The Chargers overcame a 16-point halftime deficit at Pittsburgh and a 14-point fourth-quarter deficit at Kansas City.
In between, they ground out a five-point victory at StubHub Center over the Cincinnati Bengals on a day when the offense managed only j two touchdowns and a lesser team could have been upset.
The Chargers won those three games by a combined nine points.
And they did it in the span of 12 days, navigating with perfect results the most compacted and demanding part of their schedule.
“That’s what you call clutch,” wide receiver Travis Benjamin said. “We come into what they call the most hostile environments in the NFL, in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and we find a way to pull it off.”
The Chargers were underdogs in both road games and trailed at halftime by a combined 37-14.
“We’re here!” defensive back Derwin James said when asked what statement his team made in Thursday’s victory over the Chiefs. “This isn’t the same old Chargers. We’re here to compete with anybody in this league, and we showed it tonight.”
They now return to StubHub Center to host the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 22 before finishing the regular season Dec. 30 at Denver.
The matchup against the Ravens will be their third prime time game of the month, their third chance to show America what has been building in relative obscurity in Costa Mesa and Carson.
Numerous media outlets on various platforms spent large chunks of Friday discussing the Chargers and debating, for example, the most valuable player candidacy of Philip Rivers and coach-of-the-year credentials of Anthony Lynn.
The Chargers are tied with Kansas City for the top record in the AFC, the Chiefs holding the tie-breaker because of their better AFC West record.
But with only two regular-season games remaining, the Chargers are in position to potentially finish with the AFC’s best record. Only three other times in franchise history have they been 11-3.
“After such a great win in Pittsburgh and then to be able to come here and do this on a Thursday after a quick turnaround,” defensive end Joey Bosa said, “it shows we’re the real deal.”
Benjamin has not lived up to expectations during an injury-plagued season, but he came through in the clutch against the Chiefs.
Although his credentials include a 68-catch, 966-yard season, Benjamin hasn’t had more than three receptions in a game this year. But against the Chiefs, with Keenan Allen sidelined because of a hip injury, Benjamin’s two catches came on the Chargers’ game-winning drive and totaled 57 yards, a season high.
“The way he has been practicing, it did not surprise us,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “He started out the season pretty slow because of injuries. But once he has gotten healthy, he has looked very good. It was good to see him have some success.”
Benjamin’s night started with him at midfield for the coin toss as an honorary captain. It ended with him in the middle of the Chargers’ dramatic last push.
“I can’t complain about anything,” Benjamin said, reflecting on his season to date. “I’m just looking forward to each and every week going out there and playing ball.”
Benjamin’s first catch Thursday went for 31 yards and converted a first and 20 after a holding call on guard Dan Feeney.
His second saved the game, coming on fourth and seven and gaining 26 yards to put the Chargers at Kansas City’s 10-yard line with less than a minute to play.
Allen was diagnosed with a hip pointer, the injury not thought to be serious. His playing status won’t be determined until the Chargers return to practice next week.
After permitting two 10-play touchdown drives to start the game and being tormented by the Chiefs’ screen-pass scheme, the Chargers defense elevated its performance.
No team had held Kansas City to fewer than 300 total yards before Thursday, the Chargers yielding 294. The Chiefs entered the game as the NFL’s top offense in points and yards per game.
The Chargers also kept Tyreek Hill out of the end zone and came up with a game-salvaging three-and-out to set up the offense’s final drive.
“I don’t know that we played a complete game to where we can go, ‘We’re so proud of this,’” defensive lineman Isaac Rochell said. “They had a lot of passing yards early on. But in the fourth quarter, we did what we needed to do.”
In the running
Without starter Melvin Gordon (knee) and top backup Austin Ekeler (neck), the Chargers turned to rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome.
The pair combined for 92 yards in 22 carries and caught five passes for 46 yards. Jackson scored the Chargers’ next-to-last touchdown with 3:49 remaining. The performance wasn’t loaded with highlights, but Jackson and Newsome provided enough of a running threat and ample production to lessen the absence of Gordon and Ekeler.
“I thought they played well,” Lynn said. “They both ran hard. They ground it out. It was tough early. I thought in the second half we made a couple tweaks. I thought those guys ran well.”