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Chargers

Chargers’ personal goals begin to take focus as season winds down

Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler tries to break free of the Jaguars during a game Dec. 8 at TIAA Bank Field. Ekeler needs 108 more yards to reach 1,000 in receiving.
Chargers’ running back Austin Ekeler tries to break free of the Jaguars during a game Dec. 8 at TIAA Bank Field. Ekeler needs 108 more yards to reach 1,000 in receiving.
(Sam Greenwood / Getty Images)

They are no longer playing for No. 1; the Chargers are closer to the bottom of the NFL standings than the top.

That doesn’t mean this team is lacking in numerical incentive entering its final two games of 2019.

Among other pursuits, Keenan Allen needs 10 receptions to reach 100 for the year. Hunter Henry needs one catch to set a single-season career high. Melvin Ingram needs 2.5 sacks to total 50 in his career.

And, with 108 more yards, Austin Ekeler will be a 1,000-yard receiver, capping a season that has seen the former special teamer emerge on offense so dramatically that he was considered a Pro Bowl snub.

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“I’m going to remember this season,” Ekeler said. “But if I get that mark, it would be like a stamp on it. Like, ‘Hey, that was my 1,000-yard receiving year.’ This season for me personally has just been an awakening.”

As a whole, the Chargers’ season has been best viewed with eyes shut. Expected to contend in the AFC, they instead have underachieved behind a torrent of turnovers and plays gone unmade.

They are 5-9 and tied for last in the AFC West as they prepare to face 6-8 Oakland on Sunday in the franchise’s final game at Dignity Health Sports Park.

The Chargers will move into the new SoFi Stadium in Inglewood in 2020 and do so as a group looking to rebound from an empty season, one during which a series of close losses stacked up high enough to leave a gaping hole between what was forecast and what was reality.

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They have two Pro Bowlers in Allen and defensive end Joey Bosa. Ingram was named a Pro Bowl alternate, and so was fullback Derek Watt. Linebacker Drue Tranquill has been their top rookie.

Wide receiver Mike Williams has continued to develop as a deep threat. And Ekeler? A genuine revelation, a once steady complement to Melvin Gordon looking more and more like a running back who can stand on his own.

Otherwise, there has been a whole lot to forget among the injuries and Philip Rivers turnovers and red-faced red-zone results.

In meeting the rival Raiders now, the Chargers will have to summon purpose by any means possible.

“Coach [Anthony] Lynn talked about it,” Ekeler said. “You’ve got three different types of guys right now. It’s people that have already checked out, people that are on the fence and could go either way or people that are all-in and competitive.

“I feel like we’ve got a pretty competitive group right now. … We’ve got two more weeks. I know I still have personal goals. A lot of my teammates have personal goals.”

This will be the 120th regular-season meeting between the two franchises. It all began as the Los Angeles Chargers versus the Oakland Raiders in 1960 and then became the San Diego Chargers versus the Oakland Raiders the next season.

For 13 years starting in 1982, they were the San Diego Chargers versus the Los Angeles Raiders.

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They’re back to being the Los Angeles Chargers versus the Oakland Raiders again — for one final time.

Next season, they’ll be the Los Angeles Chargers versus the Las Vegas Raiders, with both teams playing in new stadiums that are costing roughly a combined $7 billion.

“It’s more about looking at ourselves and being pros and doing our job and doing it well and competing and having that same energy,” Rivers said, dismissing the additional juice that normally would accompany this matchup. “I think it’s more about us and how are we going to finish off this season.”

Both teams arrive coming off troubling defeats. The Chargers turned the ball over seven times and allowed 30 unanswered points in a 39-10 implosion against Minnesota.

The Raiders dropped their fourth in a row by surrendering two touchdowns at home in the final six minutes in a 20-16 loss to Jacksonville, a team the Chargers beat two weeks ago by 35 points.

Still, in a stadium that figures to be extra festive given the Raiders’ local following, the expectation is for an atmosphere much more alive than the Chargers’ postseason dreams.

“It’s going to be two teams playing, fighting,” Rivers said. “It won’t look like two teams that are out of it, that are disinterested. I think it will be a spirited divisional contest.”

Times’ Sam Farmer predicts the winners of week 16 of the NFL season.

There will be the added emotion of several Chargers potentially playing their final home games with the franchise. That group is headlined by Rivers and Gordon, both of whom are on the verge of becoming unrestricted free agents.

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Rivers has been the team’s starting quarterback for every game since the 2006 season opener. In that first NFL start, he and the Chargers beat the Oakland Raiders 27-0.

“It’d be weird, bro,” Gordon said of this team having a different starting quarterback in 2020. “It’d feel weird for me to not be here, you know? Spending my last five years here … you kind of tell yourself when you get drafted, ‘I want to be on that team until I retire.’ Sometimes, that’s not the case. Things don’t always work out.”

Things, sometimes, indeed do not. The 2019 Chargers are proof.


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