The Chargers had almost no chance of making the postseason entering their Week 14 game at Jacksonville.
Still, the franchise-wide idea that the team was still trying to win was underscored when 2019 draft picks Jerry Tillery and Trey Pipkins were inactive, both for the first time this season.
Instead of focusing on the continued development of two of their young prospects, the Chargers made game-day roster decisions to best match up against the Jaguars.
It’s difficult to measure exactly how those choices impacted the result, but the Chargers won 45-10 to improve to 5-8 and keep alive at least the possibility of finishing with a non-losing record.
“I know we live in a microwave industry right now where we want instant success,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But these guys are rookies … that are still developing. You have to be patient with these young men or, I believe, you can put them in a situation or a mind-set where you set them up for failure.”
Going into their game Sunday against Minnesota at Dignity Health Sports Park, the Chargers officially have no shot of playing beyond December. They were mathematically eliminated last week.
But the overriding goal of winning won’t change now, either, the notion of turning the final three regular-season weeks into glorified preseason games not one the Chargers will consider.
Given the opposition’s style — the Vikings’ offense runs a zone-blocking scheme — Lynn did indicate Friday that Tillery could return to the defensive line rotation.
“This is the type of game that you want Jerry on the field,” he said. “So, we’ll see.”
Against Jacksonville’s pounding run attack, the Chargers turned to Sylvester Williams instead of Tillery because Williams is 30 pounds heavier and therefore better suited to clog the inside.
Tillery, at 6 foot 6 and 295 pounds, might be the better option against Minnesota and star running back Dalvin Cook.
“Speed,” Lynn said when asked what Tillery would provide Sunday. “He’s athletic versus an athletic offensive line. That’s kind of what you’re looking for [against] this scheme.
“It’s a wide-zone running scheme. It’s not really a downhill-power scheme. So you like guys who can run and move a little bit.”
Because of injuries and ineffectiveness, fourth-round pick Drue Tranquill and sixth-rounder Emeke Egbule were the only 2019 draft choices to suit up for the game last week.
Tranquill has established himself as one of the most productive tacklers on defense and a valuable special teams player. Egbule is a regular on special teams.
Otherwise, the Chargers’ latest draft class remains more of a longer-term investment.
“It takes some time to adjust to the speed at this level, and everybody’s an elite athlete,” Lynn said, speaking generically of young players entering the NFL. “It’s not like college where you’re the dominant guy anymore.”
This will be only the third time since 1981 that the Chargers play the Vikings at home.
They do possess intimate knowledge of Cook, however, in safety Derwin James. The two were teammates at Florida State and remain close friends, James saying Cook is “like my brother.”
“To me, he’s the best running back in the NFL,” James said. “He’s a home run hitter, any down. I know what type of worker he is. He works hard every day. He’s a dog.”
The Chargers have allowed three 100-yard rushers this season but none since Week 8. Over the past five games, only Kansas City reached 100 yards as a team against a defense that ranks 17th in stopping the run.
Cook started with five 100-yard efforts through Minnesota’s first seven games. He hasn’t reached 100 since an Oct. 20 victory at Detroit.
“We’re on different teams,” James said, when asked about confronting Cook on the field. “Me, I’m a guy like, man, when we’re between the white lines it’s time to play. That’s always been my mind-set. After the game, we’re good friends.”
The Chargers are as healthy as they’ve been all season. Only linebacker Uchenna Nwosu (ankle) remains on the injury report. He is questionable for Sunday.