When the lights go down in the city on Saturday, will the Chargers still be relevant?
San Diego’s journey brings them to San Francisco this weekend, or close to it.
The Chargers tangle with the San Francisco 49ers of Santa Clara and yes, not many long for chilly Candlestick Park, either.
But the question is if Mike McCoy, the Chargers’ ol’ ball coach, can light a fire under his fading team?
Two straight road losses at Qualcomm Stadium — what, you didn’t notice the Patriots and Broncos fans planting their flags? — has the Chargers teetering on elimination.
What once was a 5-1 team, thanks to kicking sand on the NFL’s weaklings, is now a squad not certain about January.
What once was a slam dunk spot in the Super Bowl tournament is now a postseason invitation more tenuous that Carlos Quentin’s knees.
Speaking of grumpy, we bring you McCoy and is there anyone lucky enough to work in San Diego smiling less?
No, but that’s not really a big deal. What is is the Chargers’ sprint to the finish resembling an old jalopy sputtering to get into drive.
But McCoy’s got his mitts on the wheel and he all but raised his right hand and swore his Bolts aren’t toast.
“We’ll bounce back,’’ McCoy stressed. “I promise you, we’ll bounce back. We’ve got good leaders on this football team.’’
The Charger faithful would be more confident if one of those leaders was a running back. San Diego is the land of sunshine but it’s running game is stuck in the muck.
Against the Broncos, just 56 yards were collected on the down low. Congrats, men, that’s 3 more yards than the previous week.
Without a running attack, too much is falling on an ailing Philip Rivers. The quarterback has rib issues or is it his back? Chest?
“The opposing defenses in the last two weeks have been the two biggest reasons,’’ Rivers said of the Chargers’ offensive woes.
We second that as New England and Denver manhandled the Chargers. In each game the locals scored but one touchdown, and that won’t win many NFL games
“I just think it’s a two-game stretch against the top two teams in the conference,’’ Rivers said. “We’re not in their company yet.’’
Can’t argue with Rivers that the Patriots and Broncos are the big dogs on the AFC porch. But actually the Chargers have notched a touchdown just once in four of their past six games.
It only seems like the end zone is strung with barbed wire when the Chargers (8-6) get close.
But Rivers is the ultimate optimist. Despite a ground game that gets ground up and spit out, Rivers said it’s not too late.
“You’re sitting here with two weeks to go and we’re right in it,’’ Rivers said. “We’re as much in it right now as we were last year, probably in a better position.’’
Sounds strange, but No. 17 is correct.
The Chargers were 7-7 at this juncture in 2013 and still made the playoffs. But they did so by winning four straight and riding running back Ryan Mathews with vengeance.
No one rushed for more yards than Mathews last December. As the weather turned nasty, the Chargers went macho: stick the ball in Mathews’ gut and get out of the way.
Love that approach. Love it when Mathews gives the Chargers a physical presence. Love to see Mathews play again and when that happens, nobody knows.
Mathews missed Sunday’s game with an ankle injury. The Chargers’ fingers are crossed he goes in Silicon Valley to give the offense some bite.
“We’ve got to do a better job as an entire football team to find a way to win,’’ McCoy said. “We’re in it together.’’
Not sure if he was referring to the adage that misery loves company. But the Chargers need to return from the Bay Area with more than a loaf of sourdough bread and a cable car trinket.
They need to leave it all in San Francisco, not just their heart.
As the AFC’s No. 8 seed, they’re two spots shy of the playoffs. After two stinkers, the Chargers likely need to win out and hope others don’t.
Otherwise, they’ll be packing it for the offseason.
“Every game is a must-win at this point, and to us, the playoffs start this week,’’ tight end Antonio Gates said. “We have to take care of business come this Saturday and we’ll see how it goes.’’
Contact Jay Paris at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at jparis_sports and at mighty1090.com
Sportswriter Jay Paris has written his “Sports Talk” column since joining the Coast News in 2013.
Paris, a Cardiff resident, is a longtime Southern California writer, getting his start with the Orange County Register before coming to San Diego in 1992 to cover the Chargers.
He had the Chargers beat for more than two decades with Oceanside Blade-Citizen, the North County Times and the San Diego Union-Tribune, before being named a sports columnist with the San Diego Union-Tribune.
Paris has won numerous awards voted on by his peers in the Pro Football Writers of America. He has also been a staple on countless media platforms, everything from the KPBS to MLB Network and various radio outlets.
Paris is also the author of three books, with his latest one being, “Shohei Ohtani: The Amazing Story Of Baseball’s Two-Way Japanese Superstar.” He has also written “Game Of My Life Chargers” and “Game Of My Life Rams.”
He currently covers the NFL in Los Angeles for Forbes. com and is a contributor to USA Today Sports Weekly. Follow Jay on Twitter @jparis_sports