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Chargers are good now and might be even better after their bye week

Through seven weeks, they’ve been one of the better teams in the NFL.

Now, the Chargers are on their scheduled break, giving them a chance to be something else.

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“We got time to just be off and be dads or friends or sons,” defensive lineman Damion Square said. “Whatever you are just go be that. Enjoy being off because we gotta come back and we gotta keep rolling.”

Square and his teammates arrived at their off week with four consecutive victories and a 5-2 record. The final two wins came on a 10-day trip to Cleveland and London.

After frantically holding on to beat Tennessee 20-19 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday, the Chargers jetted home flying so high they might not have needed the airplane.

Before departing England, Square explained that the bonding on the roughly 11,000-mile trip would help the Chargers when they make the playoffs. And he was talking about this season.

Yes, the expectation of playing into January remains in place more than ever for the AFC West second-place Chargers whose losses came to the teams with the league’s two best records.

Over their final nine regular-season games, their performance will be measured against the perception that they are one of the six best teams in the conference.

“I think we’re a phenomenal group,” defensive tackle Brandon Mebane said. “We’re on our way to doing great things, I believe. We gotta just keep striving for the best.”

The Chargers have been good and they could be better soon. Pro Bowl defensive end Joey Bosa has been out since training camp because of a bone bruise in his left foot.

He has maintained that he could return around Week 9. But given the nature of the injury — Bosa was first hurt in August and then suffered a reaggravation in September — very little has been definitive during his recovery.

In just the last few days, the speculation in various media reports has ranged from Bosa being back in time for the Chargers’ next game to him remaining sidelined indefinitely.

Until he’s able to fully test his foot in a practice setting, nothing will be certain about Bosa beyond the fact the Chargers will be better when he is playing again -- be it next month or next season.

While Bosa’s injury has been an ongoing concern, Melvin Gordon just went down with a hamstring issue Friday and had to miss the game against Tennessee.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said he held out Gordon because he didn’t want the injury to linger. He also said he hoped Gordon wouldn’t miss any more games.

Melvin Gordon, shown running against Cleveland on Oct. 14, missed Sunday's game against Tennessee with a hamstring issue.
Melvin Gordon, shown running against Cleveland on Oct. 14, missed Sunday's game against Tennessee with a hamstring issue. (David Richard / Associated Press)

But nothing is set regarding the status of the team’s star running back, either. Gordon’s pregame on-field workout Sunday to test his hamstring didn’t last long before he was forced to stop.

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Whatever happens, the Chargers are two healed body parts away from being a better and deeper team than they were when they beat the Titans.

If Bosa and Gordon can return for the next game, the Chargers’ chances of winning in Seattle increase notably. Still, the Seahawks and their celebrated 12th Man are never an easy assignment.

After that game, though, the Chargers play at Oakland and then have consecutive home dates against Denver and Arizona. All three of those games appear to be abundantly winnable.

A tougher stretch follows, but the next four weeks could position the Chargers well as it relates to playoff possibilities entering December.

“We know we’ve got a pretty good team, but it’s about putting it together,” cornerback Casey Hayward said. “We gotta find a way to get into the second half of the season and play even better.”

What have the Chargers learned about themselves so far? Well, rookie safety Derwin James might be better than anyone thought. Philip Rivers has plenty left at age 36 and in his 13th season as a starter. The defense is improving.

Still, at some point, they’re going to have to secure a major, signature-type victory — probably on the road. Their kicking situation could kick them in the chops at any moment. And their third-down defense — 30th in the league — better improve.

Through seven games, the Chargers seem to be just about where they should be. These next nine games will determine where they really belong.

“No relaxing whatsoever now,” safety Adrian Phillips said. “It’s great that we get a bye week. We’re getting it at the right time. But when we come back we have to pick right back up again. There’s no half-stepping.”

No, there isn’t. Not for a team that’s all-in.

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