They staggered into this Sunday disappointed in their performance, eager to halt a losing streak and sorting through injuries that have left them thin in some significant spots.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn was asked if the game against the Miami Dolphins was akin to encountering a wounded animal.
“Who?” Lynn answered. “Them or us?”
Indeed, both teams are hurting as they prepare to share the field at Hard Rock Stadium to determine which is hurting more.
The Chargers are dealing with back-to-back losses for the first time since November 2017. They’ve blown three consecutive third-quarter leads. In the last two weeks, they’ve scored only three points after halftime.
The Dolphins already have switched quarterbacks. There have been reports of numerous players asking to be traded. After halftime, they’ve scored zero points all season — while surrendering 68.
“They’re 0-3,” Lynn continued. “We’re 1-2. We can’t be too relaxed going into this game at all. We know we’re going to get their best shot.”
The Chargers won their season opener over Indianapolis and didn’t receive much positive news until Thursday, when running back Melvin Gordon ended his holdout.
The two-time Pro Bowler might have to play against the Dolphins because of all the injuries, although Lynn would prefer to use him as little as possible since he missed nine weeks of training.
That’s the good news for the Chargers. The bad news is there’s nothing uncertain about wide receiver Mike Williams, tight end Virgil Green, running back Justin Jackson and kicker Michael Badgley. Each will miss this game.
Wide receiver Travis Benjamin and cornerback Casey Hayward might not play, either.
They all are dealing with injuries for a team that already was playing without its starting left tackle, game-changing safety and All-Pro special teamer.
“I think they understand we need some urgency right now,” Lynn said. “They understand some guys need to step up.”
After beating the Colts, the Chargers crumbled under the weight of mistakes to lose in Detroit. Then they went up early on Houston but failed to close out an extremely winnable game at home.
They’ve moved the ball on offense but have struggled to consistently advance into the end zone. They’ve done enough defensively to survive but were nearly powerless a week ago in trying to deny quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“I feel like we’re putting ourselves in a tougher situation than we need to be,” said running back Austin Ekeler, referencing the various miscues. “This is the NFL. No one needs help winning.”
As bad as 1-2 might sound, this is the same position the Chargers were in a year ago. That group rebounded by winning six in a row and eventually making the playoffs with a record of 12-4.
The 2018 Chargers also still had Russell Okung leading the offensive line, Derwin James dominating from the secondary and Adrian Phillips making plays all over the place.
No one knows when — or, particularly in the case of Okung, if — those three will return in 2019. These Chargers are tasked with forging their own identity, the accomplishments from last year now relevant.
“We can’t look back on last season and say, ‘OK, we’re going to be fine,’” Ekeler said. “This is a new season. We have a new team. We have injuries we have to deal with.
“This season, you don’t know. We might not win another game, that’s how the season could go. … You could lose to anybody any week.”
Losing to the Dolphins, however, would represent a new level of failure. Though the sample size is small, it also is profound. Miami, through three games, has been almost biblically inept.
The Dolphins have been outscored 133-16, the minus-117 point differential entering Week 4 a record for the modern-day NFL.
Finding a worse performance, the historians at the Elias Sports Bureau say, requires going back nearly a century to teams called the Brecks and Jeffersons. The 1922 Louisville Brecks were minus 134 after three games and the 1923 Rochester Jeffersons minus 122.
The Dolphins fell behind 4 1/2 minutes into their season opener and haven’t had a lead yet. In fact, Dec. 23, 2018, was the last time they were ahead in a game.
Though Miami is lacking a win, Lynn has reminded his players, this opponent likely won’t be lacking a will. Two seasons ago, the Chargers opened 0-4 before winning nine of their final 12 games.
“It wasn’t that long ago I remember a team being 0-3, and that team didn’t stop,” Lynn said. “That team fought its way back out of a hole, and I believe this team will, too.”
It’s worth noting that each of Miami’s first three opponents — Baltimore, New England and Dallas — reached the postseason a year ago and are a combined 8-1 this season. So the losses have been as logical as they’ve been lopsided.
The Chargers were a 2018 playoff team, as well. If they’d like to advance again, beating this Miami team might be a minimum requirement.
“It’s, by no means, the time to panic,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “But we know that you can’t keep slipping up and saying that you’ve got time because eventually you won’t have time. We have to get it turned around. It has to start this week.”