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Column: Is Anthony Lynn the right coach for the Justin Herbert era? Chargers need to decide

Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn reacts as the Denver Broncos scored the tying touchdown.
Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn reacts as the Denver Broncos scored the tying touchdown during the second half on Sunday in Denver. The Broncos won 31-30.
(David Zalubowski / Associated Press)

The Chargers are close. They’re really close.

Which is why their weekly late-game meltdowns matter.

As crazy as this sounds, as improbable as this once seemed, the Chargers are positioned to overtake the Rams as SoFi Stadium’s main attraction.

This is as much an indictment against the Rams as it is a testament to what the Chargers have built, but they have the quarterback, the uniforms and the more affordable tickets.

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The question the Chargers have to answer over the following nine weeks is whether they have the coach.

The inquiries about coach Anthony Lynn’s status are entirely legitimate, considering the kind of history the Chargers have made in recent weeks.

Never mind how the Lakers won their first championship in 10 years or the Dodgers their first in 32.

What the Chargers did was unprecedented.

The Chargers dealt defensive back Desmond King to Tennessee on Monday, one day before the NFL trade deadline. They received a sixth-round pick in 2021.

They became the first team in NFL history to blow leads of 16 points or more in three consecutive games, which included a victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

But there was more.

They lost a game Sunday to the Denver Broncos in which they were once ahead by 21 points.

The Chargers are now 2-5.

“If we finished three of these games that we’re supposed to have won,” cornerback Casey Hayward said, “nobody would be talking about it.”

Actually, as it is, barely anyone is talking about it.

Imagine if the Chargers played in another market. Or imagine if they were a team this city cared about — in other words, imagine if they were the USC Trojans.

Pitchforks would be raised, the palace stormed.

If the widespread indifference is a blessing of sorts for Lynn and notoriously indecisive chairman Dean Spanos, it’s also a curse.

In Justin Herbert, the Chargers have Los Angeles’ only superstar since the NFL returned in 2016.

Aaron Donald of the Rams is the best player in the league. Todd Gurley, their since-departed running back, was once the most dominant offensive player.

Neither was a quarterback.

Herbert is only six starts into his NFL career, but it’s already obvious the Chargers struck gold when they chose him sixth overall.

He’s more than a franchise cornerstone. He’s must-see TV, a valuable commodity in a star-driven market.

In almost any other city, Herbert would be the toast of the town. On almost any other team, he would be the talk of the league.

But the Chargers protect leads as well as the Angels bullpen.

“That’s on me,” Lynn said.

In any other season, or any other market, such an admission could cost a head coach his job. The collapses are downright inexcusable. But there are no tickets to sell and there is no large fan base demanding a human sacrifice.

The Chargers have the luxury of waiting.

Maybe general manager Tom Telesco is to blame for assembling a particularly injury-prone roster that has forced inexperienced players into key roles. Or maybe the fault is that of defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, who has called on the young replacements to do what he asked of the now-sidelined veterans.

Safety measures drastically altered the NFL offseason, eliminating several workouts as well as the preseason schedule. Lynn called that “a huge factor” in the development of the team’s first- and second-year players.

“I think as a staff we have to figure out where that balance is between putting too much on a young man’s plate and letting him go out and play football and have an impact,” Lynn said. “When you don’t have that offseason and you don’t have those preseason games, we have to consider maybe taking even more off their plate.”

Then again, the Chargers aren’t the only team in that predicament.

What’s important is they properly diagnose their problems over the remainder of the season and figure out how they will repair them. That could be with Lynn as their head coach, or someone like Eric Bieniemy or Joe Brady. Whatever the case, they have to move decisively, which isn’t in Spanos’ nature.

Justin Herbert put in another encouraging performance for the Chargers on Sunday against the Broncos, but the team still lost.

Because the Rams have given them an opportunity.

The Battle for L.A. appeared to be over when the Rams reached the Super Bowl in their third season back in town.

But the Rams weren’t able to build on that momentum. Gurley started to physically deteriorate and was ultimately cut. Jared Goff hasn’t played up to his record-breaking contract extension. Coach Sean McVay has failed to recapture his magic from his first couple of seasons with the team.

They are the least convincing five-win team in football. And while their history in Los Angeles and Anaheim provides them with a sentimental edge over the Chargers, their foothold here isn’t especially sturdy. They’re not the Lakers or Dodgers.

Shockingly, it’s the Chargers who are taking on the look of a Los Angeles team with their dynamic quarterback and stylish uniforms. And if there’s any positive aspect to them being an afterthought of an afterthought in this city, it’s that they aren’t proactively hated, as they were when they first moved here.

This is a game the Chargers can come back and win. What they have to determine is if Lynn is the right coach to lead them to victory.


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