That photo right there, of Steelers running back James Conner celebrating a touchdown as teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster breaks it down, wasn’t taken anywhere near Pittsburgh. It’s tough to tell at first because of the sea of black and yellow in the background. But then the powder blue banner and the solemn cheerleader at attention come into focus, and you realize, Wow, no one cares about the Los Angeles Chargers.
With every passing game, the argument for the Chargers’ continuation as an NFL team diminishes. In this week’s entry, a 24-17 home loss to Pittsburgh, the team spotted the Steelers a 21-0 lead at halftime before mounting a furious fourth-quarter comeback that came up short. Head coach Anthony Lynn adeptly managed the remaining game time and preserved his timeouts to give the offense a chance to tie, but quarterback Philip Rivers required only two plays to throw a frantic interception that might as well have been intended for Steelers cornerback Cameron Sutton. A win last night would’ve put the Chargers at 3-3 and at least established them as an AFC team to monitor, but they excel in this genre. This defeat was a twist from their usual process, which is to come out totally flat in the first half, mount a furious comeback, require one more chance, and have the defense serve up a game-clinching first down or touchdown as the camera cuts to Philip Rivers—who is always standing up—stewing on the sideline. Even the team’s best receiver knows this.
Before that attempted comeback, the Chargers had been struggling with Devlin Hodges, an undrafted rookie quarterback who made his first-ever start. Not until late in the game did Los Angeles pick up on the fact that Hodges, who finished 15-for-20 for 132 yards, was incapable of throwing a pass more than 10 yards in the air. (Watch all his passes here; one of his scarce deep balls was the Chargers’ only takeaway of the game.) When the QB wasn’t handing off to a running back, he was dumping it off to a running back, more specifically James Conner, who was his team’s leading receiver with seven catches for 78 yards and a touchdown. It became clear that the Steelers’ strategy was to run the ball a lot and work within Hodges’s obvious limitations. It was clear to me, anyway, by halftime. Somehow the Chargers did not pick up on this, and continued to spread their attention equally as Conner broke what felt like 62 tackles throughout the game.
Let’s write this question out, in hopes of someone providing an answer: Why do the Chargers still exist? There is no audience for them. Their home games, played at a stadium with a capacity of 27,000, are filled with the visiting team’s fans. The situation is so bleak that last night, the Chargers tried to Rickroll the Steelers fans by playing the opening Styx’s “Renegade” before switching it to “Never Gonna Give You Up,” but the gag didn’t even work properly, because L.A. was down 24-10 and the crowd was so ready to get pumped and wave their dumb yellow towels.
A couple of Chargers were demoralized by that stunt. One of them wanted someone fired, the strongest emotion shown by anyone affiliated with the Chargers this season. From the Los Angeles Times:
“It was crazy,” running back Melvin Gordon said. “They started playing their theme music. I don’t know what we were doing — that little soundtrack, what they do on their home games. I don’t know why we played that.
Said offensive lineman Forrest Lamp: “We’re used to not having any fans here. It does suck, though, when they’re playing their music in the fourth quarter. We’re the ones at home. I don’t know who’s in charge of that but they probably should be fired.”
Again, I submit this question to the masses, the heavens, any and all of Philip Rivers’s children: Why do the Chargers still exist? No one wants to watch them in person. Anyone who still cares about this team out of some bizarre obligation has only received disappointment in exchange for their time. They could instead root for the Rams, who are slightly less disappointing. If you contracted the Chargers, their good players could go to other teams with better medical staffs. And if the prospect of having an odd number of NFL teams is the only factor holding anyone back from supporting this plan, go ahead and contract the Skins, too.