The Chargers finished the regular season by winning three of four games.
Then they beat Baltimore to open the playoffs before losing to the eventual Super Bowl winners from New England.
Digging deeper, however, coach Anthony Lynn admits now that he didn’t like how his team was performing.
“When I looked at the last quarter of our season, do I think we were playing our best football?” he asked Tuesday at the NFL’s annual owners meetings. “No, I do not.”
So Lynn, entering his third season, said he planned to manage the workload of the Chargers veterans more in 2019 in an attempt to keep everyone fresher.
The team concluded the 2018 regular season by beating fading Cincinnati at home, winning dramatically in Kansas City, losing to Baltimore and quarterback Lamar Jackson at home and then winning at Denver in a game that ended up mattering little.
“I think when veteran players are starting to show a little wear, it’s too late,” Lynn said. “I think we have to start resting guys a little sooner. We’ll see how it goes.”
He explained that the rest could come during practice or games, though convincing otherwise able NFL players to purposely sit out isn’t always the easiest sell.
Lynn said that quarterback Philip Rivers and center Mike Pouncey — as veterans and first-year teammates — talked him into practicing at times against his better judgment so they could continue working on their communication.
“That won’t be so easy this year,” Lynn promised.
Resting also was the main thing Lynn said he asked of running back Melvin Gordon entering the offseason.
Going into his fifth year, Gordon struggled to remain healthy as 2018 unfolded. He missed four games because of injury and was wearing braces on both knees by the end.
“He’s a workaholic,” Lynn said. “I don’t want him overworking. I really want him to take a good month off and just do nothing and trust that when he comes back we’re going to get him right.
“A lot of these guys, they leave for that time off and they get with their personal trainers and gurus and continue to work and grind. You can only make so many cuts in a year. I’d rather he make those cuts with us.”
Lynn limited Gordon’s carries during the season, routinely working in backup Austin Ekeler. Gordon averaged 14.6 attempts per game in 2018 compared with 17.8 the season before.
Lynn has said he’ll continue employing multiple backs in order to lessen the load on Gordon.
As a former NFL running back, Lynn said he understands the need players feel to work out and practice as much as possible. Now as an NFL coach, he said he understands how important it is to rest, particularly for a player such as Gordon.
“You have to watch him,” Lynn said. “You can’t let him overdo it because he’s going to get the bulk of the load when it’s all said and done. You can’t overwork him. I don’t think we did.”
Gordon, who turns 26 in April, is entering the final year of his contract. General manager Tom Telesco has said the team would consider extending Gordon before the start of the 2019 season.
The Chargers are scheduled to officially begin their offseason training program at their Costa Mesa facility on April 15.
“There are just some things I’m going to do differently this year,” Lynn said. “I’m not going to do the same things and hope for different results. I just want to make sure we’re playing our best football down the stretch.”
One player who is expected to be a full participant when the Chargers reconvene in mid-April is tight end Hunter Henry, who was sidelined for the 2018 regular season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
Henry, who hurt himself in May, eventually made it back and appeared in the AFC division-round playoff loss to the Patriots. His healthy return will give Rivers another significant receiving weapon.
“It will be good to have him back out there,” Lynn said. “I like what I saw at the end of the season. He showed me enough to put him in the game and make him active. So I have no doubt he’ll be ready to go.”
Rivers, 37, has not missed a start since taking over in 2006 after the departure of Drew Brees. He too is in the final year of his contract and has indicated he wants to play at least two more seasons.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos said this week he was “pleasantly surprised but not surprised, if that makes any sense” at how well his quarterback played last year.
Rivers completed 68.3% of his passes, his second most-accurate season, and had a quarterback rating of 105.5, matching the second best of his career.
“He’s fiercely competitive,” Spanos said. “If you put the players around them that he needs to be successful, he’s so smart. You can’t beat that, that intelligence. I’m really happy he’s playing this well, let me put it to you that way.”