He talked about his players wanting this game, needing this challenge not necessarily to make a statement but more to make a point.
“We knew this was going to be a test, a four-quarter football game,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “They passed the test.”
The Chargers certainly did Sunday, holding on to beat Seattle 25-17 in thunderous CenturyLink Field, the boldest stride yet for a team bent on proving it belongs in the NFL’s upper echelon.
The victory was the Chargers’ fifth in a row, their longest such streak since 2014. They also stopped a run of five consecutive road defeats against opponents with winning records, and begun the season 6-2 for the first time since 2006.
“Honestly, that’s a playoff team, right?” offensive tackle Russell Okung said of the Seahawks. “To come on the road in this environment and win, shows a lot about our character. I think this was a big step forward.”
A four-quarter football game? Actually, it was more than that, the Chargers not securing this victory until Seattle failed on one final untimed down after the clock had expired.
A pass-interference penalty on cornerback Michael Davis in the end zone necessitated the additional play.
On a day when the Chargers’ defense dominated during stretches, the dramatic ending was a fitting last-breath bit of misfortune to topple.
“I’ve never seen that call at the end of the game, but they made that call,” Lynn said. “Officials, they have to do their job. You just don’t see that call too often in that situation, last play of the game.”
So the Chargers stood tallest at the end, winning with a late denial in their end zone for the second game in a row. They beat Tennessee 20-19 on Oct. 21 by preventing a two-point conversion in the final seconds.
This one was a triumph in the truest sense, the Chargers at one point appearing on the verge of opening a comfortable lead but then having to hold things together as obstacles arose.
They gave up seven more first downs than they gained, possessed the ball for 10 fewer minutes and were called for 12 penalties totaling 105 yards.
They also had to overcome another flustering day for Caleb Sturgis. The veteran kicker missed two more extra points — that’s six for the season — and a 42-yard field goal.
Sturgis returned Sunday after being out for two games because of a quadriceps injury. He was healthy again, but his performance hurt.
The situation was such that Lynn opted to go for a two-point conversion as early as the opening four minutes of the second quarter.
“It doesn’t feel the same when there’s [only] six on the board,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “You want to convert third downs and then when you still have a chance to get points [and don’t], you feel, ‘Ugh,’ you know? So we handled that adversity and rallied.”
Rivers, making his 200th consecutive start, completed 13 of 26 passes for 228 yards and two touchdowns, both coming on stellar individual efforts by his receivers, first Tyrell Williams and then Mike Williams.
Melvin Gordon returned after missing one game because of a hamstring injury to rush 16 times for 113 yards and a score. Of the Chargers’ eight longest plays, three were runs by Gordon.
Keenan Allen didn’t reach the end zone but did stretch the field, finishing with 124 yards on six receptions and providing a 28-yard gain on a sweep.
“They was hot,” Allen said of the Seahawks. “But we’re hotter.”
Next up for the Chargers is another trip, this one to Oakland, to face a struggling Raiders team.
Then L.A. plays consecutive home games against Denver and Arizona, meaning the Chargers should be favored in each of their next three contests.
This hot team has a chance to grow hotter still.
“We’re so confident in our team,” defensive lineman Damion Square said. “The pieces that we’ve been able to put together … everybody being able to be on the field at the same time. It’s really coming together.”
Having missed the playoffs each of the past four years, the Chargers have played themselves into an advantageous position through the first half of their 2018 schedule.
A team that knows too well about coming up short, that is still trying to sell itself in a new market, that is fighting to establish its place in this NFL season, emerged Sunday in its best shape yet.