Given his team’s recent history, Anthony Lynn turned to what the players of today might consider ancient history.
Next month will mark the 20th anniversary of one of the most notable and least sensible losses of Lynn’s career.
“That’s a game where we felt like if we played them 10 times we’d beat them 10 times,” the Chargers coach recalled. “But we got beat that day.”
That was the lesson Lynn made sure to share with his players last week, a timely reminder that even NFL teams 100% convinced they’re going to win can lose.
With the Chargers at 6-2 and riding a five-game winning streak entering a Sunday date at 1-7 Oakland, Lynn went back in time in an attempt to direct the future.
“It happens every single week,” he said of inexplicable NFL upsets. “We’re just trying to make sure it doesn’t happen to us.”
The Chargers are 10-point favorites over the Raiders, who have dropped four in a row and are coming off a game in which they scored three points, permitted eight sacks and lost by 31.
No team in the AFC has a poorer record and no other coach in the NFL has a disparaging website dedicated to counting down the time and money remaining on his 10-year, reportedly $100-million contract.
For the record, Oakland still owes Jon Gruden more than nine years and $91 million, according to isgrudengoneyet.com.
So, the Raiders are as done as baseball season, right? Well, the 1998 New York Giants weren’t supposed to have any chance against the Denver Broncos when the teams met that year in New Jersey, either.
The Giants were 5-8 and hadn’t defeated a team with a winning record all season. The Denver Post reported that New York, to have any shot, would “need a miracle.”
The Broncos were 13-0 and had won 18 straight overall, including Super Bowl XXXII.
Someone even called that Denver team “unbeatable,” and that someone was Jim Fassel, the Giants’ coach.
Lynn was a running back and special teams player for the Broncos and, like all his teammates that day, couldn’t prevent a 20-16 loss so stunning that, nearly two decades later, the result is being used as a teaching aid on avoiding calamity.
“The guys in this league are way too good,” Chargers offensive lineman Russell Okung said. “We’re playing against some of the best guys in the world. I’ve been on the other side of this. Those guys are expecting to win, too.”
The Chargers insist that they aren’t thinking any further than the 1 p.m. kickoff Sunday, that they understand the danger in looking at the Raiders and seeing 1-7 rather than an NFL team.
It wasn’t even two years ago that the Chargers went to Cleveland and became the only opponent the Browns would beat in the span of 36 games. It’s the NFL. Shock happens.
“It’s human nature, especially if you’re playing well,” veteran center Mike Pouncey said. “But I think our football team has a one-week-at-a-time mind-set. We’re going to stick to that. It’s been working well for us.”
The Chargers already have defeated the Raiders once this season, 26-10 in early October at StubHub Center.
But this game is set for Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum. And over their past five visits to the place, the Chargers are 2-3, the victories coming by three points and one point.
These teams are longtime division rivals, NFL history having a way of closing the gaps no matter how much space separates teams in the standings.
“What I like about this group is their ability to stay in the present and move forward,” Lynn said. “We’ve put ourselves in position to finish strong and maybe make the tournament at the end of the season. But we have to finish.”
The Chargers have finished with the flair and authority of exclamation points the past two games. The defense sealed victories over Tennessee and Seattle by forcing last-second incompletions in the end zone.
A franchise that has made the postseason only once the past eight years is looking more and more like it is equipped to challenge that drought.
“I wouldn’t define what we’ve done yet as success,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I think we’ve had some weekly success. …But I don’t know that anybody in that locker room feels like, ‘Hey, man, we’re a successful group.’ We have a long way to go.”
And the journey continues Sunday, when the Chargers will try to avoid feeling the sting their coach is still feeling almost 20 years later.