Anthony Lynn recognized how odd it felt to be so encouraged after a 36-7 loss. However, the head coach couldn't help it based on the way his team played in the first half of the third preseason game against the New Orleans Saints.
"Let me tell you, I've never played a game where I've lost by that margin and feel so good about it," Lynn said.
Facing one of the top teams in the NFL last year, the Bolts dominated on both sides of the ball early on as they raced out to 7-0 lead. The defense forced an interception on the first series when Derwin James picked off Drew Brees' deep pass on third down. It was the first of three straight stops the Bolts had against Brees on the money down.
However, what Lynn was most proud of was the way the Bolts bottled up the Saints' potent rushing attack. New Orleans' rushing attack averaged a league-high 4.7 yards per carry a year ago, but the Chargers limited them to just 16 yards on five carries (3.2 ypc).
"I love the way the first unit went out and played against one of the top rush teams in the league," Lynn said. "(We) held them to under four yards a carry the whole first half."
On the flip side, Lynn was equally proud of the way the Bolts pounded the rock. Playing the entire first quarter, the first-team offense averaged 6.7 yards per carry, led by Austin Ekeler who churned out 50 yards on six carries.
"Offensively, (we) moved the ball on the ground," he continued. "We know we can throw the football on anybody, and they averaged over six yards a carry in the first half, and doing all of that with no penalties. That's been one of the things we've been focusing on."
What impressed Lynn most was the performance of the offensive line, who played with a swagger that made the head coach proud.
"I feel like this group is starting to gel at the right time," he said. "I feel like I saw that tonight. When they came off the field, they really didn't want to come off. They wanted to go back and play, but I saw that in their eyes. I saw that in their face. That was different."
"Our tempo was great, and our offensive line, they really ran the ball," added Philip Rivers. "If we can be balanced and run the football the way we did tonight, we have a chance to be a special offense."
A two-time Pro Bowler, Russell Okung knows the key to sustained success up front is playing as one. The Bolts excelled at that in the passing game a year ago, allowing the fewest sacks in the league (18). Now, Okung believes they are ready to take it to the next level if they can continue to produce on the ground the way they did vs. the Saints.
"Obviously you want to be a dynamic offense," he said. "We pride ourselves on being able to throw the ball really well, one. Then offensively, be able to also run the ball. We have some really good backs in the backfield. They're capable of doing a lot and making some explosive plays, and I think today was indicative of that, too. if we're able to execute, we can be unstoppable. That's exciting, but we've got to get better, especially with our reserves. But I'm excited either way about what we're capable of."
Part of the reason the Bolts have gelled so quickly is the addition of Mike Pouncey. In fact, Lynn singled out the veteran center for bringing a certain level of swagger to the offensive line.
The head coach was far from the only one impressed by the center as Philip Rivers also couldn't stop raving about the veteran.
"(Pouncey brings) real good (leadership)," he said. "He presses the tempo. He keeps the pace going (with) his presence. Obviously, his play is good, but his presence at home (is key). He brings a little bit of an energy and nastiness that is contagious. I'm excited to see how it is when we're both out there."
"I think Mike brings a certain level of tenacity and passion for the game," added Okung. "You can see it in every single down, that he loves playing football. That's the sort of team you want. We want guys who love the game. Smart, tough guys who are physical; that's what we want our whole team to be comprised of."