All 0-4 records are not alike, as it turns out, and the Chargers are reminding the NFL of this more every week.
The Chargers were not, for example, the same 0-4 the Giants appear to be. Like the Chargers, they played Thursday night to save face, because their 0-4 turned into 0-5, then 2-8 as they headed to Washington. Meanwhile, thanks to the 28-6 beating they handed to the Cowboys in AT&T Stadium, the 5-6 Chargers have a chance to end Sunday one game out of first place in the AFC West with five games left.
The Chargers have won five of seven since their 0-4 start. They’ve beaten their last two opponents, the Bills and Cowboys, both on the road, by a combined 82-30. Most of the points they’ve given up have been in garbage time, and their defense has been nearly as much of a threat to score as a threat to stop the other team. Desmond King’s 90-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter was the Chargers’ third in that span.
GAME CENTER: Chargers-Cowboys stats
Blame Dak Prescott and the absence of Ezekiel Elliott if you want. Add that to the blame last week on Bills novice quarterback Nathan Peterman, and on novice coach Sean McDermott for starting him. Regardless, the Chargers’ defense, that pass rush, the easier life that gives an opportunistic secondary — they’re making the other side look downright inept.
They’re also making sure that they don’t repeat the last-play, heartbreaking losses that defined that 0-4 start. Better to put a game out of reach than to let it stay in reach of the fates in the final seconds, as they did each of their first two games and three of their first four. (Not to mention their last two losses, to the Patriots and Jaguars, before their blowout of the Bills.)
They looked too good in too many games to be 0-4, and to be looking up at every team in the division a month into the season. The players, including Philip Rivers, and coach Anthony Lynn, kept insisting then that things weren’t as bad as they looked , that they were better than the year before when they were losing games in much the same fashion (eight losses by seven points or fewer in 2016), that this wasn’t going to continue.
They were right.
Now, the Chargers hotter than any team there, and, as a bonus, less dysfunctional (a more fitting description for the Broncos and Raiders, who both fired coordinators this week).
The Chiefs started 5-0, and their Week 3 win in Kansas City was the only lopsided Chargers loss this season — but now, after four losses in five games, KC has to beat the Bills on Sunday to give itself some breathing room.
The Chargers earned the luxury of resting and watching Sunday. That defense, and Rivers’ 434 yards passing — all of which allowed them to mask a nightmare of a day in the kicking game — gave them a nice cushion with their play Thursday.
They know that what they’re attempting is rare, and there’s no chance they don’t know exactly how rare by now. The only team in NFL history to go from an 0-4 start to a playoff berth is … the 1992 San Diego Chargers, of Junior Seau and Stan Humphries and a top-five defense, who caught and passed the Chiefs to win the West.
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This isn’t karma, though, or a positive omen, or history repeating itself. This is a team that was never as bad as its 0-4 record, and two months later is gradually proving it.