CARSON (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers are the least likely team in the NFL to be overconfident or under motivated when they face the sad-sack Cleveland Browns, who have lost 29 of their past 30 games.
That’s because the Chargers were the losers in the Browns’ sole victory during that span, and they really don’t want to be Cleveland’s saving grace again.
It happened on Christmas Eve last year in Cleveland: The Chargers outgained the 0-14 Browns by 105 yards, but San Diego struggled in the red zone, floundered on third downs, made the game’s only turnover and committed 92 yards in penalties. The afternoon ended with Josh Lambo’s second missed field goal, allowing the Browns to avoid a winless season with a 20-17 victory.
“This team beat us last year, bottom line,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who got his job in no small part because Mike McCoy’s Chargers lost to the worst team in the league. “So it won’t be a challenge to get ready for this team at all.”
While not much has changed for the Browns (0-11) since that cold day in Cleveland, the Chargers have moved to a new city and a new stadium. After a 0-4 start, Los Angeles has since won five of seven to surge into the AFC West race.
“We’ve gone from 0-4 and four games back to 5-6 and one game back with five to play, and really everything really in front of us,” Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said.
“I don’t know if there’s any more motivation needed, but I do think if there’s such a thing as any of our guys looking at opposing teams’ record, we can quickly point to last year as showing that doesn’t matter.”
Their postseason push could be derailed by another loss to the Browns, who will have a major factor in their favor: Speedy receiver Josh Gordon, a former All-Pro, is returning to uniform for his first game since December 2014 after serving an indefinite drug suspension.
In fact, Lynn is making sure his whole team is quite impressed by every aspect of Hue Jackson’s winless club.
“You look at their offense, and there’s an explosive player at every skill position,” Lynn said. “They are a young, talented team. At some point, it’s going to click, and they’re going to put it all together.”
Here are more things to watch when these teams meet for the third consecutive season:
FLASH GORDON: Gordon’s return gives the Browns another bona fide offensive playmaker. The 26-year-old, who led the league with 1,646 yards receiving in 2013, returned in pristine shape and ran a 4.35 40 last week, shocking some of his teammates.
Gordon has also impressed the Browns with his attitude, and Jackson said he wasn’t concerned about recent revelations about Gordon’s troubled past.
“He earned the right to get back here,” Jackson said. “He has to earn the right to be here each and every day. He has been outstanding thus far here. I think all of the things I think were talked about were past behaviors.
“Obviously, I think he understands that the antennas are up everywhere, and they should be. He has to do the work to make sure that those things are in his past.”
ROAD NARROWS: The Browns haven’t won, but they’ve played a number of close games, with four losses by three points apiece. That’s all too familiar to the Chargers, who lead the NFL with 14 losses by eight points or fewer over the past two seasons.
“I know there’s no way to sugarcoat their record, but just watching the tape, every game, they’re in,” Rivers said.
Los Angeles has put those struggles behind it lately with back-to-back blowout victories over Buffalo and Dallas. After starting 0-3 in Carson, the Chargers have won two straight at home by a combined 75-24.
(NOT SO) HAPPY HOMECOMING: Jackson grew up in Los Angeles and played quarterback at storied Dorsey High School, which has produced dozens of prominent athletes from Keyshawn Johnson to baseball’s Sparky Anderson.
Jackson also spent four seasons as the offensive coordinator at Southern California from 1997-2000 under head coaches John Robinson and Paul Hackett.
While he always looks forward to returning to his hometown, he’d rather be doing so with a winning team.
“To be the leader of a 1-25 team, that is not what I want to take to LA, but that is what we are going to take to LA,” he said. “That is not fun because we are trying to get to the other side of the ledger, but we are going to go there with that intent. We are going to go there and play our tails off and play as well as we have all year. That is the goal.”
COMING HOME: The Chargers are hoping to have top cornerback Casey Hayward in the lineup. The AFC’s reigning defensive player of the month left the team during the week to return home to Georgia, where his brother was killed in a car accident on Monday night.
NEW IRON MAN: Rivers will have the NFL’s longest streak of consecutive starts for a quarterback when he starts for the Chargers and Eli Manning is benched by the Giants. Rivers has started every game for the franchise since the 2006 season opener, and this will be his 188th straight start in the regular season.
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