Inside the visiting locker room at Arrowhead Stadium, wadded-up athletic tape covered chunks of the floor, a reminder of how the Chargers’ hopes were unraveling.
Before Saturday night, players had a clear vision of how this season was going to go, a triumph in resiliency. From winless to AFC West Champs — a win against the Chiefs wouldn’t finalize the deal but it’d go a long way.
Twenty-five years after the Chargers became the only team to turn an 0-4 start into a playoff berth, the 2017 team was going to make history repeat itself.
“I just knew it,” tackle Joe Barksdale said.
He was wrong, as were a lot of people inside the Chargers’ locker room. A 30-13 defeat at the hands of Kansas City derailed a lot of plans.
The AFC West is now out of the Chargers’ control. The wild-card race is now out of the Chargers’ control.
They can no longer do it themselves; they need loads of help.
They need either the Chiefs, the Titans, the Bills or the Ravens to lose a whole bunch of seemingly winnable football games. They need to beat the Jets and the Raiders and, in the short term, they swear it’s their focus.
“At this point in the season, we don’t control our destiny right now. We lost that today,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “We can win out — but we’ll probably need some help. All we can control are these next two weeks.”
It’s not unchartered territory for the Chargers.
They’ve had to respond to unthinkable losses for the last handful of seasons. This season alone they’ve had to deal with a move to a new city (and a stadium filled with just as many fans of other teams), an 0-4 start and, in Week 10, one of the most inexplicable losses a team can have — even by Chargers standards.
The Chargers’ sixth loss came in Jacksonville, where they were protecting a lead and intercepted Jaguars quarterback Blake Bortles twice in the final two minutes — and still found a way to lose.
According to one veteran, the postgame locker room was much worse after the loss to the Jaguars. That was anger. This was disappointment. This was sadness.
“Just keep going,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We’ve got to games left and just finish it the right way.”
But the right way, at least in the mind of the Chargers, was to survive 0-4 and turn that into an AFC West title and playoff spot.
But 2017 probably won’t finish that way.
Their road through the final two weeks of the season will be even tougher because of injuries suffered in Kansas City.
Rookie running back Austin Ekeler will miss the rest of the season after breaking his left hand during a play in which he committed a costly fumble. In addition to being the team’s third-down back, Ekeler was one of the Chargers’ top special-teams performers.
Linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring) and defensive tackle Corey Liuget (knee) both could miss one or both of the Chargers’ final two games because of their injuries.