Chargers face must-win vs. Jets
After an 0-4 start, the Los Angeles Chargers owned a slim margin for error. And after a loss last week in Kansas City, they can err no more.
If the Chargers (7-7) lose either of their last two games, they cannot make the postseason. The first will be a Christmas Eve matchup with the New York Jets (5-9) at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., on Sunday.
"Our playoffs have begun," first-year Chargers head coach Anthony Lynn said after his team's 30-13 loss Saturday night to the Chiefs. "And there's no absolute that we're going to the playoffs even if we win the next two games. But, if we don't, we (darn) sure ain't going."
If the Chiefs (8-6) win one more game, the Chargers cannot win the AFC West. And the only way Los Angeles can get a wild card spot is if the Ravens (8-6) or Titans (8-6) get the No. 5 seed, the other loses both their remaining games to finish 8-8, and the Chargers finish tied with the Bills for the No. 6 seed at 9-7, because they beat Buffalo head-to-head in Week 11.
Got all that?
"All we can control is these next two weeks," said Lynn, a former Jets assistant under Rex Ryan.
If the Chargers, who play the Raiders (6-8) at home in Week 17, do too much scoreboard watching, the Jets can surprise them. New York has been woeful on the road, but surprisingly competent at home.
The Jets are 4-3 at MetLife Stadium, including a 38-31 win over the Chiefs three weeks ago. Their three home losses have all been by eight points or less, and they came against the Patriots (11-3), Falcons (9-5) and Panthers (10-4).
But that was all with Josh McCown at quarterback. He went down for the season with a broken left hand two weeks ago in Denver.
Bryce Petty played decently in a 31-19 loss in New Orleans, but the Jets' offense was limited without McCown, who was having a career year. The 26-year-old Petty called his mistakes "easy fixes" on Monday, but he has only four touchdown passes and nine interceptions in eight career games.
What are not easy fixes for the Chargers are their lengthy injury report and their kicking game.
Tight end Hunter Henry, the team's third-leading receiver with 579 yards and four touchdowns, was placed on injured reserve Tuesday because of a lacerated kidney suffered against the Chiefs. Running back Austin Ekeler broke his hand after fumbling on the same play Henry was injured and is iffy for Sunday. He was limited at practice Wednesday and wore a club around the hand.
Two defensive starters will also be out for the Chargers. Middle linebacker Denzel Perryman may be out for the season with a hamstring tendon strain, and defensive tackle Corey Liuget, who helps clog the middle of the line so edge rushers Joey Bosa (11.5 sacks) and Melvin Ingram (10) can be isolated on an offensive tackle, has a sprained knee.
"Sometimes when the next man steps up at this point in the season, it's not necessarily an upgrade, but they're fresh," Lynn said, trying to put a positive spin on the injuries.
What he can't spin is how bad the kicking game has been for his team, which has made a league-low 70.4 percent of its field goals this season between three kickers, Younghoe Koo, Nick Novak and Travis Coons.
Coons is out after missing an extra point against the Chiefs, and in comes Nick Rose, whom the Redskins released last week. The rookie out of Texas missed an extra point against the Chargers just two weeks ago, but apparently the liked something they saw with him. Rose was 10-for-11 on field goals with a long of 55 and 18-of-20 on extra-points for Washington.
"We're looking for a kicker we can keep around here for a few years," Lynn said. "Right now, we're just kind of looking and evaluating guys."
It's a somewhat odd time to be evaluating talent, what with their backs against the wall.
The Chargers' margin for error is gone, and they are perilously close to missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Updated December 21, 2017