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Chargers

Chargers seek win over Chiefs while still clinging to playoff hopes

The Chargers’ Thunderbolt Drumline and Lightning Crew greet runners at the finish line for a fan race in Mexico City on Nov. 17, 2019.
The Chargers’ Thunderbolt Drumline and Lightning Crew greet runners at the finish line for a fan race in Mexico City on Sunday.
( Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

The Chargers have lost more than they’ve won, lost at home and away, lost to the AFC and NFC.

What they haven’t lost is hope, largely because — despite all the defeats — they still haven’t lost their season.

Not yet anyway.

“To be sitting where we’re sitting and be only two games back … a six-game season is ahead of us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “It’s not 100% accurate, but to almost be able to say you control your own fate at 4-6 is pretty rare.”

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The Chargers are third in the AFC West, trailing Kansas City and Oakland, and are 0-2 in the division and 2-5 in the conference, neither record promising much in regard to future tiebreakers.

But they also have two games remaining against the Chiefs and another against the Raiders, meaning the Chargers still possess an unusual amount of say in their own playoff fate.

A victory over Kansas City (6-4) on Monday night at Aztec Stadium would seem to be a must, at least by every measure other than the mathematical one.

Even if they aren’t technically eliminated, the Chargers understand a loss to the Chiefs would practically eliminate them.

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“The playoffs are now,” fullback Derek Watt said. “If we lose this one, we’re playing for pride. Definitely want to win this one and get this train rolling a little bit and see where we end up.”

For the second consecutive season, the Chargers are playing internationally. Last year, they enjoyed dramatic success, beating Tennessee 20-19 in London in Week 7.

When these AFC West rivals meet Monday night in Mexico City, the Chargers will be faced with containing an attack that has been dubbed the “Legion of Zoom.”

Even as the team arrived in Mexico on Sunday, a well-traveled Rivers found himself in territory that was hardly foreign.

In 2007, he helped guide the Chargers to six victories in a row to close out the regular season and push a team that had been 5-5 all the way into the AFC title game.

Six years later, Rivers and the Chargers were 4-6 before winning five of their final six games to advance to the postseason, where they beat Cincinnati in the wild-card round.

“There’s no question it can happen,” Rivers said. “There’s no doubt. It would be just as believable to me for us to win the next six as it would be for us to go, you know, 3-3 the rest of the way.

“It’s not an unreasonable feat. It’s not going to be easy. But, again, we don’t play ’em all on the same night. We’ve got ’em one at a time. As we know, it’s going to be a one-score game one way or the other, probably, in the fourth quarter.”

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That has been the preferred method of the 2019 Chargers. Of their four victories, one came in overtime and another was decided as the clock ran out.

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers walks off the field after a win over the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 3.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers walks off the field after a win over the Green Bay Packers on Nov. 3.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

All six of their defeats have been by one score, and, all totaled, the difference in those half-dozen games has been 29 points.

The frustration of so many near-miss failures can be compounded by the reality that the AFC West unexpectedly has been sitting there waiting to be claimed.

Coming off their appearance in the conference championship game last season, the Chiefs were considered the division favorites.

They opened the season 4-0 but have since lost four of six, managing to split the two games quarterback Patrick Mahomes missed because of a knee injury.

“We have wasted some chances,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said. “To see the Chiefs lose [their last game], it was, ‘Dang, if we had won, we’d be one game behind.’ You can’t hide from that.”

Had Kansas City met its preseason expectations, the Chargers would be buried by now, their position in next year’s NFL draft of more interest than their position in this morning’s standings.

Chargers cornerback Michael Davis is psyched to show his Mexican heritage as L.A. prepares to play the Kansas City Chiefs in Mexico City on Monday.
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Of course, had the Chargers done what they were forecast to do, they wouldn’t be stuck in a place where they’re left pondering an opportunity squandered.

Your thinking “can go down that road,” Rivers said. “I try to quickly get rid of it because it doesn’t make anything any better. But, certainly, it can cause you to think back through some of these games that we really let get away.

“That’s the thing about this league. … We haven’t played terrible through 10 weeks. We haven’t. We’ve made some critical mistakes and haven’t been able to overcome them. That’s the difference in the record being flipped.”

The Chargers had 10 full days to contemplate their latest stumble, in which the offense and defense misfired miserably in the final four minutes of a 26-24 loss at Oakland.

After that game, their season appeared doomed. But then, three days later, the Chiefs lost in the final seconds at Tennessee. In an instant, the vital ground the Chargers thought they had lost suddenly was there. Again.

By all appearances, they still have a shot — their last one.

“We’re right there,” tight end Hunter Henry said, “We need to win all the rest of our games. But definitely we have the talent to do it. We went into the season wanting to win all of them, right? So, why not finish the season 6-0?”

Etc.

The Chargers downgraded left tackle Russell Okung to doubtful Sunday because of a groin injury. He had been listed as questionable. Barring the unexpected, rookie Trey Pipkins will start in Okung’s place.

The team also downgraded linebacker Drue Tranquill to questionable because of a calf problem.


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