The Chargers entered Sunday tied atop the AFC and among the league leaders in feel-good generated through five games.
Then, their sixth game arrived.
“Today let us know what we need to work on,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “But being 4-2 …we’re not mad at the world. The world is not over.”
No, it’s not. But the buzz the Chargers created around the NFL with their fast start was suddenly and decidedly silenced by a 34-6 defeat to Baltimore.
They fell behind 17-0 midway through the second quarter. Their running backs rushed for 14 yards. They were unable to sustain any drives for longer than nine plays.
“They beat us today,” coach Brandon Staley said. “They out-executed our guys and our coaches. We need to learn from it.”
The Chargers dropped passes. They gave up 92 rushing yards on the Ravens’ first two drives. Tristan Vizcaino missed another extra point, his fifth of the season.
Their fourth-down magic ended when the offense failed to convert three times in four tries. They were three of 12 on third down. Their 10 full possessions netted just a single touchdown, on a one-yard pass.
“Today did not go well,” Staley said. “That happens in the NFL. Sometimes you lose to a team that beats you.”
So the Chargers enter their off week following a loss but knowing they lost to a team considered to be among the best in the conference.
They also know they survived a rough six-game run to open their first season under Staley, a rookie head coach, with a share of first place in the AFC West.
“That’s as tough of the stretch as you’re going to face, for me, in the league …” Staley said. “I felt like we made it through with our heads held high.”
The Chargers beat Washington and Kansas City on the road and Las Vegas and Cleveland at home. Their other loss came against Dallas at SoFi Stadium.
As of mid-October, at least, the reminder of their schedule appears to lighten up, starting on Halloween afternoon at home against New England.
“I think the competition in the first six weeks,” Staley said, “has given us a really accurate look at where we can go as a team.”
Before the Chargers can go anywhere, they first have to bounce back. They were convincingly defeated by a Ravens team that never gave up control after scoring on its first two series.
The Chargers began with an encouraging, nine-play drive but then produced a pair of three-and-outs. They never again would get closer than the halftime score of 17-6.
Justin Herbert and his playmakers lacked the timing that carried the group into Sunday. Mike Williams caught only two passes. Austin Ekeler totaled just 55 yards from scrimmage. Jared Cook had a long catch of 11 yards.
Perhaps most telling of all, Keenan Allen was not targeted in the second quarter or the third quarter, the three-time Pro Bowler entering the final 15 minutes with only two targets and two catches — for 14 yards.
“There was a ton of stuff in the plan for Keenan,” Staley said. “Sometimes, whether it’s a pressure look or it’s a cover, the ball didn’t go there early. We certainly want to get him the ball whenever we can because he’s so dynamic.”
Herbert admitted the Ravens ran some things on defense that the Chargers hadn’t seen before Sunday. He praised Baltimore for disguising its pressures and coverages.
He said he had to “be smarter” on a pass attempt to Cook that was intercepted. He repeatedly lamented a lack of execution. He said the offense as a whole has “to be better at adjusting” in-game to the unexpected.
Defensively, the Chargers limited Lamar Jackson’s explosiveness — Baltimore’s longest play was a 22-yard Jackson scramble — but couldn’t prevent him from keeping the ball.
The Ravens had a 27-14 edge in first downs and a time of possession advantage in excess of 16 minutes. They turned what was forecast to be one of the NFL’s most-watched games Sunday into one of its least interesting.
“They came out, got two quick touchdowns and kind of caught everybody off guard,” James said. “Not that we weren’t prepared … but we just have to be better from the start.”
Now, the Chargers get a break, a week to recover physically and mentally and re-evaluate where they are and where they might he heading.
“I know that we’ve played six really good teams,” Staley said. “We beat four really good teams. We lost to two really good teams. That’s what I told the team. I think that’s where the truth is.”
Only on Sunday, the truth for the Chargers hit a little harder.