Day’s Den: LA teams open NFL season on good note

Two weeks into the NFL regular season, fans of the Los Angeles Chargers and Rams shouldn’t be extremely unhappy with the teams’ 0-2 and 1-1 records, respectively.

On Sunday, the Bolts lost to the Miami Dolphins, 19-17, while the Washington Redskins edged the Rams, 27-20. The Redskins and Dolphins aren’t powerhouse teams, and the Chargers and Rams don’t fit that criterion, either. However, both L.A. teams have shown a level of competitiveness that fans hope will foreshadow a season fighting for a playoff berth — or at least a .500 winning percentage.

That’s the key for the Chargers and Rams’ journey to January 2018. They don’t have to blow the doors off of the division and advance deep into the playoffs. Still, giving fans entertainment and hope for the future is paramount. The Chargers put this idea on display in Week 1, when quarterback Philip Rivers mounted a late comeback against a Denver Broncos team that trounced the Dallas Cowboys in Week 2. The Rams didn’t look like NFL bottom feeders when they posted 46 points on the Indianapolis Colts in the opening week.

The tables turned for the Rams in Week 2. Signal caller Jared Goff didn’t throw for more than 300 yards with no interceptions like he did to start the season. With 1:37 left to play and a touchdown needed to tie the game against the Redskins, Goff, who finished the game with 221 yards, stared down wide receiver Cooper Kupp and threw a predictable interception to end his squad’s comeback aspirations.

The great news about this game is that even though the Redskins were up 13-0 in the second quarter, you didn’t see the scoreline get considerably worse for the Rams. In fact, by halftime, the score was 20-10 for the Rams, and in the third quarter, Goff watched his defense hold the ’Skins scoreless. Meanwhile, Goff hit running back Todd Gurley for an 18-yard touchdown. Gurley seemed to return to form as he was a force in the running game (88 yards, averaging 5.5 yards per carry) and a necessary cog in the receiving game with 48 yards on three receptions.

With Gurley healthy, the Rams will have their fair share of chances to win. But the worrisome part about the phrase “Gurley healthy” is that, without him on the field, the Rams’ road to victory gets that much harder. And since he’s getting the ball a lot, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him injured at some point.

The Rams’ defense isn’t terrible, but right now it doesn’t look like it’s at the level where it can define a game. A defense like the Broncos’ fills that purpose, but there are few units in the NFL boasting that level of superiority. Thus, the onus falls on Goff to be the integral player in the Rams’ success at many occasions in the season. Gurley shredding another team will matter significantly less if Goff throws interceptions at crucial points in regular season competitions.

On the other hand, the Chargers should feel comfortable with the veteran Rivers at quarterback. The aging Rivers has almost always been a gunslinger in the NFL, meaning he can make big plays some of the time and make costly mistakes at other junctures. Against some opponents, he’s able to throw himself back into games. We haven’t seen much from Goff as far as NFL comebacks are concerned, but the Rams’ front office must have felt he would end up becoming their franchise quarterback after they took him at No. 1 in the 2016 NFL Draft.

There’s no doubt the Chargers know Rivers’ window to compete for a championship is closing, and most signs are pointing to him never getting the opportunity to play in the Super Bowl. Rivers was mulling over retirement in 2015 following a 2014 season that saw him sustain rib and back injuries. But he signed a four-year deal in August 2015, meaning that he might stay a Charger until his contract runs out at the end of the 2019 season.

Facing the Dolphins this weekend, Chargers tight end Antonio Gates broke the record for the most touchdowns by a tight end in NFL history — a huge feat — but the losing final score marked the Chargers’ inability to win in close games. Rivers did his part to drive the team for the winning field goal with five seconds remaining, but rookie kicker Younghoe Koo missed the kick that would have won the game.

Misfortune strikes all teams in the NFL, and sometimes it plainly results in defeat. The Chargers have been that unfortunate squad, and the Rams are seeing if Goff is up to overcome that challenge. Regardless of the noted woes of these two Los Angeles outfits, and even though it may seem easy to bet against both of them, they battle for all four quarters and have exciting talent like Gurley, Aaron Donald, Keenan Allen, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. So you can sleep on their playoff chances. But watching their entertaining games shouldn’t put you to sleep.

Duncan Day is a senior studying print and digital journalism. His column, Day’s Den, runs on Wednesdays.