Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers have already played in most of the toughest road environments in the NFL this season.
So a trip to New England for Sunday’s AFC divisional-round game isn’t anything out of the ordinary.
Considering how well the Chargers have played away from home, it may end up being an advantage. Los Angeles is 8-1 on the road, but its only loss came in Week 3, when it took the bus to the LA Memorial Coliseum and lost to the Rams.
“We’ve found a way. We’ve won in a lot of different ways on the road this year — in some tough environments,” Rivers said. “We’ve won with big defensive stops and a couple of two-minute end-of-game drives. Kind of all different ways.”
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They join the 1984 and ’89 San Francisco 49ers as the only West squads to win five regular-season and/or postseason games going East or farther.
Only 16 times since the merger has a team from the west won four or more games coming East or over the Atlantic. The 2013 49ers were the previous team to do it, going 4-0 which included a game in London.
Coach Anthony Lynn credited the team’s road routine, which includes traveling on Friday afternoon for long road trips, and having a young team has helped galvanize them.
“I hope that shows we are an extraordinary team,” offensive tackle Russell Okung said. “I think anytime you beat a team on the road it proves a lot about one’s execution. Going in tough, hostile environments only adds to our confidence.”
The Chargers’ 23-17 win last week against Baltimore in the AFC wild-card round was their best road game this season as they sacked Lamar Jackson seven times and held him to 26 passing yards in the first three quarters. Rivers threw for 160 yards and completed passes to nine players.
The road resume also includes rallying from 16 points down to beat Pittsburgh on Dec. 2, which ended the Steelers’ 175-game unbeaten streak with at least a 16-point lead at home and marked the largest blown lead at home in franchise history.
The road success also included a 29-28 victory at Kansas City on Dec. 13 where the Chargers trailed by two touchdowns midway through the fourth quarter and a 25-17 victory over Seattle on Nov. 4 where they needed a pass deflection in the end zone on the final play.
“Our guys are hardened to a certain degree about playing in tough spots. Being down, being able to come back and win those games, that can help, I guess, as much as anything to prepare you for it,” offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said.
While the Chargers have thrived in hostile environments, Sunday’s game against the Patriots might be their biggest challenge yet.
New England has won eight straight playoff home games, which is tied for the fourth-longest streak in NFL history. The Patriots have also won seven straight home games in the divisional round.
“We do special things on the road. That’s a fact, not an opinion,” defensive tackle Damion Square said. “Tom (Brady) has been able to do a lot of really good things in his career but history doesn’t win games. Sunday is about proving we have enough. You rely on the guys you have with you and rely on your fundamentals.”
Lynn does have experience beating the Patriots in the playoffs. He was the Jets’ running backs coach when they defeated New England 28-21 eight years ago in the divisional round. While many have focused on the Patriots’ mystique, Lynn said he is keeping his team concentrating on what they need to do to win.
“We definitely can’t make mistakes. That team cannot beat themselves and I respect that about their organization. That’s a skill and an advantage they’ve had for a long time,” he said.
Even though the Chargers have had three cold-weather games since Dec. 1, they have lucked out in that it hasn’t been frigid or snowing. Sunday’s forecast does have a chance of snow, which is the one thing they can’t simulate.
“In California you can’t prepare for that. You know, 29, 30 (degrees) whatever it’s supposed to be, to me, that’s good football weather. So it might be cold, breezy, but we’ll be fine,” Lynn said.