INGLEWOOD, CA – Don’t look now, but the Los Angeles Chargers are on a roll. That might be a bit too late for any type of solace to save their season. Nonetheless, the Chargers still have an opportunity to end the year with some positive momentum.
The bigger question here is will it be enough for the NFL ballclub to bring back head coach Anthony Lynn to continue guiding the meteoric rise of rookie quarterback Justin Herbert? It certainly won’t hurt.
To Lynn’s credit, following the Chargers’ embarrassing 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots in Week 13, Los Angeles has run off three straight wins. During their moderate win streak, the Chargers have played with lots of grit and plenty of fire. One more win in the regular-season finale against the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Chargers will look back at the year that could have been.
Denver quarterback Drew Lock has had a season full of regrets. Against the Chargers, Lock and the Broncos failed to take advantage of their red zone chances, a definite no-no if you plan on winning in the NFL.
“I’m going to have to go back and watch again,” Lock said. It’s pretty fast when you’re out there, you got to forget about the last drive and take some of the notes away from the drive and put it on in the next one. I’m going to say it again, Broncos fans are probably going to get tired of me saying this, it’s probably just the little things.
Seven of the Chargers’ nine defeats this season have been by one score. The one identity that Lynn has branded his Chargers teams with toughness. Under Lynn, the Chargers don’t just roll over; they fight. And they had to fight and scrap their way to victory against the Denver Broncos on Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
“I thought it was a hard-fought game — a game team win,” Lynn said. “It took all three phases to win that game and we knew playing the Broncos, it was going to be physical. I thought the offense — they made plays when they needed to make plays. The defense bent but it did not break. I thought the special teams — they made their kicks and covered well and had a nice return so — I credit all three phases for that win and I thought they guys hung in there and did a good job. We talked about focus, finish and fight; and I thought I saw all three things on the football field.”
The Chargers’ 19-16 win against the Broncos in their last home game of the regular season was nothing spectacular. The Chargers were without two of their biggest stars in wide receiver Keenan Allen and edge rusher Joey Bosa, both of whom were put on the inactive list for the game.
And somehow, Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn and his team manage to fin a way to scrape out a victory. It wasn’t pretty, but the way things have gone for the Chargers this season, Lynn and his team will take a win anytime and any way they can get it.
“It’s always been there we just haven’t executed some down the stretch so it’s good to see the hard work that it pays off for these young men because they work hard,” Lynn said. “Situational awareness and things like that we practice those drills all the time and you could see that playing out on the football field, it’s nice to see.”
The last time the Chargers and the Broncos squared off this season in the first of their two annual hookups, the road team got the short end of the stick. That was back on Nov.1. The Chargers were pretty much having their way against the Broncos for most of the game, jumping out to a 21-point third-quarter lead (24-3).
It turned out to be a mirage as Denver rallied from the double-digit deficit to eventually pull off an improbable 31-30 Week 8 win. That defeat to their AFC West Division rivals and the way lost the game (a 1-yard touchdown pass thrown by quarterback Drew Lock as time expired at the end of the game), looks like it had done some damage on the Chargers’ season.
That loss to Denver kicked off a three-game losing streak for the Chargers. And before their 20-17 Week 14 win against the Atlanta Falcons, the Chargers went on a 1-5 slump after their first tangle against Denver. The good news for the Chargers is that the Broncos had not been playing like doorbusters themselves before the two team’s second encounter for the year at SoFi Stadium.
During its last seven games before playing the Chargers, the Broncos won just two of those contests. So, what we’re looking at in Week 16 are two teams stumbling to the finish line of an unprecedented NFL season. Both teams come into this game posting identical 5-9 records and tied at the bottom of the AFC West Division cellar.
Denver’s problem may lie in the fact the team can’t finish drives. The Broncos had seven drives in Chargers territory. Out of that number, only one resulted in Denver getting a touchdown.
“Yeah, we didn’t finish them, obviously,” Denver coach Vic Fangio said after the game. “We threw a red zone interception, we missed a field goal — you know, that’s six points right there, at least. We got to come up with points when you get into the other team’s territory and obviously, we didn’t do a good job of that today.”
With nothing left to play for except for franchise pride, the Chargers want to end their disappointing season on a high note. A win against Denver and a victory against the Kansas City Chiefs in their season finale would equate to the team ending the year on a positive tip. To keep their win streak intact, the Chargers had to beat the Broncos without the playmaking Allen and Bosa.
Allen caught nine passes against Denver in the Chargers’ last go-round against the Broncos. Without his security blanket sitting on the bench, Herbert had to make do with his other offensive weapons to lead the Chargers. He did pretty well in that area, going for 253 yards through the air and eclipsing the 4,000-yard passing mark on the season.
For good measure, Herbert validated his status as the frontrunner to the NFL Rookie of the Year Award when he etched his name above Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield with the most touchdown passes in a season by a rookie when he hooked up with running back Austin Ekeler for a 9-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter to give the Chargers a 10-0 lead.
Herbert said the record is something the whole team can feel proud of.
“I think it means a bunch to our team,” Herbert said. “I think it’s a sign of all the hard work we’ve put into this offseason and throughout these months of football – to have the guys up front and receivers and running backs that make a lot of plays, it all goes to them as well.”
Herbert’s 4,034 yards (and counting) passing puts him at the No. 4 position all-time among rookie performances. Herbert would need those passing totals to conduct his third straight game-winning drive after Denver rallied from being down from double-digits to tie the ballgame at 16-16 late in the game.
Herbert then maneuvered the Chargers into position for a 37-yard field goal by Michael Badgley with 45 seconds left in the game. But just like in the first game against the Broncos, Denver was in a position to steal another last-second victory. This time was a no-go for the Broncos as Mike Williams intercepted Lock’s Hail-Mary toss at the end of the game.
With the Chargers securing their third win in a row, Herbert said it’s definitely a confidence booster.
“It’s huge. In the NFL you have to find a way to win games,” Herbert said. “There’s a way to do it and a way not to do it. We kind of experienced that in the first half of this season, but as these games have gone on I think our team has begun to learn and we’ve gotten better. We have watched the film; we’ve had good weeks of practice and we’ve gotten better. That’s one of the best things to see. I know that no one is going to give up like I mentioned earlier, so it’s been great to see.”