the Chargers go into their bye week trying to players healthy enough to get back on the field and ponder what has happened in the last month. The Chargers will get back at it in Week 7 in a home game against the Jacksonville Jaguars. 

Lynn’s team has done a lot of things right during this stretch. The defense has looked great at times. Behind Herbert, the Chargers’ offensive symmetry has been on point. The team has been ultra-competitive, coming within striking distance of any of the four games they have dropped. 

The Chargers have come real close to winning all of those games. Like inches away. Close calls, however, won’t bring out any sympathy cards. The Chargers’ missed opportunity gave Brees and the Saints a reprieve to change the narrative to the outcome of their latest defeat.  

Brees would drive the Saints to a game-winning field goal in overtime, and the Chargers got on a plane headed back to Los Angeles with a 30-27 defeat posted in the win-loss column. The Chargers have not been on the other side of that equation since Week 1 when they beat the Cincinnati Bengals. The team’s fourth consecutive loss almost left Lynn at a loss for words, but clearly frustrated afterward.  

“I never would have thought that this team would have lost four in a row, but I tell you I was on a Chargers team that did, and that team came back fighting,” Lynn said. “I expect this team to come back and do the same.”

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The squad Lynn referenced is the 2017 Chargers, a team that began their season going winless through their first four games before they caught fire to finish the season with a 9-7 record. It was Lynn’s first year as head coach for the Chargers. In those four games, the Chargers lost by a combined 21 points to the Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles. 

The 2020 Chargers have been in every game like that 2017 ballclub, only the names (with the exception of the Chiefs) have changed. The Chargers lost close decisions to the Chiefs, Carolina Panthers, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Saints, by an agonizing total of 18 points. 

“Guys are putting themselves in a position to win these games, and we’re just not finishing the games,” Lynn said. “It’s not one thing here or there. I can give you a ton of excuses, but I’m not about excuses. At the end of the day, we just got to get it done, and that’s on me.” 

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If anyone can rally his team from a losing funk, it’s Lynn. Now in his fourth year as the head coach of the Chargers, Lynn posted winning marks in two of his first three seasons leading the ballclub. Last season, the Chargers went into a 5-11 tailspin with Philip Rivers playing his final season with the team.

Lynn and the Chargers then had the unfortunate luck of having Tyrod Taylor, their starting quarterback, get injured before kickoff in Week 2, and have had to throw Herbert into the fire as the team’s new leading man.  

Herbert has played exceptionally well during these four weeks. With the injuries (wide receiver Keenan Allen, cornerback Casey Hayward Jr.) and the losses piling up, Herbert keeps proving himself worthy of the starting position week in and week out. 

In four games, Herbert has thrown for 1,195 yards and nine touchdowns. Herbert’s performance against the Saints only solidified the way he’s been playing. His three passing touchdowns in the first half helped the Chargers build a 20-3 first-half lead at one point in the game. Herbert finished the game with 264 passing yards and four touchdowns.    

But even his breakthrough effort on primetime TV was not enough to break the Chargers’ slump.   

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“Definitely a tough loss,” Herbert said. “To be so close in these past four games, it hurts a lot. But I know we’re going to go back and we’re going to turn it around. Things are going to change. We just got to keep attacking and know that the wins are going to come.” 

Herbert had the Chargers offense rolling in that first half as they built up a commanding 17-point lead. But just as quickly as they jumped out the gate on the Saints, the Chargers offense suddenly went stagnant and did not come back to life until Herbert connected with Williams on a long pass down the sidelines to give the Chargers a 27-20 lead. 

Brees then put the Saints in position to tie the game before New Orleans backup quarterback Taysom Hill made it official with a short touchdown run. The dramatic turn of events set up Badgley to send the Chargers home winners. That did not happen. 

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A sensational pass-and-catch from Herbert to Williams set up Badgley to close the deal for the Chargers. Instead, Badgley’s kick hit the right side of the goalpost and bounced backward unto the turf.   

“That young man has been kicking outstanding all year,” Lynn said. “He missed an extra point today. He missed a field goal. Yeah, I’d be the first to say he’s got to do better, but we could have done some other things better as well.” 

Despite the tough one-score defeats the last four games and the growing number of injuries to key players stacking up, as a team the Chargers are expecting better days to come. For now, however, this latest defeat stings more than a little bit, said Chargers tight end Hunter Henry. 

“This one hurts, man,” Henry said. “We’ve got a bunch of guys who battle…it doesn’t matter. Whoever goes down, the next guys steps up. This one hurts.”

Editor’s note: Feature image credit: Associated Press. Photo Caption: Los Angeles Chargers kicker Mike Badgley (4) attempts a field goal that was no good, forcing overtime, in the second half of an NFL football game in New Orleans, Monday, Oct. 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Butch Dill) 

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