In a league famous for being difficult to predict, the Chargers sitting at 0-2 might be as unexpected as anything the NFL has to offer today.
There are folks genuinely stunned that this team has lost its first two games. Believe it, because some of those folks are Chargers.
“I am,” wide receiver Mike Williams said when asked if he’s surprised. “I think a lot of people are. It’s probably like, ‘Dang, this is the most surprising team of all.’ But it’s early. It’s early. That’s a good thing, right?”
That is a good thing, the Chargers still with 15 games to go, starting Sunday at Minnesota, where the Vikings are equally winless.
But early can turn late awfully fast given how the Chargers have reached 0-2 and what’s coming for them in the near future.
First, Brandon Staley’s defense, a unit widely forecast this summer to be improved, has been red-flag leaky and particularly vulnerable to the big play, something it is designed explicitly to limit.
The Chargers already have surrendered 20 passes that gained at least 15 yards and six that netted more than 30. By comparison, Justin Herbert has 10 15-plus-yard completions.
The Vikings will walk into U.S. Bank Stadium second in the NFL in passing yards. Quarterback Kirk Cousins has opened with back-to-back 300-yard performances and just threw for four touchdowns against Philadelphia.
All-Pro Justin Jefferson has totaled 150 and 159 receiving yards. In his one career game against the Chargers — in Week 10 of 2021 — he had nine catches for 143 yards.
How much of an anchor has the defense been? The Chargers are the first NFL team to be 0-2 despite scoring 50 or more points and having no turnovers.
Entering Week 3, only five teams had outscored the Chargers and those five were a combined 9-1.
There has been a lot of numerical wrangling of late about how rarely teams that open seasons poorly advance to the playoffs. For the record, the last two Chargers teams to make the postseason — in 2022 and 2018 — started 1-2.
But, when assessing the significance of Sunday for this team, the difference between 1-2 and 0-3 probably won’t matter if Staley’s defense doesn’t find consistency.
“We haven’t gotten the results that we wanted,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “We’re going to keep working hard. We’re not panicking. We’re not quitting. We’re not turning our backs on each other.”
Next, consider a schedule that doesn’t await the Chargers as much as it lurks. Following their game in Minnesota, they return home to play Las Vegas and then have their off week.
The Chargers come back to host Dallas, an early Super Bowl favorite, before traveling to meet Kansas City, the reigning Super Bowl champions.
If the losing continues, the 2023 Chargers very well could be ghosts by Halloween.
“You know those numbers and odds of making the playoffs are out there, but you can’t pay attention to them,” running back Joshua Kelley said. “I think it’s still possible, for sure. You just gotta get one.”
This is a team desperate to get one. The Chargers were thought to be ascending coming off their wild-card appearance last season and with a roster that remained largely intact.
But here’s the thing about that continuity: most of these players were here for the sour end of the 2022 regular season and the playoff debacle in Jacksonville. They’ve lived just how distressing the last nine months have been for this franchise.
“We just need to get in the win column,” Williams said. “I feel like that’s going to turn everything around, get this momentum going. That’s the biggest thing. Let’s get on the winning side.”
The Chargers have dropped four in a row going back to early January. Each loss has come by one possession, with two decided on the final play. They have what probably feels like the longest four-game losing streak in franchise history.
Their most recent victory occurred on New Year’s Day when they beat their L.A. counterparts during the Rams’ Baker Mayfield era.
By the way, the most effective player for the Rams that day? Running back Cam Akers, who was traded Wednesday to Minnesota. He finished with 123 yards on 19 rushes.
“You gotta look yourself in the mirror and be real about it,” Williams said. “We have to be better. Then look to your right and to your left and realize we got what we need in this locker room. We’re still capable of dominating and beating any team.”
The Chargers don’t need to beat any team right now, just one — the Vikings. That at least would be a start for a bunch already dodging speculation about being finished.