INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Anthony Lynn made his NFL playing career on special teams and started his coaching career there.
Now, special teams might be his undoing as head coach of the Los Angeles Chargers.
The Chargers melted down in a 45-0 loss to the New England Patriots on Sunday, allowing touchdowns on a punt return and a blocked field goal. They also missed a field goal and committed two gaffes on punt returns with a false start and 10 men on the field — all in a disastrous first half.
“It was unacceptable, special teams was,” Lynn said. “The whole operation. Today got confusing on the field. It was unacceptable.”
It was the worst loss in franchise history, surpassing a 49-6 defeat to Kansas City in 1964, and one which raised serious doubts about Lynn’s job status with four games remaining in his fourth season.
Lynn said he has talked frequently with owner Dean Spanos, but whether he will be back for 2021 has never come up.
“He’s frustrated as hell, just like I am right now,” Lynn said. “Very frustrating. When I came here, we felt like the first couple years we got this thing going the right direction, and last couple years, it just hasn’t been that way, so it’s my job to get us back on the right track. And if I’m here, I will.”
Lynn demoted special teams coordinator George Stewart on Nov. 25 in hopes of improving what had been a glaring weakness all season for the Chargers (3-9). There are now three coaches overseeing those units, including Lynn, but the bottom fell out with bad execution and worse decision-making.
On New England’s first special teams touchdown, they used their formation to outfox the Chargers’ punt team. The two gunners motioned into the tackle box as if the Patriots (6-6) were going to try for the block, but all-out pressure never came. Instead, Los Angeles could not get through the traffic and the return team created a lane for Gunner Olszewski down the right sideline on a 70-yard touchdown.
Lynn then sent out Michael Badgley to try a 58-yard field goal on the final play of the first half even though Badgley had already missed a 46-yard attempt. Badgley also was just 3 of 7 in his career on attempts longer than 50 yards.
Cody Davis came through a gap on the left side of the Chargers’ line and blocked it. Devin McCourty picked up the loose ball and ran it back 44 yards to give the Patriots a 28-0 lead.
It got all the more farcical when the Chargers sent out 12 men on a punt return in third quarter to give the Patriots a free first down, and then followed it up by only deploying 10 men after the defense forced another punt on the same drive.
Lynn wouldn’t get into specifics other than saying the blame rested with Keith Burns and Chris Caminiti, who were elevated to oversee special teams when Stewart was reassigned, and himself.
“This is what we have to work with right now,” Lynn said. “I’m helping now because they need help there. When you let one guy go, someone else has to step in. Helping out a little bit just in practice, just in drills and things like that, but the operation today was just, it was not good. It was unacceptable.”
While the two teams appear to be relatively even in terms of talent, Bill Belichick and his coaching staff against Lynn’s group was a mismatch.
The Patriots knew what they could do, even in a depleted state this season after losing Tom Brady in free agency and several key defenders to opt-outs because of the coronavirus pandemic. They could run the ball, starting on the opening drive that culminated with Cam Newton theatrically leaping and stretching the ball over the goal line on a quarterback sneak where there was no defender lined up over the center. They finished with 165 yards rushing on 43 carries.
They could force rookie quarterback Justin Herbert into mistakes, intercepting two of his passes.
And they could dominate on special teams.
Herbert has repeatedly pointed to his rough freshman season at Oregon as a touchstone in how he learned to deal with adversity on and off the field. That 2016 season, after which the Ducks made a coaching change, could again prove helpful in dealing with the speculation about Lynn.
For now, Herbert isn’t worried about those questions.
“You know, we got beat 45-0,” Herbert said. “It’s not on him. It’s on us. It’s on the players that didn’t execute. It’s on the offense that didn’t put up enough points, and especially with me. … I believe in this coaching staff and I’m going to keep giving them everything I’ve got.”
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