Brandon Staley is feeling the pressure with the Los Angeles Chargers off to their first 0-2 start in six years.
After Sunday’s 27-24 overtime loss at Tennessee, the third-year coach bristled at suggestions that a hangover remains from last season’s playoff loss in Jacksonville when the Chargers blew a 27-point, first-half lead and were eliminated 31-30.
“It’s a convenient story line, but it’s not the truth,” Staley said. “We’ve lost two tough games, but the men in that locker room are finishers, and they have what it takes, and we’re excited to prove ourselves.”
Staley is correct if one wants to only look as far back as the playoff game. The painful truth is that what has caused the Chargers to drop their first two games this season has existed for the past two-plus seasons.
And as much as Staley says he has guys that are finishers, they’ve often come up short in clutch situations. They lost 36-34 to Miami in the opener after Tyreek Hill scored on a 4-yard pass from Tua Tagovailoa with 1:45 remaining.
They have dropped their last four regular-season and playoff games by nine points.
The Chargers had an 11-0 lead midway through the second quarter, but were only up 14-10 at halftime. It was the fifth time under Staley the Bolts have lost after having a double-digit lead, tied for second-most in the league since 2021.
Staley was hired after leading the Los Angeles Rams as the league’s top-ranked defense in 2020. He has a 19-18 overall record, with 13 losses by one score.
His defense continues to be prone to allowing big plays. Tennessee had six explosive plays — three runs of at least 12 yards and three completions of at least 16 yards — including two pass plays of at least 49 yards that would lead to touchdowns later in the drive.
Over the past three seasons, the Chargers have allowed 281 explosive plays, third-most in the league.
“I don’t think there’s some magical answer people keep asking about. I think it’s the little things that every single one of us needs to do a little better,” linebacker Joey Bosa said.
The offense has yet to turn the ball over, but has failed to produce late. The Chargers got the ball to begin overtime, but offensive coordinator Kellen Moore called three deep shots instead of short or intermediate passes to take time off the clock. Pass protection has also yet to hold up in critical moments, including a third-down sack when the Chargers were at the Titans 7.
For a team that had hopes of at least making the postseason at the beginning of the season, the Chargers are following a dangerous trend under coaches hired by general Tom Telesco in their third season.
Anthony Lynn and Mike McCoy had winning records in their first two seasons before things went south in Year Three.
Lynn went from 12 wins and a playoff berth in 2018 to five victories in 2019. McCoy was 4-12 in 2015 after 9-7 in 2014. Both coaches were fired after four seasons.
“It’s a tough group and there’s a lot of pride in that room," Staley said. "We put a lot into this, and we’ve got a good football team. We've got to bounce back, learn from our mistakes and be ready for Minnesota.”
Special teams. Right now, it’s the only unit that has been consistent throughout the first two games. Cameron Dicker made three field goals and converted all five in the first two games. Rookie Derius Davis averaged 15.8 yards on four punt returns Sunday, including one for 20 yards during the fourth quarter.
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Third down. The Chargers were 2 of 14 against the Titans, including 1 of 6 in the second half and overtime. They did convert all three times they went for it on fourth down.
LB Joey Bosa. He had two sacks despite missing most of the week due to a hamstring injury. Bosa was in for 18 of the Chargers’ 63 defensive plays and had four tackles.
Cornerbacks Asante Samuel and Michael Davis. The duo was targeted seven times and allowed seven receptions for 152 yards. Treylon Burks had 2 yards of separation from Samuel on a go route that led to a 70-yard completion and set up Tennessee’s first touchdown. Davis allowed a fourth-quarter touchdown for the second straight week, this time on a short post route by Nick Westbrook-Ikhine on third-and-goal from the Chargers 4.
RB Austin Ekler (ankle) and LB Eric Kendricks (hamstring) were inactive and are questionable entering this week.
1 — Times out of 33 since 1966 a team has started 0-2 despite scoring 50 or more points and committing no turnovers in the first two games. That would be this year’s Chargers.
This is shaping up as the Desperation Bowl, with the Chargers and Vikings both at 0-2 after being looked at as Super Bowl contenders throughout the preseason.
AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl
Joe Reedy, The Associated Press