The Chargers haven’t had a lead since last month.
Not since time ran out on Sept. 29 in Miami, their 30-10 victory officially secured, have they been ahead in a game.
Even worse, over the past two weeks, they’ve been only as good as tied for eight minutes, three seconds. That means they’ve been behind for nearly 112 of the previous 120 minutes on the scoreboard clock, a staggering 93% of the time.
So, if it seems like the Chargers have been playing uphill since that victory over the winless Dolphins, that’s because they have been.
“We’ve had two poor performances in a row, offensively, and slow starts,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “And it has cost us.”
Has it ever, the Chargers going from being among the preseason favorites in the AFC to 2-4 and reeling after consecutive flustering defeats in a home stadium that felt nothing like a home.
Matching last season’s record now would require a 10-game winning streak for a team that first needs to prove it can remain close for one quarter.
In their most recent losses, to Denver and Pittsburgh at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Chargers fell behind after only 3:54 and 4:09 had elapsed, respectively. In both games, their deficit was 14-0 after barely 10 minutes.
They’ve been outscored 38-0 over the past two first halves. No Chargers team had been shut out in the first two quarters in back-to-back home games since October of 1975.
“We gotta do something to kick-start [the offense] and have a little more urgency and go get in the end zone,” Rivers said. “We’re just not scoring.”
Before Rivers connected with Hunter Henry on a five-yard pass midway through the fourth quarter Sunday, the Chargers’ offense hadn’t produced a touchdown in 20 possessions.
Instead, they had punted eight times, turned the ball over five times, made four field goals, missed two field goals and had the clock expire once.
In their 24-17 loss to the Steelers, Rivers had three turnovers — two interceptions and an errant backward pass that was ruled a fumble, one Pittsburgh linebacker Devin Bush picked up and returned for a touchdown.
Rivers has six interceptions on the season and four the past two games. He didn’t throw his sixth interception last year until Week 11.
“I don’t like the turnovers,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “I do believe the turnovers are going to stop. Maybe [he’s] pressing a little bit early. He’s done a good job the last couple years taking care of the football. We just have to get back to that.”
Rivers downplayed the turnovers, saying they wouldn’t be a topic if the offense was scoring and the team was winning. But when a group has dropped four of five, every mistake is magnified, and few mistakes are more obvious than giving the ball to the other team.
“Now, we can’t be careless, but we have to score,” Rivers said. “If you have two turnovers and we score 28, then we win, we’re not even talking about it. … When you turn it over twice and you get beat, and you only score what we’re scoring, you look for lots of things.
“Ultimately, we have to find a way to get in the end zone more. To me, that’s the biggest issue right now that we’re having, offensively. The offense’s job is to score one more point than the other team and we’re not doing that.”
A snapshot of what’s happened to this offense can be found in the production of Austin Ekeler.
After amassing 490 yards from scrimmage over the first four games, he has only 121 yards the the past two games. And that includes a 15-reception game against the Broncos.
Those contrasting numbers coincide with Melvin Gordon’s return to the lineup. Lynn repeatedly has dismissed the idea that Gordon coming back disrupted the flow or chemistry of the offense.
Ekeler had his least productive game of 2019 on Sunday when he finished with 28 yards on eight touches. He was in for a season-low 28 snaps, fewer than half of the Chargers’ offensive plays. Ekeler finished with 46-48 snaps each of the first five weeks.
“We’ve never taken Austin out of the plan,” Lynn said. “He’s just sharing the backfield with Melvin instead of Justin Jackson.”
The Chargers will attempt to right their offensive issues Sunday in Nashville against a Tennessee defense permitting an average of 15.3 points per game, fifth-best in the NFL.
All of which sets up for a potentially interesting exercise. Offensively, the 2-4 Titans were just shut out 16-0 at Denver and have scored seven points the past two games combined.
Most peculiar of all the plays the Chargers failed to make Sunday was a deep pass Rivers fired down the middle for Travis Benjamin in the second half. The arching ball dropped in front of the streaking Benjamin and appeared to be potentially within his reach, but he made no attempt to catch it.
“Normally, Travis has a chance to run underneath something like that with his speed,” Lynn said. “For whatever reason, he did not run underneath that one. He maybe could have laid out for it. I don’t know.”
Rivers passed Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger for seventh on the NFL’s all-time completions list Sunday. He’s at 4,677. … Ekeler already has reached his career high for receptions in a single season with 42. That total is first among running backs in the league.