The curse has been lifted.
It is perhaps a sign of how ubiquitously disappointing life has been for Chargers fans in recent years that initial instinct when reading that sentence may be to go: Curse?
The Chargers curse is a complex one, combining injuries, bad coaching, terrible mistakes, and an incredibly unhealthy dose of luck into one big ball of pain and suffering. Even though the team were coming into Thursday Night with an incredible 10-3 record, the general consensus was that they needed a real statement win to announce to the world that this Chargers team are legitimate contenders.
Someone pass me a damn megaphone.
In the last three weeks, the Chargers have beaten both Kansas City and Pittsburgh. On the road. Oh, and both games were in primetime. Make no mistake about it, this is a completely different Chargers team to the one that we’re used to.
Beating Seattle was nice, but it didn’t feel like a statement win. To go into Pittsburgh and come back from a 16 point deficit? Incredible, but it was about time the Chargers had a game like that bounce their way. We needed to see more before we could believe. We demanded more. We craved it; kindred spirits with vultures, hunting for our next meal. The hunger was overwhelming, but on Thursday Night, we were satiated. For the first time since 2013, it feels fulfilling to be a Chargers fan.
It’s possible - certainly from an outsiders perspective - to point to this simply being a case of luck, a regression to the mean. Statisticians will point to the fact that unlucky teams usually have their luck turn around sooner rather than later, and so can expect to experience a dramatic uptick in fortunes. That hasn’t the case with the Chargers. There’s bad luck, and then there’s consistently being vehemently snake-bitten by injuries to key players, year after year. There’s bad luck, and then there’s not only failing to regress to the mean with the results of one score games, but actually getting worse in them:
Chargers in Games Decided by 3 Pts or fewer Last 4 seasons— Katie Sharp (@ktsharp) December 14, 2018
There’s bad luck, and then there’s losing games that would only happen once in 30 million times:
The Chargers have lost 4 games against all odds—well, not all odds, just 1/30 million odds https://t.co/kA950Rs26n— The Wall Street Journal (@WSJ) October 11, 2016
If it was simply down to bad luck, I’d hate to meet the guy that Mike McCoy upset. After being unlucky with the Chargers, he proceeded to be so terribly unlucky that both the Denver Broncos and Arizona Cardinals fired him before he’d even had a full season there to show them the true power of running up the middle (possibly through some form of delayed handoff).
No, this wasn’t about luck, but that other magic word: Culture. Culture is often used as a senseless buzzword, a throwaway comment when a media personality is asked why a team they’ve forgotten exist are suddenly winning games. “Oh, I just think they’ve done a great job of changing around the culture.” Uh uh. Not today, Stephen A.
With the Chargers, though, it’s more than a meaningless buzzword. It’s the truth. Ask Joey Bosa, who said that “We needed a strong head coach to come in & make players take accountability for what they do, which there wasn’t enough of last year. I feel like if we had a coach, nothing against Mike McCoy, I just don’t think he had the voice to really get s--t.”
In McCoy’s place, the Chargers hired Anthony Lynn, billed as a players coach with the mentality needed to get things done. The first four things he did were - well, lose four games. The Chargers went 0-4 to begin the 2017 season, but no matter. Culture doesn’t change overnight, and neither does a curse. The Chargers had a game-tying FG against the Denver Broncos blocked, missed a game-winning one against the Miami Dolphins, and lost by just two points to the eventual Superbowl Champions. Any sense of optimism renewed through a three game winning streak was quickly relinquished, however, after Travis Benjamin ran a punt into the wrong endzone against the New England Patriots before possibly the most cursed loss of them all against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Despite the Jaguars scoring on a 56 yard fake punt, The Chargers would be in pole position to win the game, intercepting Blake Bortles twice within the last two minutes. Instead, they gave the ball right back to the Jaguars both times, who’d drive down the field to kick a game-tying FG, before kicking another to win it in OT. Oh, and that kicker was Josh Lambo, who the Chargers had cut for being too inconsistent. The Chargers had five different kickers that year, all of whom were consistently awful.
The Jaguars loss was a dark moment as a Chargers fan, but it was simply a matter of entrenching Lynn in the true nature of the beast. For Lynn to drag the team up, he had to first submerge himself in the murkiest depths of the quagmire that is Chargers football. Drag them up he did, with the Chargers finishing the season winning six of their last seven games and only narrowly missing out on a playoff spot.
When Lynn sent his team out to run it at the goal-line four times in a row against the Denver Broncos, he flexed his muscles - literally - and shouted at his team to ‘bow up.’
That moment was the the start of the realization that things were changing for the better in Los Angeles - the team has gone 18-6 under Lynn since that game - and it all culminated beautifully on Thursday Night.
With the Chargers on a short week going on the road to the loudest stadium in the NFL, to face the best team in the NFL - who they’d lost the last nine games to - they should have had no chance. Despite being down by 14 points, and despite being without key players such as Melvin Gordon and Keenan Allen, the Chargers found a way to be a PAT away from taking the game to overtime. Overtime? Not with Anthony Lynn. The Chargers were going for the win.
Time seemed to freeze, but on reflection, that was probably just the Kansas City defense. Mike Williams caught the pass, the Chargers won the game, and grabbed a win that was undoubtedly important for their record, but even more important as a symbolic victory.
The same old Chargers? Think again. This is a team as talented as any in the NFL, and one that are finally - finally! - ready to compete with the best the league has to offer.
That’s not luck. That’s Lynn.
And he’s got the Chargers loaded for January.