LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers clearly believe they should be playing for a postseason berth in December instead of playing out the string.
They know their 5-8 record says otherwise, but they haven’t given up on the chance to show what they can do this season. Although the Bolts were eliminated from playoff contention Sunday, it happened while they demolished the Jacksonville Jaguars 45-10 in a victory that demonstrated a measure of their talent.
A 35-point victory is also a great way to avoid losing another game by seven points or fewer, as the Chargers have done eight times this season. The win in Jacksonville snapped a three-game skid against AFC West rivals by a combined 12 points.
“It's been a tough stretch these past few weeks,” Chargers tight end Hunter Henry said Monday. “Not like we wanted it to be. But we can't do anything about the past, and we just wanted to focus on Jacksonville. We needed to jump on them, and we were able to do that.”
The Chargers’ struggles started with key injuries, while poor execution in the red zone and late-game situations doomed them to an irrelevant final month of games.
But fallen players are returning to the lineup, and Philip Rivers made almost none of the mistakes in Jacksonville that have plagued him in recent weeks. The result was a win befitting a team that won 21 regular-season games and beat Baltimore in the playoffs during its first two seasons under coach Anthony Lynn.
The Chargers’ offense looked impressive in Jacksonville, with coordinator Shane Steichen dialing up a game plan that made the most of the distinct talents of Rivers, his receivers and versatile running back Austin Ekeler, who had 112 yards receiving and 101 yards rushing.
For the longest stretch since Lynn unexpectedly fired offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt earlier this season, the Chargers showed the full scope of what Lynn imagined when he promoted Steichen to the play-calling role.
“I think Shane has been calling games very well,” Lynn said. “I think when we don't turn the ball over, we consistently move the ball up and down the field.”
The Chargers’ defense is putting up an outstanding season amid every larger disappointment. Los Angeles gave up a field goal on a solid 67-yard opening drive by Jacksonville, but allowed only 185 yards for the rest of the afternoon. Gus Bradley’s unit ranks fourth in the NFL in total defense, giving up just 304.8 yards per game. With star safety Derwin James back from injury, the Bolts are in position to finish strong while building for next season.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Practically nothing went wrong in Jacksonville, so the Chargers can build on the successes that went against their recent trends. Specifically, they can absorb the importance of getting off to a strong offensive start, which means Rivers won't have to play from behind so frequently. With the lead from the opening minutes, Los Angeles grinded out 195 yards rushing against the Jags and thoroughly controlled the game — something the Bolts have rarely done recently.
On his 38th birthday, Rivers showed he still has excellence in him. The veteran QB threw eight interceptions in the Chargers’ previous three games to spark whispers that he was finally showing his age, yet he was an interception-free 16 of 22 for 314 yards and three touchdowns against the Jags while surpassing 3,500 yards passing for the 12th straight season. Rivers’ future is still not settled, but a strong finish could essentially compel the Chargers to keep their franchise quarterback around in 2020.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman and defensive back Roderic Teamer were sent home from Jacksonville, apparently for missing a team meeting. They will return to the team this week, but their long-term futures in Los Angeles could be in jeopardy as well, particularly with Perryman losing playing time to rookie Drue Tranquill in recent weeks. Perryman has a contract for next year, but could be cut with little financial impact.
The Chargers reported no significant new injuries. Rookie defensive tackle Jerry Tillery wasn’t inactive in Jacksonville because of an injury, but because Lynn preferred veteran Sylvester Williams against the Jags’ run game.
100 — Ekeler topped the mark in both yards rushing and yards receiving. The former undrafted free agent from Western Colorado is the only member of the Chargers to accomplish the feat.
The Minnesota Vikings (9-4) visit Carson on Sunday. The Chargers’ first home game since Nov. 3 is very relevant to their opponent, and it’s also big for the Chargers’ future roommates in Inglewood: The Rams trail the Vikings by one game for the second NFC wild card playoff spot. “It's weird in a sense, but we'll go get the win for them and we can share that,” Tranquill said.