A funny thing happened in the hours and days after the Chargers suffered what appeared to be a deflating loss Oct. 22 to the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. Instead of folding like a warm tortilla, the Chargers regrouped and began to smile and have fun again.
When they reconvened for practice at their Costa Mesa headquarters a few days after a 31-17 loss to the Chiefs left them with a 2-4 record and cast serious doubts about their ability to rally, the Chargers did exactly that. Smiles replaced frowns and laughter thundered through the locker room.
The Chargers went on to rout the Chicago Bears and the New York Jets in their next two games to return to .500 and invite second opinions about their play nearing the season’s midway point. They were far from flawless in defeating two teams with novice quarterbacks, but winning sure beat losing.
Their next challenge is to continue to have fun while playing a more complementary game against the Detroit Lions, their most difficult opponent since facing the Chiefs. After all, the Lions are 6-2, leading the NFL North Division and coming off a bye week. The Chargers (4-4) are coming off a short week.
“This is a really tough game,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of the NFL grind. “Sometimes, we all need to be reminded that it’s a game. I think that these guys work really hard. They do it the right way. I think that it gets you to connect at a higher level. There’s something to look forward to. When big things happen, they become bigger because you’re doing it with your teammates.
“I think you’ve been able to see that tangible energy on the field and I think it spreads. Everyone wants to be a part of that because it’s such a tough game.”
It was evident one day when quarterback Justin Herbert sat with the offensive linemen in the locker room and somebody wondered why they were called fish and chips when they were actually fish and French fries. It was clear, too, when a group of defensive linemen cheered when long snapper Josh Harris went somewhere quiet with a reporter for a one-on-one interview on another day
You saw it on the field, too. Successful plays prompted joyful celebrations. Outside linebacker Joey Bosa then took it to a higher level with his sumo wrestling-inspired celebration of his first-quarter sack and fumble recovery during the Chargers’ 27-6 victory Monday night over the Jets.
“I stripped the ball out,” Bosa said. “I thought it was a good time to pull that (celebration) out. I hadn’t planned it. Kind of spur of the moment remembered it. I thought the guys did a good job of jumping in, so, yeah, I think we’re trying to have more fun out there. It is a game. Sometimes you get really caught up in how intense and how serious we take our jobs that you forget you should be having fun out there.”
In many ways, the Chargers have reached a crossroads similar to one they hit last season, albeit a little bit later in the schedule. Last season, the Chargers were 6-6 after a loss to the rival Raiders in Las Vegas. But instead of collapsing in the stretch run, they won four in a row and clinched a playoff berth.
Defeating the Lions could set the Chargers on a similar course, with the Green Bay Packers (3-5), Baltimore Ravens (7-2) and New England Patriots (2-7) next on the schedule. No question, the Chargers have issues to address before anyone can expect an extended winning streak, however.
Chargers vs. Detroit Lions: Who has the edge?
Chargers tackle bigger challenge in Lions QB Jared Goff
Chargers rookie Tuli Tuipulotu content to let his play speak for itself
Chargers QB Justin Herbert admits frustration in facing strong defenses
Chargers review: Joey Bosa, Khalil Mack leading defensive resurgence
“Everybody knows what the mission is,” Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. said. “Everybody knows what we’re here to do. We’ve been having a lot more fun. We’ve been celebrating, having fun and just enjoying the moment. We’ve been right there in every game and we feel like we should have won every game we’ve played. When you get that feeling that you know you’re supposed to win, what are we waiting for?
“Let’s go do it. Why not?”
CHARGERS (4-4) vs. LIONS (6-2)
When: 1:05 p.m. Sunday
Where: SoFi Stadium
TV/Radio: Ch. 2; 98.7 FM; 105.5 FM/94.3 FM (Spanish)