They have held their past four opponents to fewer than 20 points and clinched consecutive victories with last-second stops, causing incompletions in the end zone.
Trending in the right direction, the Chargers defenders also did something Sunday they hadn’t done all season: They scored.
Desmond King provided the first non-offensive points of the season when he returned a fourth-quarter interception 42 yards for a touchdown in a 25-17 win at Seattle.
Before that, the defense and special teams had been shut out, the Chargers’ first 213 points of the season supplied by the offense. Last season, they scored three touchdowns on defense and one on special teams.
Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley explained that the lack of offense from his defense was not the result of a shortage of desire.
“We’re defined by our ability to get the ball and score,” he said. “It’s not just by our ability to get the ball, but it’s more that mindset. Third down, ‘Hey, we’re looking to get a third-down stop.’ No, we’re looking to get the ball.”
King’s interception of a Russell Wilson pass came on first down and helped secure a fifth victory in a row. The touchdown put the Chargers up by two scores with 6:44 remaining in the game.
When Seattle scored five minutes later, King’s points became more significant, allowing the Chargers enough room to hold on.
“I think that mentality, the players have really bought into it,” Bradley said of seeking turnovers. “I think the ability to get some pressure and then the coverage being tight enough to where you have opportunities to make plays.”
The Chargers are seventh in turnover ratio at plus-six. They’ve recovered two opponents’ fumbles and intercepted 10 passes, and the offense has three fumbles lost and has had three passes intercepted.
Though the defense hasn’t scored much off the turnovers, it has prevented points by taking the ball away. Three of those interceptions have come inside their five-yard line. The defense has forced two other turnovers inside the 25.
Then there are the back-to-back, game-saving stops. The defense prevented a potential game-winning two-point conversion attempt by Tennessee with 31 seconds remaining and then stopped Seattle from the six-yard line with no time left.
Bradley called those “gotta-have-it situations” and credited coach Anthony Lynn for preparing the defense by practicing such occasions not only in training camp but also during the season.
“I think that guys can recall from being in those situations,” Bradley said. “It allows them to play fast, like, ‘We’ve been here. We just had this situation in practice. Now let’s go do what we do.’ ”
The Chargers faced Oakland on Oct. 7 in Carson, meaning the Raiders have played at StubHub Center as recently as the Chargers have.
After visiting the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on Sunday, the Chargers finally return to play in their home stadium — against Denver — ending a stretch that will reach 41 days between home dates.
“It was a tough month, just in general, with travel,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “So we have one more here that will be on the road before we come back home. So it’s the back stretch. We all know a lot of things happen on this back stretch.”
The Chargers are 6-2 for the first time since 2006, a season in which they finished 14-2.
Since Week 11 of last year, they’re 12-3, the second-best mark in the NFL, a half game behind New England.
“Certainly, we’ve put ourselves in position at the halfway mark to have a better chance than some years,” Rivers said. “But potential is dangerous. Now you’ve got to go do it.
“The task at hand is the Oakland Raiders. … That’s keeping it as simple as that. I know it’s boring. But that’s the best bet.”
The Chargers defense could be thinner this week, with tackle Darius Philon (ankle), end Chris Landrum (hip), linebacker Kyle Emanuel (hip) and cornerback Trevor Williams (knee) listed as questionable.
Emanuel and Williams didn’t practice Friday, while Philon and Landrum were limited.
The potential absences could mean more playing time for linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, a second-round draft pick out of USC.
“He’s not a rookie anymore,” Lynn said. “He’s played more than three games, so we treat him like a vet and we expect him to know the playbook like a veteran. I think he’ll handle it well.”