When the Chargers were sitting at the bottom of the NFL, winless after four games, questions should have been being asked. Cracks in the team’s foundation should have started to show.
The losing streak had essentially eliminated them from postseason contention since only one team in modern NFL history had recovered from such a horrendous start.
The Chargers, it seemed, were in for a long slog to mediocrity at best, and disaster at worst. But for Anthony Lynn, the team’s first-year coach, the problems were only going to be temporary.
“When we started out that way,” he said Monday, “I really wasn’t as concerned as maybe I should have been.”
Strangely enough, neither were the players.
The typical signs of frustration — inconsistent effort, finger pointing, hordes of players hiding out in the training room — it didn’t happen.
When faced with total disappointment, the team didn’t flinch.
“We’ve been through it before,” quarterback Philip Rivers said.
Nine weeks later, the Chargers are one of the hottest teams in the NFL and definitely the hottest team in the AFC West, somehow tied for first place with the Kansas City Chiefs and Oakland Raiders. They are in the thick of the wild-card race.
They are in this position, in part, thanks to their shortcomings in San Diego.
Over the last two seasons, the Chargers have taken more punches to the gut than a boxer, routinely losing games by a few points here and a few points there. Injuries have piled up. And the road they had to travel over the course of the season with a relocation hanging over their head? That was rough too.
But for the veterans on the Chargers who survived all the hiccups and hamstrings, the ones undeterred by the moving trucks, they knew how volatile an NFL season could be.
When something crashes down in a matter of weeks, it can be rebuilt just as quickly.
“Enough guys on this team have been in the league long enough to know that there are stretches where things can get bumpy and rocky,” Rivers said. “And the guys that have been here, we’ve been through it plenty of times.”
The experiences coupled with current training has helped affirm what Lynn hoped about the team during offseason work — that this would be a team capable of handling the adversity that an NFL schedule can dish out.
“This group meets once a month on team-building exercises right now. In the offseason, we did some things like that with this group as well,” Lynn said, declining to discuss specifics. “When guys are together like that and they learn to trust one another and play for one another, then, I believe, that’s when you see guys don’t abandon ship, guys continue to fight and believe in the process and in one another. …
“I don’t want to talk about the topics, but we get together into groups. We have a sports psychiatrist that’s on hand here, and he works with the guys as far as different things that we want to go over every single month. These guys talk it out. They do exercises. Some of it is mental training, some of it is focus and some of it is just trusting one another and being together.”
While the final four weeks of the season, and possibly the playoffs, will present the Chargers with all kinds of mental and physical challenges, the hope is they are prepared based on how they have recovered from the early-season woes.