Chargers to visit Patriots with a determination of bringing home another victory
Scenes from Chargers practice, where quarterback Philip Rivers says perfect execution is the key to defeating the New England Patriots.
His passion was genuine, even if his reasoning was a little far-fetched.
Russell Okung was speaking from his heart — a heart still feeling frustration — when he suggested Sunday that the commissioner of the NFL was conspiring against the Chargers.
“Roger Goodell doesn’t want it to come back to us,” the left tackle said after the Chargers’ 23-17 wild-card victory at Baltimore. “That’s all I can say.”
Okung was referring to a holding call against him late in the game to negate a third-down conversion and force the Chargers to punt, giving the Ravens one final chance.
Late in a Week 16 loss to Baltimore at home, Okung was called for holding to help kill the Chargers’ last shot at preserving the victory with a first down.
Okung considered both penalties to be dubious and introduced the notion that the NFL wasn’t interested in the Chargers hosting a playoff game in their matchbox home in Carson.
On Wednesday, Okung politely refused to discuss the matter and a teammate claimed not to be completely sure of the premise.
“That’s a little too deep for me,” defensive tackle Damion Square. “I don’t know if I can get all down into that. Can you control a game that’s got 22 men on the field at a time? Who knows? If I had to bet, nah.”
Still, Okung’s comment was just the latest entry in a growing narrative on the 2018 Chargers, the team nobody wants.
In fact, the only place that wants the Chargers is the one place that can’t have them: San Diego.
The situation, of course, is much more complicated than that, although the Chargers gladly will accept and rally around the idea that they are alone in this venture. Together but alone.
“What we do hold on to is we’re a team,” Okung said. “Right now is a time for us to get even closer while we’re going on the road and playing these tough teams.”
Sunday, they will be in New England, trying to prevent the storied Patriots from advancing to an eighth consecutive AFC title game. Coach Anthony Lynn called the matchup “definitely the toughest challenge we’ve had all year.”
The Chargers, expertly playing the part of the NFL’s only homeless team, are 9-0 this season when they travel to the game via airplane.
One of those trips included stops in Cleveland and London and lasted 10 days, an exercise in cohesion deemed so profound that Lynn has been asked about it repeatedly since, including Wednesday.
The Chargers are among the NFL leaders in frequent-flyer miles, the quality of their time together in the air and on the road no doubt fostered by all the winning they’ve been doing.
“Around here, I haven’t even thought much about the business side of all this,” rookie defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “We’re just focused on going out and winning with our guys.”
Both Lynn and Okung called this group “humble,” a characterization seconded by the glaring absence of attention-seekers in the locker room.
After he had five field goals Sunday in the most prolific postseason performance by a kicker in Chargers history, Michael Badgley continually answered questions using “we” and insisting all that really mattered was that the Chargers won.
On Wednesday, the rookie explained that one of his sports idols growing up was Derek Jeter, noting that Jeter never talked about himself.
Okung pointed to the behavior of another Chargers rookie.
“Look at Derwin James,” he said. “He’s winning all these accolades and good for him. But the kid comes in and he wants to learn. He wants to be around the veterans and soak up everything from us.
“He wants to see our work ethic. He wants to understand the game. That’s special. When you have a guy who has all the talent in the world who wants to step back and learn, that’s special.”
This also would be special: A victory Sunday would advance the Chargers to the AFC title game and, if Indianapolis upsets Kansas City, “it” would officially “come back” to the Chargers, who would host that conference championship.
“This is a very confident football team, but at the same time, very humble,” Lynn said. “Once we stay humble, we have a chance to grow as an organization and as a football team.”
And maybe, one day, find a home.
Go beyond the scoreboard
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