Two weeks have passed since the end of the 2017 season, so the time is right to reflect on the top five lessons learned about the Chargers.
1. Grit and Perseverance – The 2017 season is one the franchise will never forget. A new home. A new coach…and a rollercoaster ride of emotions. The team started out 0-4, and could have easily crumbled. Instead, the Bolts ended the year with a winning 9-7 record, barely missing out on the postseason due to tiebreakers. The mental fortitude shown by the Chargers is what most impressed General Manager Tom Telesco:
"Probably the one thing that really stuck out to me as far as the difference from this year to 2016 is I really saw a high level of grit and determination that we just lacked last year. And I credit Anthony Lynn for that. Anthony has instilled that in this football team. I think that you saw it week after week. I think we saw it after our 0-4 start. That was some tough times right there. We're talking about a team in a new market, (a) new stadium trying to get used to their surroundings. We started off poorly at 0-4. Right now, what are we going to do about it? And our head coach never flinched once. I think our players saw that. I know our players saw that and reacted well to that. Then we started playing better football and got on a roll at the end of the year. But obviously it wasn't quite enough to get it done this year."
2. Every Game Matters – It's impossible to talk about the 2017 season without mentioning the 0-4 start. The Chargers ended the season winning nine of their final 12 games yet missed out on the postseason. Why? Largely in part to starting out 0-4. The beauty of the NFL is the importance placed on every single game. For instance, one game in the NFL is equal to 10 games in MLB. Thus, the Bolts know more than anyone how Weeks 1-17 hold equal importance. Philip Rivers believes the lessons learned as well as the way they ended the season can help the team get off to a fast start in 2018:
"I'm not big on momentum, but I think you see a team now. In the last two years, it was a team that can't win a close game, etc. There was all that still hanging over you. This coming offseason will be a team that, gosh, finished winning nine of 12, they have these guys that can rush the passer, they have a guy that caught 100 passes, guys that got speed on the outside, they're going to have a young and healthy Mike Williams (and) gosh, an offensive line that played unbelievable. The fewest sacks we've had in how many years, I don't know. A long time. There's a lot of things they're going to say that are positive. It's not going to be many, 'They're missing this, this and this still.' It's going to be (that) this team was close from being at least a dangerous factor in the postseason."
3. Premiere Coaching Staff – As noted in the first lesson, the Bolts emerged as one of the top teams in the NFL over the last three weeks of the season. While the players deserve most of the credit, so do the coaches. And I'm not just talking about Lynn. From the coordinators to position coaches, the entire staff did a marvelous job putting the team in position to win games. After all, there's a reason that Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt and Defensive Coordinator Gus Bradley were among the most coveted names this offseason as their contracts expired. Fortunately, the team was able to retain both. As for Lynn, he said his first year was a learning process. When asked what the biggest lesson was, he didn't hesitate in his response:
"To stay out of my coaches' business. I'm used to having my own side of the ball and my own group, but letting coaches coach. Let them do their job and just manage the game, and just oversee and understand the big picture. I had to take a step back because I missed those relationships and those healthy conversations we have throughout the day. I'm sure there are other things once I take a step back and reflect on the season, but immediately that came to my mind."
4. Philip Fires on All Cylinders – He may be 36 and, but 17 showed no sign of slowing down in his 14th season. Rivers orchestrated the league's number one passing offense, completing 360-of-575 attempts (62.6-percent) for 4,515 yards, 28 touchdowns and just 10 picks for a 96.0 passer rating. When pressed to describe his season from an individual perspective, Rivers gave a blunt assessment, not shying away from the positives of another Pro Bowl season:
"In a lot of ways I had a good year. There's always plays you want back through every game. Make a few plays here or there and we would have won them all. But I certainly cut down on the turnovers. Two games against Kansas City, I had six interceptions. In the other 14, (I) only had four. So obviously (it was) a better job taking care of the football. I think a lot of credit goes to the guys up front. The fewest sacks in the league, which is a testament to their hard work, our communication together. A lot of things go into that happening. And then the receivers on the outside and the backs, everybody being involved catching the football and doing the things they did. So, you finish fourth in offense, you finish one in passing offense; we did a lot of good things offensively…It's one where I felt healthy all year. Made it through the year healthy, and played at a level that is more characteristic of my past years for the bulk of my years. Really, I feel encouraged and excited I can play at this level or better for a handful more."
5. Kicking Woes – There's no other way to put it – the Chargers had the worst kicking game in the NFL. From Younghoe Koo to Nick Novak to Travis Coons and finally Nick Rose, each kicker experienced hardships over the course of the season. Heck, even punter Drew Kaser had to take over kicking duties in Dallas after Novak suffered an injury. The Bolts' brass vowed to correct the issue in 2018, and have already added former second-round pick Roberto Aguayo to a Reserve-Future contract. He joins Rose as a second kicker under contract right now. After all, Lynn stressed the need to find a reliable player at the position for the long haul:
"That's (the) top priority. It's to find that young kicker — not a Band-Aid — but a young kicker that can be with this organization for a long time. Get him in here, get him in this building around these guys every day. The problem when you bring in kickers off the streets, they're auditioning. And then they always feel like they're auditioning. Because the team is watching them on Thursday, and then they go into a game. I just think it's just so much pressure on those guys. Get somebody in here that these guys can know, trust, and go from there. We'll do that this offseason."
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