February 29, 2024

In the aftermath of their opening loss, the Chargers’ general disposition matched their performance: boldly graphic and brutally real.

“We’re pissed off,” safety Alohi Gilman said. “None of us like how that went down.”

Believe it, the Chargers’ Week 1 was a weak one, their pass defense buried in an historically bad showing that ended as a 36-34 defeat to Miami.

They were powerless to stop quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and wide receiver Tyreek Hill, the Dolphins making football a footrace against a secondary that too often appeared to be standing on flat feet.

“It was eye opening for us on defense,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “It definitely woke a lot of us up.”

The Chargers will have to travel for the chance to rebound, yes, but the opportunity comes against an opponent that offers nice promises for ailing defenders.

Tennessee’s most recent victory came on Nov. 17. The Titans have lost eight in a row, a streak during which they’ve scored more than two touchdowns in a game just once. They reached 15 points in their opener on five field goals.

Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is coming off a three-interception game and, over his last four starts, has been sacked 17 times while throwing three touchdown passes.

The Chargers can’t match the Titans’ losing skidbut, in dropping each of their last three games, they trump Tennessee in the category of general misery. Consider this team’s recent history:

  • In Week 18 at Denver last season, the Chargers lost a game that had no impact on their seeding and lost again when wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a back injury knocking him out of their upcoming playoff game.
  • In that playoff game, the Chargers built a 27-0 lead in Jacksonville before giving it all back and losing 31-30, a defeat so profound that afterward hardly anyone remembered Asante Samuel Jr. had intercepted three passes.
  • In their 2023 opener, the Chargers surrendered a franchise-record 466 passing yards, giving up eight plays that traveled at least 20 yards, their defense designed to limit those exact type of explosive moments.

“Understanding what we want to do as a defense, that wasn’t close,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “[It’s] not talking about it but being about it and coming out here and putting it in between the practice lines and carrying it to the game.”

As poor as they played against the pass, the Chargers still were in position to win when Dolphins kicker Jason Sanders missed an extra point in the final two minutes.

That left the Chargers with a two-point deficit and plenty of time — 1 minute, 45 seconds — to move into field-goal range for Cameron Dicker, who already had kicked a 50-yarder.

“I was like, ‘Yeah, we’re going to do this. Field-goal range, that’s just a couple pass plays away,’ ” Williams said. “I was confident that we were going to get there for Dicker.”

In his career, quarterback Justin Herbert has led the Chargers to 13 game-winning drives in the fourth quarter or overtime. With five apiece each of the last two seasons, Herbert appeared primed for his first winner of 2023.

Instead, befitting a frustrating afternoon, the final starring role was more of a cameo for the offense. Herbert was called for intentional grounding and sacked twice as the Chargers ran five plays and went backward one yard.

“It’s the NFL, man,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “Those things happen.”

So can the Chargers now make something positive happen after an opener that was so negative for one aspect of their defense?

In 2022, they finished third in the AFC and seventh in the NFL in passing yards allowed. Much of the focus in the offseason was on improving their defense against the run.

Then everything fell apart versus the Dolphins in a way no one could have forecast. Miami had open receivers streaking across the SoFi Stadium turf all afternoon.

To understand how bad the Chargers were, consider that Pro Football Focus gave Ja’Sir Taylor the highest coverage grade among their defensive backs who were targeted — and he gave up the Dolphins’ biggest play, a 47-yard completion.

“It’s just being a little more dialed in on the details,” Gilman said. “It’s a process, you know. We’ve invested a lot into this. But we have to still understand that it’s a process. We have to keep building.”

And that starts with this game in Nashville, against a team still looking for its first touchdown of 2023 and the franchise’s first win in 10 months.

If a Chargers secondary ever was eager to respond to a down performance, it is a group that was just torched in a record-setting way.

“Can’t wait for Sunday,” James said. “I don’t want to get up here and talk about it. Can’t wait for Sunday to show you.”

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