The Chargers just lost back-to-back games they led early and often, and led well into the fourth quarter.
They lost to two teams surging toward the postseason, the same destination they’re trying to reach.
They lost momentum, ground and time — all while gaining something?
“We’re [ticked] off,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “Hurt. Angry. Frustrated. I don’t mean that in a negative sense. Those two games opened our eyes to know that we have what it takes. Honestly, I think this has only made us more hungry.”
So, coming off defeats to San Francisco and Kansas City, the Chargers enter Sunday starving for a victory at Arizona. Overall, they’ve lost three of four to fall to 5-5 and ninth in the AFC.
They trail New England by half a game and Cincinnati and the New York Jets by one game. With Thanksgiving behind them, the Chargers still have plenty ahead as the final push approaches.
“I think we’ve gotten better the past two weeks,” Joseph-Day said. “Does it still sting? Obviously. I’m not going to make up anything. This league is about winning, right? But the way those games went I think ignited a flame in us.”
The Chargers could have beaten the 49ers and Chiefs, but they failed to close out either as they lost the two fourth quarters by a combined 23-7. The Kansas City defeat was particularly potent in that it was decided in the final minute.
This franchise hasn’t been to the playoffs since after the 2018 season and missing out again likely would invite doubt about everything from the office of general manager Tom Telesco on down.
Still, with a roster rebuilt in the offseason to contend, the Chargers say they remain on pace despite the numerous injuries that at times have left the entire team limping.
“Around here, we’re thinking about what we know,” center Corey Linsley said. “We know what we can do when we’re all together and all committed. The commitment level has never wavered. That’s always been there and will be.”
“I think we’ve gotten better the past two weeks. Does it still sting? Obviously. I’m not going to make up anything. This league is about winning, right? But the way those games went I think ignited a flame in us.”
— Chargers defensive end Sebastian Joseph-Day
The Chargers also have something quite tangible leaning in their favor — a schedule that offers encouragement, especially in comparison to the three teams immediately ahead of them.
Only two of the Chargers’ remaining opponents — Miami and Tennessee — are in position today to make the playoffs. The combined winning percentage of the seven teams they’re still set to play: .437.
For the Patriots, that opponent winning percentage is .571. For the Bengals, .611. And for the Jets, .540.
“What happened last week and the week before that, it’s part of the league,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “You’re going to have stretches like that where you have really tough ones where you feel like you are right there and you don’t make [the plays]. It’s what you do moving forward.”
Joseph-Day said the toughest part about the loss to the Chiefs was the defense’s inability to stop Patrick Mahomes in the closing two minutes. Kansas City went 75 yards in six plays to score immediately after the Chargers had taken the lead.
Joseph-Day and the defense rose up at the end to produce game-securing moments in victories over Las Vegas, Houston and Cleveland. But Mahomes, like he has so often against so many, befuddled the Chargers with his arm and his legs.
“He didn’t beat us,” Joseph-Day said. “We beat us. You can put that in the paper. I don’t care who it was over there. It could have been Joe Schmo, Tom Brady. I had belief in us and the guys we had out there. I believed in my guys. I can’t wait. I hope we play them again.”
The Chargers now have lost twice to Kansas City, a third meeting possible only in the playoffs.
If they fail to rally over their final seven games, the Chargers would be three years into the record-setting career of Justin Herbert without a postseason appearance.
“He’s another reason why it’s rather easy to buy in,” Linsley said of the team’s young Pro Bowl quarterback. “You got a guy like that who literally breathes hope into your team. That’s a blessing. We gotta take advantage of it.”