Chargers face favorable path to playoffs but must avoid past errors

Chargers blew an opportunity to make the playoffs in 2021. Staley says they have learned from it.

Déjà vu comes to mind when thinking about the last four games left in the Chargers season. They have been here before with needing to handle business, and they clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2018.

Last season, the Chargers had four games left and needed to go at least 2-2 to advance to the postseason. They faced a win, and you are in scenario against the Las Vegas Raiders in which they came up short.

“You have to be playing your best at the end,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “It’s about how you finish in this league. Last year, the record was 1-3 down the stretch, and we didn’t finish our season. I thought our guys competed, laid it on the line, but we didn’t get it done.”

Staley’s first season was a rollercoaster ride. He has brought his own style to the organization, for example, sitting down with the team on Thursdays to show them the game plan for all three phases.

He was criticized for not being afraid to go for it on 4th down since the beginning knowing that you win some, you lose some.

“After last season, I knew that you have to engineer your whole program for this time of year, for December,” Staley said. “We tried to do that last year, but just making the subtle tweaks to the schedule and getting the guys fresh and playing well and the focus. Their routine at the end of the year I think is really important.”

The Chargers have already made changes, like making Wednesday more of a walk-through the last few weeks instead of practice to preserve bodies.

The Chargers are sitting in a favorable spot after their victory last Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. They are in the eighth spot with a 7-6 record while the seventh-seed New England Patriots also have the same record.

Bill Belichick’s squad has a tough road to the playoffs as they play at Raiders, welcome in the Bengals, and the Dolphins then they finish it off against the Bills.

Staley’s squad faces Tennessee on Sunday, their only opponent with a winning record. The rest of the season is a matchup in Indianapolis on Monday Night Football, their final home game of the season against the L.A. Rams, and in Denver.

Being a little greedy, the Chargers might be able to catch the Dolphins, who are currently the sixth seed and hold a one-game advantage over them. But the Chargers hold the tiebreaker, and Miami’s schedule is tough.

Staley, though has them focused on themselves and not what is around them. It starts this weekend.

“Everybody’s got to step up in different ways,” Allen said. “Last week, you’ve seen the D.B.’s (defensive backs) step up in a major way. Taking those guys (Dolphins receivers) out of the game pretty much. It’s going to be a challenge this week. Obviously, we got to stop Derrick Henry. We (the offense) got to attack the defense.”

Tennessee is on a three-game lose streak and are 7-6 on the season but play in a weak AFC South. Make no mistake about it, they play a tough brand of football. It starts with head coach Mike Vrabel.

Tennessee has a serviceable quarterback in Ryan Tannehill, but receiver Treylon Burks (concussion) will miss the game. It is no secret that the Titans will try to establish the run right away with Henry against the Chargers bottom-five rush defense.

The defense will most likely be without their leader in safety Derwin James for the second straight game as he is dealing with a quad injury. That makes this matchup against Henry much more difficult.

On offense, the Chargers may attack a weakened Titans defense with their aerial attack led by quarterback Justin Herbert. In the victory over the Dolphins, fans saw a more electric Herbert that showed emotion, whether it was signaling for a first down or after the game spiking a football in the locker room.

“It was just a lot of excitement in the locker room,” Herbert said. I came in there, and everyone was kind of looking at me to do something, so I felt like that was the right move. In hindsight, I probably wouldn’t have spiked it, but it was a good move. It was a lot of fun. I think the guys enjoyed it.”

It is evident that Herbert wants to make the playoffs for the first time since joining the NFL. Once in the playoffs, it is like the WWE Royal Rumble, a free for all or anyone’s game.

Staley would also be making the playoffs for the first time as an NFL head coach and could put to bed certain rumors.

“We have to keep going,” Herbert said last Sunday. “If we want to get to where we want to go, it starts tomorrow. It starts with watching the film, fixing our mistakes. Looking at what we did well and correcting that. I think there is a lot of football left to be played. We’re going to get some guys healthy, get some guys back. We just have to keep rolling.”

Four games are left in the season, with a path to the playoffs if the Chargers handle business. They will need some players to come back from injury like edge rusher Joey Bosa, James, and maybe left tackle Rashawn Slater.

It starts on Sunday against Tennessee.

“Just to get a win, especially when we are coming down to the end of the season where it’s crunch time and then we have the playoff picture in sight, it’s definitely emotional,” Chargers running back Austin Ekeler said.

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