The Chargers are finally lucky AND good
The Chargers are off to their best start to a season in over a decade. The Los Angeles Chargers are notoriously snakebit. Whether injuries or bad bounces, they’ve always stepped on the rake other teams manage to avoid. In 2016, the Chargers had 15 players on injured reserve before they even took the field in Week 1. Then they lost star receiver Keenan Allen to a torn ACL in the season opener. In 2017, the Chargers started the season with four consecutive losses so heartbreaking and improbable that a Wall Street Journal analyst calculated there were one-in-30 million odds a team wouldn’t win at least one of those games. There are unlucky teams and then there are the Chargers, who take misfortune to another level. So it felt like more of the same when the team lost tight end Hunter Henry to a torn ACL in OTAs and cornerback Jason Verrett to a torn Achilles just before training camp. They still haven’t seen Joey Bosa this season due to a bone bruise in the defensive end’s foot. But for the first time in a long time, the Chargers are winning anyway. Earlier this season, we asked if it was time to finally believe in Los Angeles’ other team. Now at 6-2, it’s safe to think that the Chargers are a contender. A 25-17 win in Week 9 against the Seattle Seahawks — their fifth consecutive victory — is just the latest piece of evidence to back that up. This start is the franchise’s best first half of a season since LaDainian Tomlinson’s record-breaking year in 2006, which ended with a 14-2 record. They’re not just rattling off wins, either. They’re actually finding a big of good fortune along the way. The Chargers have been impossible to trust for years, but now this red-hot team is primed to give the Kansas City Chiefs a run for their money in the latter half of the season. Are the Chargers ... lucky?! Kicker Caleb Sturgis missed two extra points and a field goal in that eight-point win against the Seahawks. If you’ve watched the Chargers at all in the last few years, you were probably waiting for those miscues to come back to haunt them. They never did. Instead, the Chargers comfortably put away Seattle, even if a Seahawks touchdown in the final minutes made the score appear closer than the game actually was. Kicking woes certainly aren’t new. Four different kickers handled the job for the Chargers in 2017, and no team missed more field goals (10) or extra points (five). It’s been more of the same in 2018, and now Sturgis has been released. But the difference is that the misses haven’t cost the Chargers games. It’s not exactly great news to survive those kind of repeated mistakes, but it probably qualifies as such for the Chargers. And for all the injuries the Chargers picked up before the regular season started, they’ve been relatively healthy through the first half of their schedule. They have six players on injured reserve — the lowest total in the AFC West. The division-leading Chiefs have 11. The biggest injury story of the season for Los Angeles has been the recovery of Bosa. It’s still unclear if the Chargers will get the defensive end back at all in 2018, but he told the team’s website last week that he’s finally making progress. “I actually got in some three-point stances. I’ve been running straight ahead,” Bosa said. “The fastest times I’ve run yet. I’m feeling good. Straight ahead is really good right now. Not much discomfort. “The second my foot is ready (to) practice on a Wednesday, I will play that week. Whether it be next week (or) two weeks from now, I’m feeling very confident in the way it’s progressing that I’ll be out there in the next few weeks ready to go.” But what’s especially encouraging for the Chargers about the impending return of Bosa is that they’re doing just fine without him. The Chargers offense is leading the way There are so many quarterbacks putting together ridiculous seasons that it’s hard to truly appreciate all of them. Among those passers flying under the radar is Philip Rivers, who has a passer rating of 116.5 — behind only Drew Brees’ 120.6 and Patrick Mahomes’ 116.7. Rivers has 2,236 passing yards, 19 touchdowns, and three interceptions through the first half of the year. With him in the backfield is Melvin Gordon, who’s averaging 5.41 yards per carry. That’s the best average in the NFL among running backs with over 100 rushing attempts this season. The Chargers are above the league average or elite at just about everything they do on offense: The defense hasn’t been quite as smooth. Only five teams have given up more pass plays of 20 or more yards than the Chargers. The bright side is that a lot of that damage came against the Chiefs and Rams — two of the NFL’s most unstoppable offenses and the Chargers’ only two losses of the year. Since then, the defense hasn’t allowed an opposing offense to score more than two touchdowns. Derwin James and Desmond King have quickly emerged as two of the best playmaking defensive backs in the NFL, and the pass rush has still managed 22 sacks without Bosa. The Chargers aren’t the best in the NFL at anything, but it’s hard to find an area where they’re any worse than average. There’s no egregious holes to exploit, and that’s why they’re choking out teams on a weekly basis. With extremely winnable games in the next three weeks against the Raiders, Broncos, and Cardinals, the Chargers could stretch their win streak into December. There’s even a chance the Week 15 rematch against the Chiefs on Thursday Night Football won’t just be for the AFC West lead, but a first-round bye in the playoffs. There’s always the threat they’ll go back to being a cursed franchise. But for the first time in a long time, the Chargers look like a team ready to do damage in January.