COSTA MESA — For as painful as the Chargers’ last-second loss to the Las Vegas Raiders was last week, it could have been worse.
A deflated Chargers squad wasn’t forced to watch a pro-Raiders crowd celebrate at their home stadium after the officials determined tight end Donald Parham Jr. didn’t have possession of the seemingly game-winning touchdown catch.
They also avoided a week’s worth of repetitive storylines for why the team is struggling to gain fans in Los Angeles.
In that respect, the Chargers caught a break, and they haven’t had one since Randy Bullock shanked a last-second field goal in Cincinnati in the season opener.
As Chargers coach Anthony Lynn put it, they were kicked in the gut six times for six one-score losses during the first eight games of the season. It was a nightmare series of blown leads, last-second misery and a rash of injuries.
But, again, it could have been worse.
Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert doesn’t know what it’s like to use a silent count during home games. The Chargers have eight games left to keep it that way before fans are allowed back next season at SoFi Stadium.
They have eight more games to capitalize on Herbert’s historic rookie season to gain fans and momentum for next season. They have eight more games to prove they can win with Lynn and his coaching staff, and eight more games to avoid major roster changes.
“Can’t look at the bigger picture,” Chargers tight end Hunter Henry said about the final eight games. “I think right now we’re just focused on Miami, going down there, getting a win. … Take it week by week.”
By bigger picture, Henry likely means a playoff push, which might not be feasible at 2-6 and three games away from the final playoff spot. But they have eight more games to at least attempt that playoff push and take advantage of the many opportunities the Chargers still have in front of them.
If SoFi Stadium had fans last week, perhaps it could have been more of an even split between Chargers and Raiders fans. Herbert has given the Chargers’ fan base a jolt and his dynamic play has likely gained many new fans – evident from the fan voting Herbert has dominated six times this season to win the Pepsi Zero Sugar Rookie of the Week award.
But the Chargers need wins to take advantage of the buzz Herbert has created. They can still generate plenty of offseason attention if Herbert is able to lead the Chargers to at least eight wins.
The Chargers could be viewed as a trendy sleeper contender by the national media in 2021 just because Herbert is on the roster. It would be similar to how the Green Bay Packers are often picked to win the NFC North because Aaron Rodgers plays quarterback for them.
But another Chargers zombie walk toward a 5-11 finish could derail that offseason hype nationally and locally.
Los Angeles loves supporting new stars on high-scoring teams. Herbert and the Chargers are doing that. They’re just missing the wins.
The Chargers have scored 25 points or more in five consecutive games. If they reach that mark again versus the Miami Dolphins, they will tie a franchise record for the longest streak in a single season. Although, it doesn’t seem like much when compared to the Kansas City Chiefs’ scoring streak with quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The Chiefs have scored at least 23 points in 23 consecutive games.
The Chargers have a long way to catch the Chiefs, but they’re building a dominant offense with Herbert. The Chargers entered the week ranked second in the NFL with an average of 420 yards per game, trailing only the Arizona Cardinals at 422 yards. The Chargers were also ranked eighth in rushing yards per game with 135.6, and have increased that to 146 yards in the past four games.
Lynn deserves praise for the offensive numbers, but that has been forgotten because of the late-game blunders.
Lynn is an underrated running-game guru, Shane Steichen has flourished as an offensive play caller and quarterbacks coach Pep Hamilton has done wonders with Herbert. But this coaching staff could be headed toward a breakup if they don’t stack wins in the final eight games or at least display improvement in crunch time.
If the Chargers don’t turn it around, team owner Dean Spanos will need to decide if firing Lynn is worth the possibility of disrupting Herbert’s development.
Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley doesn’t have that type of leverage, but he can point to past film for what his predictable scheme can look like with a healthy Derwin James and Joey Bosa in the lineup. But Bradley might have used the injuries excuse last season. He has eight games to improve a sluggish defense that is allowing 31.8 points in the past five games.
As for the players, they have eight games to keep the core group intact. Edge rusher Melvin Ingram and Henry are scheduled to be free agents in the offseason. There’s also the possibility of surprise cuts.
A lengthy winning streak during the final eight games can keep the team intact and perhaps give Herbert an award not named after a soda. Offensive Rookie of the Year Justin Herbert has a nice ring to it.
The Chargers have eight more games to make Herbert’s rookie season truly count.
BOSA RULED OUT
Bosa wasn’t cleared from the concussion protocol and will miss his second consecutive game Sunday in Miami. The star pass rusher sustained a concussion in Week 8 versus the Denver Broncos.
Jerry Tillery and Isaac Rochell will split snaps to fill in for Bosa, according to Lynn.
Right guard Trai Turner (groin) and right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) were listed as questionable. Turner, who hasn’t played since Week 2, practiced fully the past two days.
Bulaga, who aggravated his back on the opening drive last week versus the Raiders, practiced fully Friday after starting the week as a limited participant.
“Until I see him running around the field tomorrow and make certain cuts and movements, I decide if he plays or not,” Lynn said about Turner.
“If I can have both Bulaga and Turner healthy, that would be a big lift, but what I can’t have is for one guy to go out and play one snap like we did last week and be gone for the rest of the game.”
Running back Justin Jackson (knee) was ruled out. Lynn said Kalen Ballage will be promoted from practice squad to replace Jackson. Running back Troymaine Pope (neck) was listed as questionable.