Chargers fans could get use to this, back-to-back wins for the first time in nearly a year and a victory over the AFC West rivals the Oakland Raiders. Given how previous years have gone, my immediate thoughts straight after Sunday’s 17-16 win in the Bay Area were that this could be the high point on the season.
However, there has been enough over the last two weeks to suggest that we are only just starting to see what the Chargers are capable of under head coach Anthony Lynn and that better days are ahead. Phil Rivers produced his best game of the season to keep the offence ticking over, while the message about the weapons the Bolts have on defence is out judging by how quickly Raiders quarter-back Derek Carr got rid of the ball.
There is still plenty that needs improving, not giving the opposition a head start would be nice, but for the first time in what feels like a long time the team appears to be trending in the right direction. Here are my takeaways from a very satisfying win against Oakland.
1. You can count on Gordon
Having started the season in ropey fashion, Melvin Gordon is getting better and better week by week. Lynn was expected to be a run first coach but had to go away from that slightly when Gordon was struggling. For the second game in a row though the Bolts running-back was the offensive MVP, carrying for 83 yards, while he had 67 receiving yards, all of which combined for his two touchdowns.
Gordon’s play as a receiver was perhaps the greatest asset to the Chargers on route to the win and adds an element of unpredictability to the offence given they have normally always been running the ball when he has been on the field in the past. After a shaky start, Gordon is back on course to take over running this offence from Philip Rivers down the line.
2. More vintage Rivers please
Much like Gordon, Rivers has continued to improve after a rocky start. Having seen questions as to whether he is the right man to still lead this time, No.17 once again lead a game-winning drive, starting from inside the Chargers red zone.
The 35-year-old looks more comfortable behind his offensive line, believing he is going to get the protection he needs, rather than anticipating the contact as he was during the first four weeks. Rivers managed the game well and took care of the ball, avoiding being picked off. There were still throws that left you saying “why?!” but otherwise it was his strongest performance of the season so far.
3. Join the party Williams
Chargers fans got their first glimpse of first round draft choice Williams as a Bolt on Sunday after a very long wait. The former Clemson man has been plagued by a back injury since being selected by LA and looked like he might miss the entire season at one point.
Although he only had one catch on the day, the signs look positive. His massive 6ft 4in frame means he is a very different option wideout for Rivers and looks like he will be a clutch receiver going forward. Rivers will relish having Williams available, hopefully for the rest of the season.
4. Stopping the run part 3
A theme has developed in these articles in recent weeks and that is that the Chargers number one issue on defence is stopping the run. There were signs of Lynn and defensive co-ordinator Gus Bradley finally starting to combat that problem against the Raiders, a big run from Cordarrelle Patterson just taking Oakland beyond 100 yards on the day.
The Chargers kept Marshawn Lynch out of beast mode as the defensive line came up with its best performance to date to limit the Raiders options. With the Broncos coming to town again this week it is vital the D-line goes up another gear if they are to make it three wins on the bounce.
5. Finding a way to win
After the first quarter on Sunday it looked as though the previous week’s win in New York had been a one-off. Starting badly is something which still needs addressing, the Bolts having been outscored 50-7 in the first quarter of their six games this season. However, they are finishing strongly, they have outscored their last three opponents in the fourth quarter
Rivers made a joke after the game about how he was use to winning all the time before the team’s downturn in fortunes, the last two seasons having been particularly painful as they became use to losing instead. The Chargers found new ways to loss every week but that is changing, they are instead executing when push comes to shove, rather than flopping.
Lynn is also beginning to show how adaptable a head coach he can be, something predecessor Mike McCoy never did. Lynn has so many offensive weapons at his disposal that he can switch game plans at the drop of a hat, rather than follow McCoy’s example of sticking to your tactics, no matter the outcome.
It is all very refreshing and should give most fans confidence that they can get their revenge on the Broncos this weekend.