Chargers dug themselves too big a hole

Jan 2, 2018 - 2:24 AM COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Few teams were hotter than the Los Angeles Chargers (9-7) when the season ended, as they won nine of their final 12 games.

But the hole they dug thanks to a 0-4 start was simply too much to overcome in their first year back in Los Angeles.

The Chargers, and first-year head coach Anthony Lynn, had trouble finding their offensive identity early in the year.

Wanting to run the ball, Lynn got away from a more proven commodity in quarterback Philip Rivers. Once the Chargers went throw-first and pass-second, the results were positive.

Melvin Gordon did end up rushing for 1,105 yards and he put together a solid season. Still, another year of Rivers' career was squandered as L.A. missed the playoffs for the seventh time in its last eight seasons.

Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram were a dynamite tag-team, pass-rushing tandem that had few peers.

Kickers, and the Chargers went through four of them, didn't help the cause.

But Lynn established in his first year a sense of accountability that wasn't prevalent in the past. While it's a huge disappointment that the Chargers didn't make it into the playoffs, they seem headed in the right direction. Wide receiver Keenan Allen's bounce-back, Pro-Bowl caliber season is a huge plus going forward. Combine that with Bosa and Ingram being young and under contract and Lynn having absorbed his first year on the watch.

After a decent season after two stinkers, the Chargers could be a team to watch in the near future.

WHAT WENT RIGHT: There were questions about Rivers after he came off a season in which he led the NFL with 21 interceptions. But Rivers displayed all the skills that has allowed him to pass for over 50,000 career yards in a steady season. His 4,515 passing yards were second only to New England's Tom Brady. For the 10th consecutive year, Rivers passed for at least 25 touchdowns. Rivers had 28 touchdowns to 10 interceptions.

WHAT WENT WRONG: It was a spirited battle in camp, that of being the Chargers' kicker. But it didn't make that many waves when incumbent Josh Lambo was beat out in favor of undrafted rookie Younghoe Koo. Few knew what a disaster the kicking game would be for the Chargers, as they converted just 20 of their 30 field-goal attempts. The Chargers would bring in three more kickers, after Koo, and they are still no closer to finding a permanent solution.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Clemson star Mike Williams was going to give Rivers another red-zone target and someone to catch the 50-50 balls downfield. But Williams suffered back and ankle injuries that limited him to 10 games. He had 11 receptions for 95 yards all season. The Chargers were hopeful that would be the first-round pick's production in games, not an entire season.

MOST SURPRISING PLAYER: With two Pro Bowlers in the secondary, not much was expected from Desmond King, a fifth-round pick out of Iowa. But after making his mark on special teams, he gradually found himself in more passing situations when Jason Verrett's injury cost him his season. King showed his talent with 71 tackles, which included a team-high nine in the final game. He had four sacks and an interception.

ASSISTANT COACH ON THE RISE: Gus Bradley came in and in his first year flipped the Chargers from a 3-4 to a 4-3 and sprinkled his strategy throughout the unit. Bradley coaches with enthusiasm and the team fed off it, along with him putting defensive ends Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram into the right spots to have productive plays. Bradley, who came over after being let go as the Jaguars' head coach, could get another chance at a top spot again.

--First Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn spoke to the media Monday. Then it was quarterback Philip Rivers turn.

Two people, same message: disappointment.

The Chargers' return season to Los Angeles didn't end in a great way despite the team pasting the Oakland Raiders, 30-10, to cap the regular season.

On Monday, one day after the pair talked, Lynn sounded the same.

"I woke up this morning and I felt disappointed again," he said. "Then when I came into the building I could see everyone else was disappointed, too."

The Chargers were downcast because not even nine wins in the team's last 12 games could erase a 0-4 start. In the end, it was the beginning that flattened the team's chances to be the AFC's second wild-card team for the playoffs.

The Chargers needed some help to get in. But with the scoreboards at StubHub Center turned off, L.A. turned its attention to the Raiders. And it was a pretty solid effort as the Chargers completed a season sweep of their in-state rivals.

"This is a championship team," Lynn said.

But the only trouble is it won't compete for one. Not after the Chargers dug a hole with four consecutive losses to start the season. That rut finally caved in on the squad when they were left out of the postseason tournament.

"We just fell short," Rivers said.

With that, the Chargers headed off into an offseason filled with regret and promise.

"The sky is the limit for us," wide receiver Travis Benjamin said.

But for now, the Chargers are grounded as they missed the playoffs for the seventh time in their last eight seasons.

--Quarterback Philip Rivers became the ninth player in NFL history to pass for 50,000 career yards. He also tied Fran Tarkenton for sixth all-time with 342 touchdown passes.

--Cornerback Trevor Williams capped a solid season as he had three tackles in the last game. Williams was forced into action when Jason Verrett was hurt to start the season. Williams, an undrafted player, was downcast after the game as well. But he said, "We persevered through a lot."

--Wide receiver Keenan Allen had a big season and a big day. But he wanted to spread the credit around. He said the Chargers, "played for each other and it showed." His thoughts on Philip Rivers? "He gets us into the plays that work for us," he said.

One of his Allen's touchdowns on Sunday came when he recovered a ball in midair after it squirted from running back Melvin Gordon's grasp. "I looked up and the ball was coming to me," Allen said. "That has never happened to me before."

For an encore next year, Allen is already looking ahead. "Come back and be more consistent and try to get better," he said.

--Tight end Antonio Gates' contract runs out in March and he's still deciding if he is going to return for his 16th season. Throughout the locker room, the Chargers said Gates can still be effective and he's hard to cover with just single coverage. Gates had four catches for 46 yards in the season finale.

"I want to win a championship here for the Los Angeles Chargers," he said.

NOTES: ILB Denzel Perryman (hamstring) returned to the lineup and had some key plays in limited work. He finished with three tackles. ... WR Keenan Allen set the franchise record with 102 receptions for a single season. ... DT Corey Liuget (knee) wasn't able to go in the finale. ... S Adrian Phillips (ankle) sat out the last game.

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