In the back corner of the Chargers locker room at StubHub Center, left tackle Russell Okung got dressed with the remnants of a football game all around him.
Snacks were on a table. Discarded athletic tape littered the floor. Pads and jerseys were being collected. the room The room had been filled with 53 players who had just lost their fourth consecutive game.
Now, the veteran offensive lineman was about the only player remaining.
He has been to the playoffs five times. He has been to the Super Bowl twice and won once. Okung, as much as anyone on the roster, was a good place to look for a diagnosis as to why the team kept losing and losing.
“We’re about to find out what kind of team we have,” he said after the Chargers lost to Philadelphia on Oct. 1. “We’re about to learn about this group’s character.”
Three weeks later and the Chargers locker room is a different place. Guys move a little slower, spend more time talking with one another, laughing, smiling.
In a blink, the Chargers have gone from losers to winners, from cold to hot.
And Okung must feel like he knows what kind of team he’s on — one with tons of character and one able to fight its way out of anything.
He’d have to feel that. Right?
“That jury,” Okung said after the Chargers shut out the Denver Broncos, “is still out.”
While the Chargers have played their way back into the AFC West picture with three consecutive victories, including two against divisional opponents, it’s clear they haven’t fully erased the early-season mistakes.
“We’ve dug ourselves into a hole. And we’ve won three in a row, but we’ve lost four in a row. So we can’t get comfortable at all,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We’re not even .500 yet, so we’ve got the world champs coming up on Sunday. I think we’re confident, but I don’t think anyone is overconfident.”
The Chargers take that confidence to New England on Sunday, where the Patriots (5-2) have suffered their two losses this year.
Facing the AFC East leaders presents another opportunity for veterans like tight end Antonio Gates to provide leadership and keep teammates on an even keel.
“We try to encourage the guys and talk to them about the peaks and valleys of the season,” Gates said. “You got your highs and lows. And if you continue to focus on the past, you can never reach your potential. That’s why we preach one game at a time, one week at a time. We started out 0-4, and we’re still the same team. We’re still the same guys making the same plays. We just have to believe in that and trust that process, which we have.
“To me, we’re the same team we were when we started 0-0.”
Chargers add veteran lineman
With starting left guard Matt Slauson lost for the season because of a torn biceps, Lynn said the club would need to add help along the offensive line, and Tuesday the team looked to a former player, tackle Michael Ola.
Ola spent most of last season on the practice squad with the Buffalo Bills, where Lynn coached. Ola was with the Chargers for a short stay in the 2015 season. He has appeared in 30 NFL games, including 19 starts.
Rookie Dan Feeney, the Chargers’ third-round pick in this year’s draft, is slated to start in Slauson’s absence.