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Chargers staying focused on next game and not disheartening loss

Chargers staying focused on next game and not disheartening loss
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers warms up before an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos on Nov. 18. (Kelvin Kuo / Associated Press)

Losing was bad enough. Losing to a touchdown underdog, at home, amid a deluge of blunders, their six-game winning streak shattered, was also forgettable.

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Then the Chargers watched as their L.A. neighbors, just a day later, on national television, produced a game some experts are calling the NFL’s most memorable.

Quarterback Philip Rivers, still stinging from the Chargers’ last-second 23-22 defeat to Denver, tuned in to the Rams’ 54-51 victory over Kansas City on Monday night.

He appreciated the all-you-can-eat offense, said the game was captivating, a fun one to witness.

“Other than that,” Rivers said, “we’ve got more to worry about. We’ve got to worry about the [Arizona] Cardinals, worry about ourselves.”

In the span of less than 36 hours, the Chargers’ current reality was on glaring display.

Having lost a game they know they should have won, they were disappointed and sitting at 7-3, the third-best record in the AFC, but still overshadowed in their own division, own city and, for some home dates, own stadium.

A team that had just spent six games making all kinds of noise suddenly was again wrapped in relative silence.

“People talk down on different teams all the time,” tight end Virgil Green said. “But, at the end of the day, every team has high-caliber players and can win every week. This is still the NFL. It’s still special.”

Green played the first seven seasons of his career in Denver, where the popularity of the Broncos peaks at roughly the same height as the local mountains do.

He won Super Bowl 50 there. He was a teammate of Peyton Manning there. He said the belief in Denver was that the Broncos had displaced Dallas as “America’s Team.”

Green also played with Tim Tebow there, Tebow attracting the sort of attention entire franchises covet.

“It really was crazy,” Green said. “You had kids, women, grown men yelling, screaming for Tim Tebow. I’ve never see anything like it. It was just weird to see people glorify somebody in that manner.”

The biggest difference now, Green said, is on the road, where the Chargers can check in to a hotel and cause a ripple, at best.

Even with a Rivers, a Joey Bosa, a Keenan Allen, Green explained that this group travels with the anonymity that can come from working behind a facemask.

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During training camp, running back Melvin Gordon admitted he’s recognized in public. Then — as if telling a joke — he delivered the punch line: He’s often mistaken for being Todd Gurley.

“All that stuff is outside noise,” punter Donnie Jones said. “I honestly don’t think players care about it. Our focus is our 53 and what we have to do to be successful. That’s what matters. That’s what we care about.”

Before signing with the Chargers this season, Jones played five seasons in Philadelphia. He was on the team that won the NFL’s latest Super Bowl.

Shortly after Jones joined the Eagles, he said a member of the public relations staff warned him about the media’s looming, lingering presence.

Jones estimated that “40 to 50 reporters” were around the team daily. On Thursday, the Chargers locker room was visited by four reporters.

“It is different here, obviously,” Jones said. “There’s so much more going on. There are so many teams to follow. The attention just gets spread out.”

Before he was a Charger, cornerback Casey Hayward was a Packer, the intimacy between that team and the city of Green Bay undeniable in that the franchise is publicly owned.

There’s more to it than just that, Hayward explaining that people there like to wear those giant cheese wedges on their heads because, well, it’s something to do.

“Trust me, there’s nothing in Green Bay but the Packers,” Hayward said, smiling. “You have nothing else to do but be a Packers fan. I’m glad I played there, with all that tradition and everything.

“But this the NFL, too, right? It’s an honor just to be one of the 53 players on a team’s roster. I’m pretty sure every guy in this room feels the same way about that.”

So the Chargers went back to work on Thanksgiving Day, 2018, grinding through another game plan, scheming for a way to start their next winning streak and eventually establish an identity to call their own.

Not that going largely unnoticed is the worst thing, at least as far as the players see it.

“People sometimes ask me if I play a sport,” Green said. “I’m an under-the-radar guy. So I usually say, ‘Back in the day, I played a little high school ball.’ And I’ll leave it at that.”

Yeah, this team has bigger things to worry about right now. After that flustering, mistake-filled loss to the Broncos, smaller things, too.

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