It likely wasn’t intentional, but the Chargers chose the perfect player to represent the organization for the start of Week 10.
Rookie running back Joshua Kelley stepped onto the Zoom podium and flashed his infectious smile Monday morning. He politely thanked reporters for questions and provided enthusiastic responses.
The happiest NFL player might play for the gloomiest team in the league. But there was nothing depressing about Kelley’s 17-minute interview.
Kelley managed to turn the Chargers’ latest gut kick into an afterthought less than 24 hours removed from their 31-26 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders at SoFi Stadium. It was the Chargers’ fifth loss of the season that came on the final play.
“We’re positive,” the former UCLA running back said. “We’re optimistic here, and I believe we’re gonna get this thing going the right way.
“When I was in college, the way we lost games was pretty different than the way it was here. … But always gotta be optimistic. We’re really close.”
Not many players and coaches can say they’ve experienced what the Chargers (2-6) have this season. Perhaps Chargers coach Anthony Lynn can relate because his team went 2-9 in one-score games last season. But this year’s narrow losses have brought a different kind of pain.
“I can’t remember a season like this in my whole football life,” Lynn said Monday.
To summarize the Chargers’ final-play misery this season: In Week 2, they lost to the Kansas City Chiefs because of Harrison Butker’s 58-yard field goal in overtime.
In Week 3, Chargers running back Austin Ekeler dropped Keenan Allen’s lateral pass that likely would have led to a walk-off victory against the Carolina Panthers. In Week 5, Chargers wide receiver Mike Williams was inches short on fourth down against the New Orleans Saints in overtime.
In Week 8, Broncos quarterback Drew Lock erased the Chargers’ 21-point lead with a game-winning touchdown pass to K.J. Hamler.
Finally, in Week 9: The officials overturned Donald Parham Jr.’s touchdown catch to stop the Chargers’ celebration and secure the Raiders’ victory.
“I think we’ve lost every way that you could possibly lose,” Lynn said. “We’ve done it. Hopefully that’s over and now we can get on a winning streak.”
If the Chargers are searching for any type of positivity, they didn’t blow another double-digit lead Sunday. They went four consecutive games of squandering leads of 16 points or more before facing the Raiders. But the Chargers’ streak of AFC West losses extended to nine games.
The Chargers didn’t say much after falling to the Raiders. All they can really do at this point is stay upbeat, and Kelley’s personality might be what the Chargers need to see to remain patient for good outcomes.
“We’re gonna get this thing going off the right way, but we can’t keep dwelling on the past,” Kelley said. “We just gotta keep going forward and we will.”
Lynn said the Chargers don’t have a culture of losing close games. He said it comes down to executing at crucial times. But coaching is a big part of executing and Lynn and his coaching staff might be down to their final eight games to fix that.
Lynn pointed Monday to the Chargers’ 2018 season when they went 6-1 in one-possession games. He’s shown before that his team can win close games, but the 12-4 season of 2018 feels like ages ago.
The Chargers have lost 15 of their past 17 one-score games. The two wins came on missed last-second field goals in Chicago last season and Cincinnati to start this season.
The 2020 Chargers have done many things right by building leads and staying competitive against every team they’ve faced this season, but that hasn’t been enough.
They’ve been kicked in the gut six times this season. They’re still standing with a smile, but that might not be the case by end of the season if this patient approach of believing in one another doesn’t work. The Chargers eventually have to execute in crunch time.
It might not bode well that the Chargers are low on solutions, but Lynn and Kelley are optimistic that the tide will eventually change.
“At some point, good things are going to happen,” Lynn said.