“Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”
That famous quote came from the hit television series, Friday Night Lights. The show debuted in 2006.
In 2006, the San Diego Chargers couldn’t lose. The Bolts finished with a franchise-best 14 wins. Quarterback Philip Rivers was in his first year as the starter. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson set the record for the most touchdowns in a single season with 31.
Man, that seems like a lifetime ago.
10 years later, the Chargers are 4-6 and sitting in last place in the AFC West with six games remaining. Despite their record, the Chargers have played like one of the better teams in football up until the fourth quarter. Late meltdowns led to heartbreaking loss after heartbreaking loss. All six of their losses have been by eight points or less, so that should tell you something.
And the Chargers’ latest loss, a 31-24 defeat at home (if you could call it that) against the Miami Dolphins, likely ended any hope the team had in returning to the postseason for the first time since 2013. They are now 3-5 in their conference and 1-3 in their division. The Chargers have made the playoffs just once since 2009, which also marks the last year where they won the division.
To make things worse, it’s looking like the Chargers will finish in last place for the second year in a row, something we haven’t seen since the 2000-01 seasons. The Chargers’ divisional opponents (Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs) all have seven wins. All three just can’t seem to lose, which is greatly hurting the Chargers’ chances.
And usually around this time, we still have hope. Remember, Rivers’ record in December is 32-13, a career-best for the five-time Pro Bowler.
But it just feels like all that hope is lost. Let’s just take a quick look at what has transpired this season.
Melvin Gordon has enjoyed an incredible sophomore year. Through 10 games, Gordon is leading the league in carries (217), ranks second in total touchdowns (11) and has the third-most rushing yards (839). He’s even doing damage as a pass-catcher (346 receiving yards on 33 catches). Unfortunately, two costly second-half fumbles put the Chargers in a bad spot in games against the New Orleans Saints (Week 4) and Oakland Raiders (Week 5), both games in which the Bolts ended up losing.
Speaking of late-quarter blunders, the Chargers have been outscored 172-137 in the second half. Mental errors (muffing punts and running the wrong routes are good examples) and questionable play-calling (are you still confused on why the Chargers didn’t run the ball once on four tries on Denver’s 2-yard line? Because I am..), have killed the Bolts. In terms of play-calling, I get that Rivers is the leader on offense, but why aren’t you putting the ball in the hands of Gordon, who’s been running hard with confidence, on short-yardage situations? Rivers is 10-for-22 on third- and fourth-and-short (nine first downs). Meanwhile, Gordon has converted 10 first downs on just 14 carries in those situations. Maybe it’s time to pass the torch to Gordon–or run it over to him.
Speaking of Rivers, the 34-year-old is having a good year. He is third in the league with 2,886 passing yards. He’s tied for fifth with 20 touchdowns. But after throwing just one interception in the first four games, Rivers has thrown 10 interceptions in the last six contests, including a four-interception game against the Dolphins. I hate to say it, but he cost his team a victory on Sunday. He’s been under pressure all season (25 sacks) and is clearly flustered. Don’t get me wrong, there’s no doubt that Rivers is one of the reasons why this team is competitive, but of the 10 quarterbacks who have been sacked the most, only Matt Ryan (Falcons) and Sam Bradford (Vikings) have their respective teams above .500. My point? You’re less likely to win if you don’t win the battle of the trenches–Joseph Barksdale, what happened?
The Chargers have the No. 4 overall offense. They are scoring 29.4 points per game, which is good for third-best behind the Atlanta Falcons and Saints. They lead the league in total first downs (228), too. Unfortunately, the Chargers’ turnover differential is -3, which is tied for 21st in the league. They rank last with 22 giveaways. You can’t win if your’e losing in that category.
The Chargers’ defense may rank No. 28 overall, but they have a bunch of impact players making big plays. Casey Hayward, who was signed in the offseason, leads the league with five interceptions. Veteran OLB Melvin Ingram leads the team with six sacks, and rookie DE Joey Bosa is Pro Football Focus’ No. 5-rated edge defender. Bosa has only played in six games, but the difference with him on the field is incredible. The Chargers have 19 total takeaways, which is third-best behind the Chiefs (22) and Broncos (20).
And after so many years of being unable to stop the run, the Chargers, who finished No. 27 and No. 26 overall in rushing defense the last two seasons, rank No. 9 overall in 2016. They are allowing just 87.4 rushing yards per game, which is good for sixth-best. Unfortunately, they lead the league in rushing touchdowns allowed (14). Also, the defense has allowed teams to complete 39.5 percent on third-down plays and 63.3 percent of fourth-down plays, which ranks in the bottom half of the league.
And with all that said, do you know what the worst part is (aside from not knowing whether or not the Chargers will stay in San Diego)? The absurd amount of injuries.
Good grief, look at the names DT Brandon Mebane will be joining on Chargers IR. pic.twitter.com/WFFENCXvS2
— Stephen Cohen (@scohenPI) November 15, 2016
And that’s not even mentioning key players who have missed several games but aren’t on the injured reserve. On a positive note, it’s been nice to see players like Tyrell Williams flourish after being forced into the starters’ role.
The Chargers have been hurting themselves in key situations all year long. What’s frustrating is that when one group plays well, the other can’t seem to do its job. Even with all the injuries, the Chargers have kept themselves in every game and should have a winning record, but luck hasn’t been in their favor. They collapse in crucial moments–and head coach Mike McCoy deserves majority of the blame.
I never advocate one to give up, but can the Bolts really come back from all of this? Unless the Chargers miraculously go on a six-game winning streak–along with the rest of the AFC West losing some games–we should look forward to the 2017 season.
At least there is some hope there, right?