Column: Chargers’ ongoing problems threaten to make them a permanent joke in L.A.

Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, right, has a heated discussion with offensive coordinator Shane Steichen.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, right, has a heated discussion with offensive coordinator Shane Steichen after the team botched a chance at a field goal in the waning seconds of the first half against the Falcons.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

From their opponents’ eight-yard line, the Chargers ran the ball.

With 22 seconds remaining in the half.

Without any timeouts.

Spiking the ball wasn’t an option, either, as the play call in question came on third down.

Anthony Lynn was unable to get their field-goal team lined up before the clock expired. The period ended with an illegal-shift penalty and the Chargers down by a touchdown.

You don’t see that every day.

“Actually, they also did that two weeks ago,” remarked a chuckling Chargers beat writer two seats away in the socially-distanced press box at SoFi Stadium.

The Chargers finally find some late-game magic as Michael Badgley kicks a 43-yard field goal as time expires in a 20-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

Dec. 13, 2020


The play said more about the Chargers than the final score on Sunday, 20-17 in their favor over the equally-lousy Atlanta Falcons.

The Chargers are the one-of-a-kind last-place team that is worse than their 4-9 record indicates, as a never-ending succession of on-field gaffes have threatened to turn them into football’s version of the Sterling-era Clippers.

About the only reason they haven’t become complete laughingstocks is because SoFi Stadium remains closed to the public.

Imagine if it were open.

 Chargers coach Anthony Lynn looks on near the end of the first half.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn looks on from the sideline after the team missed a chance at a field goal at the end of the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

With the four-win Falcons visiting, this 70,000-seat architectural marvel would have been, what, half empty? Three-quarters empty?

They literally would have been booed off the field when they stunk up the joint in a 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots.
The “Are You Kidding Me” finish to the first half against the Falcons would have elicited even more jeers.

“Let me tell you this, and I don’t want to elaborate on it, but you cannot run the ball in that situation,” Lynn said in a postgame videoconference.

Rookie quarterback Justin Herbert said the plan was to spike the ball after Kalen Ballage gained the yard necessary for a first down. Evidently, whoever called the play didn’t consider the possibility Ballage might be stopped short.

And that is what happened. The offense was still on the field when the field-goal team came on, resulting in a penalty.


But even if Ballage had reached the marker, the Chargers would have ultimately kicked a field goal, in which case the potential reward didn’t justify the risk.

The Chargers’ secondary — a group that goes by “JackBoyz” — intercepted Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan three times, playing a critical role in a 20-17 win.

Dec. 13, 2020

The sequence cost the Chargers three points, which nearly cost them the game. The game was tied until Herbert drove them down the field to set up Michael Badgley’s 43-yard field goal on the final play.

Lynn refused to reveal who called the play, but whether it was offensive coordinator Shane Steichen or someone else, the responsibility is the head coach’s. Lynn assumed control of special teams last week, but that is not an excuse.

“That’s an area where we have got to improve as a coaching staff communication-wise,” Lynn said. “And we will.”

Except mistakes such as this are being made on a weekly basis. A comeback win over another last-place team doesn’t change that.

While an in-house audience would have intensified the Chargers’ humiliations, it also would have provided the team’s tone-deaf owner with an extremely helpful barometer.

Chargers owner Dean Spanos, left, reacts after the team was unable to line up for a field goal.
Chargers owner Dean Spanos, left, reacts after the team was unable to line up for a field goal in the waning seconds of the first half.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Whether it’s because of financial limitations, a misguided sense of loyalty or a lack of necessary courage to make changes, Dean Spanos is notoriously slow to make coaching changes.

Norv Turner lasted longer than he should have. So did Mike McCoy.

And as likeable as Lynn has proven to be over his four seasons with the Chargers, as respected he is as a man, it’s clear they require new leadership. But Spanos’ history raises a legitimate question about whether Lynn could return next season.

Delaying the inevitable, even by a year or two, was something the Chargers could do in San Diego. They were the only show in town.

They don’t have that luxury here.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 20-17 victory over the Atlanta Falcons at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.

Dec. 13, 2020

If Spanos hasn’t learned that, the fans would have informed him. Every chorus of boos, every empty seat, every paper-bag mask would have served notice that change was required.

In Los Angeles, once a team is branded a joke, the label is hard to shake. Look at the Clippers. They now have one of the best owners in professional sports, they successfully recruited Kawhi Leonard and the city still views them as losers.

The Chargers are moving in that direction, their brand gradually diminished with every cartoonish mistake. The harm isn’t beyond the point of repair, but the same pandemic that has limited their embarrassment could keep them from seeing and hearing the signs that they are about to be permanently scarred.