COSTA MESA, Calif. — Once the path was clear, it lit up like a runway on a dark night. If the Los Angeles Chargers won their final three games, they would advance to the postseason.
Then last week they stumbled against the Kansas City Chiefs, taking a 13-10 lead in the third quarter before turning over the ball on three consecutive possessions and losing, 30-13.
Now a road to the playoffs remains, but it’s jagged and uncertain, requiring help from other teams.
The Chargers (7-7) play the Jets (5-9) on Sunday and then finish the regular season at home against the Oakland Raiders.
“All I know is, we aren’t out of it yet,” said cornerback Casey Hayward.
The Chargers are one of six teams with a chance at the two wild-card spots in the AFC. Though they could still win the AFC West if the Chiefs lose their last two and the Chargers win out, their more likely scenario is a wild-card berth.
Even that requires help, and a Chargers team not having a letdown after losing control of playoff hopes.
“We’ve talked about it,” said Chargers coach Anthony Lynn. “I like these guys to know exactly what we’re playing for.
“But we understand all those playoff scenarios don’t mean anything if we don’t take care of our business on Sunday.”
The Chargers could win their final two games and still not make the playoffs, so nothing is certain. Scenarios remain abundant and fairly complicated, but Los Angeles is attempting to focus on the one thing it can control: winning.
“That’s the one that’s in all of them,” said Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers. “I think the path there, while all of them include us winning, is not that crazy. There’s been crazier paths to get in.
“If you get distracted by all of that and don’t take care of your business, and then all the things happen that you needed to happen, then you’re even sicker.”
The Chargers can take some solace from knowing they were in a similar position in 2013. They had the same 7-7 record and needed some help while winning their final two games.
Both happened and the Chargers ended up winning their first-round playoff game.
“A couple of us who were here said it kind of feels like that again,” Rivers said. “Obviously we had a hiccup on Saturday, but we were at this point playing pretty good in ’13 and were able to find a way to get in. It feels kind of like that.”
The Chargers have already shown an ability to bounce back this season. They started the year 0-4, then won seven of their next nine to catapult back into the playoff picture, however hazy it remains.
Now they hope to utilize that proven ability to bounce back, particularly coming off their biggest loss of the season.
“I really felt like our demeanor and the guys’ spirits were pretty good on Monday,” Rivers said. “That was a tough one to swallow for all of us. I felt like, shoot, you still have life. We battled back from 0-4. We’re sitting here now with a chance to find a way to get to nine wins and with a lot of ways to get in.
“That in itself should give you a lot to be fired up about. I would expect to see a team that has that look of a team ready to bounce back.”
Despite last week’s loss to the Chiefs, offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt said the team’s focus is clear.
“You have to control what you can control,” he said. “The big thing is, we’ve got a chance. So you’re saying, ‘We’ve got a chance? I’m good with that.’ “