What if the Chargers never became enamored by a UDFA kicker from Georgia Southern, whose highlights lit up the imagination of team officials and fellow players, alike? What if his spiral, whirly-twirly field goal didn’t exist? Would the Chargers have fallen so hard for Younghoe Koo?
What if the team decided it was the smarter, safer option to stick with the kicker who had been with the team the last several years instead of trusting a pivotal role, in a pivotal year with the unproven Koo? Recency bias aside, after seeing how early and often the kicking game caused the fans head-splitting frustration and agony, I knew it would be the perfect topic for the “What if?” articles. There are three specific games that ended in a loss with some pretty obvious ties to the kicker of the team, and we are going to relive each one of them.
Sorry in advance, Charger fans.
The first loss of the three may be the least affected directly by the cut of Lambo as you could argue the kicker at the time is irrelevant as the kick was blocked. However, I’m going to stretch this one and argue that a more experienced kicker in the NFL would have, maybe, purposely kicked the ball at a steeper angle in order to minimize the chance of it getting blocked.
The way the Chargers fell to the Broncos on opening weekend likely hurts the most of this trio. It was a divisional rival, in a Monday night primetime match-up between two first-year head coaches. It had to be demoralizing. It’s tough to think of worse ways in which to start a season as both fan bases unsurprisingly had lofty expectations for 2017.
In their second game, the Chargers faced off against the Miami Dolphins, the team that beat them in Qualcomm the prior season en route to them making the playoffs. In this game, the Bolts could hardly contain Jay Ajayi on the ground while simultaneously allowing recently un-retired Jay Cutler make too many clutch plays on money downs.
All of the defensive frustration throughout this game led to a 19-17 Dolphins’ advantage late into the fourth quarter. With only mere ticks remaining on the clock, Philip Rivers and company were able to run a seamless two-minute drill to get within field goal range. For the second time in as many games, Younghoe Koo was brought out with the game on the line. Bringing about a feeling Chargers fans know all too well, Koo’s kick sailed off-target, and the Bolts fell to 0-2. Another blunder stemming from the decision to keep the young UDFA over Lambo.
The downward spiral only continued from there as the Chargers dropped the next two games to the Kansas City Chiefs and the eventual Super Champs, the Philadelphia Eagles. The latter game was also another gut-wrencher as they fell 26-24.
At this point, the Chargers had released Younghoe Koo and decided to resign a familiar face in Nick Novak. I assume the team was hoping the familiarity would maybe fix the lapses in special teams performance. This move would later be the equivalent to putting a band-aid on a bullet wound. Regardless, this move did jump-start the team on a path in the right direction as they went on to win their next three games before dropping a 21-13 bout against the New England Patriots.
In their next match-up against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the error in the decision to cut Josh Lambo not only became more prevalent, but it might as well have materialized into a human form and smacked the Chargers between the eyes.
The game itself was a defensive standoff between two teams that boasted ferocious pass rushers to go along with their own pairs of shutdown corners. By the fourth quarter, it was 17-17, and the Jags were currently driving deep into LA territory. For those of you who weren’t aware before this moment, the Jaguars were the team to scoop up Josh Lambo after he was released. And if you’re a fan of immense karma, you’ll love what happens next.
With the clock running out, the Jaguars called a timeout and let their new kicker trot out to attempt what would be the dagger in this game. It was a picture-perfect revenge game, and you could not have scripted it any better. As time expired, the kick was up and in. The Bolts fell to 3-7, and the irony was not lost on anyone for quite some time.
The hole that was dug for the team went on to be too deep for them to climb out of, even with the late surge to finish out the year. But just imagine...
If those first two games go the other direction with Lambo as the Chargers’ kicker, if he wasn’t the kicker for the Jaguars in week 10, and the team’s record was upped from 9-7 to 12-4, we could all be talking about what a great first season that Anthony Lynn had. We would all be celebrating his NFL Coach of the Year honor. Maybe we would be looking back on the fond memories of playing in the AFC Championship Game, or even the Super Bowl itself?
In the end, the “what ifs” in life can give us headaches or hope. I hope you all choose hope.
What do you guys think of this “what if?” Do you think keeping Lambo would have helped anything or would it have not mattered at all?