The Denver Broncos enter Sunday at 0-4, a record so empty that some observers already have the Chargers beating them.
Since this is still the NFL, it might not be that easy.
When the Broncos visited Carson most recently, the Chargers appeared to have them legitimately beaten — and lost anyway.
“I remember we were up by a bunch and had a lot of offense and somehow we still didn’t win,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “In the locker room after the game, it was one of those, ‘What-the-heck-just-happened’ moments.”
What happened 11 months ago was the Chargers blew a 12-point second-quarter lead and a two-point fourth-quarter lead and lost on a last-play field goal.
They thoroughly outgained Denver and looked to be on the verge of a blowout when they moved into Broncos territory with a 19-7 lead just before halftime.
But Philip Rivers attempted to throw a screen pass that Von Miller intercepted and the game quickly changed.
Rivers also inexplicably killed the clock in the final two minutes by throwing an incompletion when Denver was out of timeouts.
Kicker Michael Badgley missed an extra point too, a point that proved crucial with a final score of 23-22.
“That was probably one of our worst losses last year,” Rivers said. “I say that because of the situation that we were in. We had it all but wrapped up, and we mishandled things, offensively.”
Those Chargers had won six in a row entering that Week 11 game. They rebounded from the defeat to win their next four.
They’ll be looking to improve to 3-2 on Sunday by stringing together back-to-back victories while facing their second consecutive winless opponent.
But unlike Miami last week, Denver at least has been in the vicinity of a win. The Broncos have lost twice on game-ending field goals; their average margin of defeat is 5.3 points.
“We’re 0-4,” linebacker Todd Davis told reporters in Denver, “but we’re not an 0-4 team.”
The Broncos have lost eight straight going back to last season and are trying to avoid the first 0-5 start in franchise history.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn noted their “Super Bowl-winning quarterback” (Joe Flacco), “Pro Bowl runner” (Phillip Lindsay) and “two studs at wide receiver” (Courtland Sutton and Emmanuel Sanders).
Lynn called their offense dangerous and explosive, while adding, “They’re going to be hungry. They’re going to be desperate.”
At least one of the Chargers has promised to enter this game starving. Running back Melvin Gordon will make his season debut after finally ending a nine-week contract holdout.
He was available and on the sideline against the Dolphins last week but was the only Charger on the active roster who did not play.
The two-time Pro Bowler likely will split time Sunday with Ekeler, who gained 490 yards from scrimmage and scored a team-high six touchdowns while Gordon was gone.
Lynn has been sure to point out that Gordon will be the starter again soon enough. But he also has repeatedly mentioned that, after being away for more than two months, Gordon will be eased back into the offense.
“I know people think I’m going to get 20 carries,” Gordon said. “But I didn’t really get 20 carries (in) a game last year when I was in. I just kind of made the best of the small amount of carries that I got.
“We’ve got so many players, the ball goes around to everybody. So you’re kind of licking your chops when you get your turn.”
Gordon has practiced in pads with the team just once since returning Sept. 26. He said he also has done some extra work on his own in full gear.
He hasn’t played in a game since the Chargers’ postseason-elimination loss in New England in January.
That day, Gordon carried nine times for 15 yards and caught one pass for 11 yards as the Chargers struggled on offense.
“He looks good,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said. “It’s great to have Melvin back. One of the things that you just never know, when a player’s been out like that for awhile, (is) how it’s going to affect chemistry.
“He’s really done a nice job with how he’s interacting with the team and just gone about his business. It’s never even been an issue or been talked about. Guys were happy to see him. He’s genuinely excited to be back.”
The Chargers are still dealing with an abundance of absences, with two of their top defensive backs and one of their wide receivers on injured reserve, their left tackle unavailable and their latest injury report including at least eight players projected to contribute.
But with Gordon rejoining them, that’s one significant addition amid a season full of subtractions.
He’s back just in time for the Chargers’ first AFC West game, against an opponent lacking a victory but with some compelling recent history in this series.
“You have to play all four quarters,” Ekeler said. “I don’t care who it is. You can’t come out looking at the record and thinking that means anything.”