After being set adrift for nearly a month, the Los Angeles Chargers finally return home this weekend to the NFL’s smallest venue.
Five weeks, four games, two countries and the franchise’s best nine-game start since 2006 has brought unity, as the Chargers enter Sunday’s game against the Denver Broncos on a six-game winning streak. Their 7-2 record is just a notch below a trio of one-loss NFL teams in the Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Rams and New Orleans Saints.
“When you’re traveling like that, you have to build a bond with your teammates,” Chargers running back Melvin Gordon said. “It’s just dope, man, because I’m enjoying winning. I’m not gonna lie to you. The plane rides back from the previous years, guys were quieter, they were in their own world. Flying home [Sunday night], I was soaking it all in, looking at everybody laughing.”
After games at Cleveland, London (against the Tennessee Titans) and Seattle, last weekend’s 55-minute flight home from Oakland was an easy one. The game, not so much. The Chargers did just enough, fighting off low energy to pull out a 20-6 victory against the Raiders.
The Broncos, meanwhile, have been trending in the opposite direction. Denver has lost two consecutive games and six of its last seven, but will be coming off a rejuvenating bye week that helped them to recover from some key injuries.
There is a sense that the Broncos might be closer to getting on a roll than their 3-6 record would suggest. They took a tough 19-17 defeat to the Houston Texans last weekend, while also enduing a pair of recent three-point defeats to the Chiefs and Rams. In between, they thrashed the Arizona Cardinals 45-10.
“It’s those one or two plays a game that we usually make that we haven’t been making,” defensive end Derek Wolfe said. “We’re losing a ton of close games. That shows you that we’re a lot better team than we were last year. It’s just one of those things where the ball doesn’t roll our way sometimes. We’re losing by two or three points, dumb penalties, dumb mistakes and just things that we need to get cleaned up. Us leaders need to step it up.”
Injured Broncos players on offense that could return Sunday include running back Royce Freeman (ankle) and wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton (knee). Possible reinforcements for the defense include cornerback Bradley Roby (knee) and safety Darian Stewart (neck). Stewart, Roby and Freeman all participated in practice Wednesday.
Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa is getting closer to a return from a foot injury and was a limited participant in practice Wednesday. Linebacker Kyle Emanuel (hip), defensive end Chris Landrum (hip) and defensive tackle Darius Philon (ankle) were full participants in practice. Linebacker Kyle Emanuel (hip) and cornerback Trevor Williams (knee) did not practice.
—Field Level Media