by Evan Bruner
The Los Angeles Chargers fell to the Detroit Lions in a 41-38 thriller Sunday afternoon. The hotly-contested game featured two of the league’s premier offenses and culminated in a made field goal as time expired to give the Lions the win.
To the average fan, the game was exhilarating television, a consummate display of offensive excellence. For Chargers fans, however, this game leaves a different feeling. One of disgust, impatience, and even hopelessness. This is the Los Angeles Chargers experience in a microcosm: a competitive affair that ended in heartbreak. At first, a loss like this may be chalked up to bad luck or circumstance, but over time, it starts to be accepted as inevitable.
There are plenty of “cursed” NFL franchises. There are twelve teams that have never won a Super Bowl and four that have never made it to one. However, cursed and unsuccessful shouldn’t be used synonymously. What separates a team like the Chargers from the other lovable losers of the league is that they shouldn’t be this unsuccessful.
They have one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. At 25, Justin Herbert is the whole package. He has a howitzer for an arm, a massive frame, and an understanding of the X’s and O’s that’s among the best in the league. Entering this season, the Chargers had a promising group of pass catchers highlighted by Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, and Quentin Johnston, and running back Austin Ekeler.
On the other side of the ball, the elite pass-rushing tandem of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack has put the Chargers into the top three in total sacks. Additionally, Brandon Staley was hired for his innovative defensive philosophy that was supposed to take the Chargers defense to new heights.
On paper, this should, at the very least, be a playoff team, if not one of the heavyweights in the AFC. In reality, though, the Chargers are 4-5, unlikely to make the playoffs, and on the verge of another head coach firing. It’s a tale as old as time. Much like the Phillip Rivers-led Chargers teams of the 2010s or the Dan Fouts teams of the 1980s, it feels like they should be better.
From blowing a 27-point lead in last year’s playoff game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars to having the No. 1 rated offense and defense only to miss the playoffs in 2010, the Chargers have a knack for losing in unconventional ways. The Chargers are the NFL’s tragic comedy. They’re a team that continuously loses in improbable fashion to the point that it’s almost incomprehensible.
But for the Chargers, there’s little amusing about annual underperformance. The team finds itself in a seemingly inescapable dystopia. They have an elite young quarterback who’s being held back by the rest of the team, a defensive-minded head coach with one of the worst defenses in the league, and a trove of promising players who either can’t stay healthy or haven’t developed according to plan.
They have too many foundational pieces to just blow it up but aren’t nearly good enough to contend for anything meaningful. With Herbert’s rookie contract coming to an end and a massive extension soon going into effect, the Chargers will have to do the very thing they’ve failed to do for decades: persevere.