Each year, the Los Angeles Chargers are the team that could have been. Is this the year they put it all together?
For Chargers fans, it’s become routine. Training camp rolls around, players impress and the national media pegs the team as a dark horse Super Bowl contender. Expectations are high.
But year after year, without fail, something goes wrong. It’s something different each year. Sometimes it’s an injury, or a slew of them. Sometimes it’s an ice-cold start or simply running into a dynasty at its peak.
In 2006 and 2007 — the heart of the LaDainian Tomlinson era — they ran into an insurmountable obstacle by the name of Tom Brady. The 2009 divisional playoff brought a blown fourth-quarter lead to the infamous Mark Sanchez and his Jets.
From 2010 to 2012, the Chargers started 2-5, 4-7 and 4-8. Each season seemed to be lost by November until the Chargers made a late run. They finished those seasons, respectively, 7-2, 4-1 and 3-1. But it was always too little, too late. If it weren’t for the sluggish starts, these teams would’ve been in the postseason as the hottest team in football.
The Mike McCoy era brought more of the same. The Chargers were unfortunate enough to cross paths with Peyton Manning and the record-setting Denver Broncos offense in the divisional round of the 2013 playoffs.
In 2014, the Chargers played a win-and-you’re-in Week 17 game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who were without starting quarterback Alex Smith. The Chargers put up a paltry seven points. But, of course, they were down to their fifth starting center of the year and their most-feared outside weapon that day was a guy by the name of Seyi Ijirotutu.
In 2017, Los Angeles started 0-4. They won nine of their final 12 games, only missing the playoffs by virtue of a tiebreaker.
So when tight end Hunter Henry tore his ACL on the first day of OTAs in May, no one was shocked. Then defensive end Joey Bosa suffered a foot injury in August that would keep him out until November. The team lost two of its first three games in September. Chargers fans had been here before.
But much to their delight – and their surprise – it’s all come full circle for LA this season. Thursday night, they trailed the No. 1 seeded Kansas City Chiefs by 14 with less than five minutes to go at Arrowhead Stadium — arguably the toughest place in the NFL to play. But they managed to sneak out with a one-point victory over the dominant Chiefs, capped by a gutsy two-point conversion to take the lead with four seconds to play.
It’s the second time in three weeks that the Chargers have found a way to come back from a two-touchdown deficit as a road underdog against an AFC playoff contender. They trailed the Pittsburgh Steelers 23-7 at Heinz Field late in the third quarter in Week 13. They went on to win 33-30 on a field goal as time expired.
By going into the cold and beating the teams they’ll be competing with in January, these warm-weather Chargers have become the hottest team in football — and maybe the most dangerous. After all, it’s not about who is the best team when the postseason rolls around, it’s about who’s playing the best football.
Head coach Anthony Lynn has the Chargers believing they can knock off anyone.
“I had a lot of confidence in the players,” Lynn said, according to Gilbert Manzano of the Orange Country Register. “We were going to go for two the whole time at the end of that game because I believe in these guys.”
It’s easy to see why. This is a motivated bunch, led by one of the fieriest leaders of his generation in Philip Rivers. The stars may be finally aligning in Los Angeles after they were so close to doing so on numerous occasions in San Diego.
In a year where the AFC is as wide-open as its ever been, the Chargers are set to make a run for the No. 1 seed and home-field advantage. On the heels of the most impressive win in the NFL this season, who’s stopping them?