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Chargers have confidence going into final quarter of season

December 4, 2018
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Photographers surround Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (17) as he leaves the field after defeating the Pittsburgh Steelers 33-30 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 2, 2018, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo/Don Wright)

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — With their comeback win at Pittsburgh, the Los Angeles Chargers have established themselves as a contender in the AFC going into the final quarter of the season.

The Chargers’ 33-30 win over the Steelers put them firmly in control as they chase their first postseason berth since 2013. Los Angeles (9-3) has a two-game lead over Baltimore for the first wild-card spot and has a three-game cushion over the rest of the field.

Coach Anthony Lynn, though, wasn’t ready to say his team made a statement.

“I don’t know if you can say it was a statement win,” he said Monday. “It’s always exciting when you come back after a win, especially when you do it in that fashion.”

The Chargers ended the Steelers’ 175-game unbeaten streak with at least a 16-point lead at home and it was the largest blown lead at home in franchise history.

It also marked Los Angeles’ third win that went down to the last minute. They stopped Tennessee from making a two-point conversion in a 20-19 win in London on Oct. 21 and then needed a goal-line stand two weeks later in Seattle to earn a 25-17 victory.

“I think it is a big win for us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We haven’t had one like this on the road against this kind of opponent, then add the fact that it was come-from-behind. I think winning the game would’ve been a lot, but it really just gets us one more win.”

The rally was familiar territory for Rivers, who threw for 299 yards and two touchdowns. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it is his seventh comeback victory when trailing by 16 or more points, which ties him with Peyton Manning for the most in NFL history.

The Chargers are 18-6 since losing their first four games last season. They host Cincinnati on Sunday before a key rematch four days later against Kansas City. Los Angeles trails the Chiefs by a game in the AFC West. The Chargers close the season with a Dec. 22 home game against Baltimore and at Denver on Dec. 30.

Lynn likes that he has a team with a lot of confidence when they need it at this time in the season. While most coaches would go apoplectic in the locker room down by 16 in a prime-time game, the second-year coach focused on adjustments.

“What I saw was a bunch of men who didn’t want to let the next man down in the locker room. That’s way more powerful than anything a coach can say,” Lynn said. “With this group you don’t have to throw tables and knock over water coolers and all that to get them going, they knew. I could see in their eyes they were ready to play.”

The Chargers still have some concerns this week. Running back Melvin Gordon could miss his second straight game due to an MCL sprain in his right knee. Rookie Justin Jackson had 63 yards and a touchdown during the second half and could split carries with Austin Ekeler.

Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt is also expected to interview for Georgia Tech’s head coach opening this week. Lynn said there is a backup plan in place if Whisenhunt gets hired and doesn’t finish out the NFL season, but wouldn’t elaborate.

“We haven’t talked much about it. I know there is a lot of interest,” Lynn said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s his job to turn down. He’s a heck of a football coach, it’s his alma mater, there’s some loyalty there.”

The Chargers made a roster move Monday by releasing offensive tackle Joe Barksdale, who had been with the team for four years and started 43 games. Barksdale started the opener against Kansas City before suffering a knee injury and missing the next five games. He then played in the next four but was declared out for the game at Pittsburgh for a non-injury-related reason.

To fill Barksdale’s spot on the roster, the Charges promoted wide receiver Dylan Cantrell from the practice squad. Cantrell was selected in the sixth round in last April’s draft.

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