Surging Chargers determined not to overlook flailing Oakland Raiders

It’s been a while since the Chargers had this kind of record, with six wins and just two losses halfway through the NFL season. And so, you’ll have to forgive quarterback Philip Rivers for not remembering what it felt like a dozen years ago, at the midway point of his first season as a starter.

But as the Chargers surge into the second half of this promising season, there is no better blueprint for a successful final stretch than 2006, when the Chargers finished the best season in franchise history on a 10-game tear.

Instead, what Rivers can recall as clear as day is how quickly the tide can turn on a season. He brings up the example of the rollercoaster 2014 season, when a hot 5-1 start for the Chargers gave way to a three-game losing streak. A three-game win streak seemed to get them back on track – until three losses in four games sunk them to 9-7.

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“It’s a long season,” Rivers said. “We’re truly one week at a time. This league is week-to-week to me. I don’t fall into where people say, ‘Oh, this patch of the schedule is easier than that patch.’ They all count.”

This week, it’s especially easy to fall into the trap. At 1-7, the hapless Raiders are in a tailspin, with one of the worst defenses in the NFL and an offense incapable of moving the ball. Since the season began, they’ve traded away their best receiver and pass rusher. Their quarterback has been criticized for crying on the field. And various reports have suggested that coach Coach Jon Gruden is losing the locker room. In other words, there is every reason to assume that the Chargers will roll over the Raiders on Sunday.

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But don’t tell that to the Chargers. All week long, they made a special point to emphasize, over and over again, that they aren’t overlooking anyone, least of all a division rival. Never mind that the rest of the league has already counted the Raiders out.

“It’s the National Football League,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “They know that you can get beat any given Sunday.”

To hammer that point home this week, Lynn told the team about the 1998 Broncos, who saw their undefeated, 13-0 record doomed by the lowly Giants, after they briefly lost focus.

“That’s a game we feel like we played them ten times and beat them ten times,” Lynn recalled, “but we got beat that day.”

That Broncos team went on to win the Super Bowl. But while the Chargers certainly look like possible contenders, they’re still far from slump proof. Trailing the Chiefs by one game in the AFC West, they’ll need every victory they can get to have any hope of overtaking the division.

That shouldn’t be a problem this week. And probably not for the next two weeks after that, either. Following their trip to Oakland, the Chargers take on the Broncos and Cardinals – combined record: 5-12 – at home. It’s entirely reasonable to expect the Chargers could be 9-2 heading into December.

But the Chargers would like to slam the brakes on such talk.

As lost as the Raiders might be, they’ve still played the Chargers tough in the past. Gruden’s team may have given up more rushing yards than any other in the NFL this season, but when they faced the Chargers in October, the Raiders held them to just 79 rushing yards – their lowest total of the season with running back Melvin Gordon active.

“It’s never easy,” Gordon said. “We’re gonna take it for what it’s worth. We’re going to prepare as if we’re preparing for any other team.”

If that’s the case, Gordon should run wild, regardless. No one has been able to stop the Chargers top back lately. Since that last meeting in Carson, Gordon has 245 rushing yards and four touchdowns in two games, while the Raiders have given up 520 yards and three rushing touchdowns in their last three.

With that in mind, it’s not hard to see how a team like the Chargers could let their focus drift ever so slightly, only to watch their win streak derailed in one afternoon. It’s human nature, Lynn says. And with more wins possibly ahead, there will only be more chances for the Chargers to veer off course.

“So,” Lynn said, “that means you’ve got to focus a little harder.”

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