The Chargers had lost three out of four games, lost a playoff berth, and lost everything but their head coach.
Oh, he was next on the list, a growing segment of media – both traditional and social – supplanted Brandon Staley in favor of the ever-lurking Sean Payton.
“Everyone hears the noise,” said Chargers center Corey Linsley. “But the whole world changes week by week in the NFL.”
It definitely does, which is why over the course of three weeks, the whole world around this team changed dramatically.
The Chargers went on to win three straight games and secured a postseason spot with a snap of their fingers when the three teams directly behind them in the AFC scored a combined 1-8.
The Payton talk has slowed and now the Chargers are preparing for their first playoff appearance in four years by meeting the Rams on their shared turf at SoFi Stadium on Sunday.
“With all that noise, we might have collapsed if we’d paid attention,” Linsley said. “But we believed in everyone the whole time. We just had to keep going.”
The 9-6 Chargers went into conference sixth in Week 17 and still had the potential to move up or down a spot in their final two games of the regular season.
As for their first playoff opponent, each of the five teams ahead remains a possibility.
Only this much is certain: On the weekend of 14.-15. The Chargers play away in January.
This franchise last appeared in the postseason in January 2019 under former coach Anthony Lynn. These Chargers won in Baltimore before losing in New England, with a berth in the AFC title game at stake.
In his sophomore season, Staley’s overall record is 18-14, his Chargers charging behind a defense in December that executed his plan in dominant style.
Staley was asked what the big step is to qualify for the playoffs for this team and franchise.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a big step,” he replied. “This is the right step. To become world champion you have to make the playoffs. I think that’s a good start. We expected that.”
With the starting position in the game, the Chargers also have the motivation to try to rediscover an offensive flow that has been lacking of late, with outside attention shifting to coordinator Joe Lombardi’s future.
Justin Herbert has had more sackings in his last six games than at any stage in his young career, and the Chargers have reached the end zone just seven times in their 42 full possessions since Week 13.
“We just need to sync because we’re moving the football and there are a lot of good plays,” Staley said. “But it was just ups and downs. It will take everyone. It’s not just one person.
“I wish I could tell you it’s just that one aspect of the offense, but it’s not. We all play together and create the rhythm and timing that lead to scoring.”
Another goal for the Chargers in the next two games: Prepare edge rusher Joey Bosa for the postseason. Since suffering a core muscle injury in late September that required surgery, Bosa returned to training on Thursday.
He will play the Rams — likely in limited numbers — to increase his activity en route to the regular-season finals. Bosa said he is perfectly healthy and feeling better than he has in at least two years.
It all added to the feel-good story that has wrapped around this team over the past few weeks, the Chargers overcoming injuries, uneven performance and rumor to get to the very place so many people prophesied them four months ago .
“I think our way here, nobody could have predicted that,” said Staley. “That makes me happy. We were able to work our way there. I think it’s remarkable how we earned it.”
The Chargers have a chance to earn some extra. Your easiest journey to No. 5 would be to win each of the next two weeks and lose Baltimore one of their last two, either at home to Pittsburgh or in Cincinnati.
A lot still has to be right for a team that has played its way into an encouraging space in three weeks of alternating seasons to move up.
“We have a lot of struggle in us,” said wide receiver Keenan Allen. “Tough, tough group of guys. We fought, we fought. It paid off.”
https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-12-31/los-angeles-chargers-rams-nfl-game-preview-playoff-position Chargers look to improve their playoff position when taking on Rams