SPORTS DIGEST: Chargers lack home-field advantage in loss to Cowboys

By Don Wanlass

Contributing Writer

It must be hard playing for the Los Angeles Chargers. They play 17 road games a year.

The NFL schedule may say the Chargers have nine home games and eight road games this season but in actuality the Chargers almost never have more of their own fans in SoFi Stadium than their opponents do. 

In this year’s season opener against Miami, Dolphin fans easily outnumbered Chargers fans. The same thing was true Oct. 1 when the Raiders came to town — there are more Raiders fans than Chargers fans in Los Angeles — and it was true again Oct. 16 when Dallas Cowboys fans overwhelmed Chargers fans on Monday Night Football.

It should be no surprise then that the Chargers are 1-2 at home this season with the only win coming against the Raiders. 

They lost to the Dolphins by two points and to the Cowboys by three; maybe with more support from hometown fans they might have pulled out those wins late. Or maybe the Chargers have more problems than their lack of home field advantage.

The Chargers did just enough bad things to lose 20-17 to the Cowboys.

In a game that was tied 10-10 entering the fourth quarter, the Chargers let the Cowboys dominate the fourth quarter. The Cowboys held the ball for more than 10 minutes and ran 25 plays compared to 15 for the Chargers.

The Cowboys opened the quarter with a nine-play, 75-yard drive that took up 4 minutes and 49 seconds, ending with a touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to Brandin Cooks.

The Chargers recovered a fumbled punt at the Cowboys 20-yard line that enabled them to tie the score at 17-17 midway through the quarter on a pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to tight end Gerald Everett, but the Cowboys went on another long drive of nearly 5 minutes that resulted in the game-winning field goal by Brandon Aubrey with 2:23 left to play.

The Chargers kept that drive alive for the Cowboys by committing two penalties on fourth-and-nine from the Cowboys 26 with 5:43 remaining, giving the Cowboys a first down. That enabled the Cowboys to run three more minutes off the clock before settling for a field goal.

The Chargers still had time to win the game, but Herbert was sacked on second down and intercepted on third down and the Cowboys ran out the clock, dropping the Chargers to 2-3 with a game Oct. 22 on the road against the division-leading Kansas City Chiefs.

After that, the schedule gets a little lighter, with games coming up against the Chicago Bears (home), New York Jets (away), Detroit Lions (home), Green Bay Packers (away), Baltimore Ravens (home) and New England Patriots (away).

A good team, like the Chargers aspire to be, would expect to win at least four of the next seven games, but the Chargers have yet to prove they are as good as their roster would indicate.

They still can’t run the football, settling for 53 yards against the Cowboys. Granted, the Cowboys have a very good defense, but the Chargers need to average more than 2.3 yards a carry.

Herbert appeared to be bothered by the broken middle finger on his left (non-throwing hand), completing 22 of 37 passes for 227 yards.

The defense sacked Prescott five times but couldn’t get off the field in the fourth quarter. And three of the Cowboys four scoring drives were kept alive by Chargers penalties.

There’s plenty of time to fix these problems. But the team’s inefficiencies coupled with the fact that they’re on the road even when they aren’t will make it hard for this team to make the playoffs this year.

A COLOSSAL FLOP: Last week I noted that the USC Trojans had dropped from fifth in the AP College Football Poll to 10th in three weeks despite winning all their games. 

Now they are 18th after flunking their first major test of the season, losing to Notre Dame, 48-20 Oct. 14.

If you didn’t watch the game and just looked at the final score you would automatically blame the Trojans defense. Not this time. 

The defense gave up only 251 yards to Notre Dame, 126 passing, 125 rushing. The Fighting Irish ran only 49 plays compared to the Trojans’ 74.

The difference in this game was Caleb Williams had his worst game as a Trojan, throwing three interceptions while being sacked six times. The Trojans turned the ball over twice more on fumbles. 

And just when the Trojans had scored a touchdown early in the fourth quarter to make the score 31-20, the Trojans’ special teams let them down, allowing Jadarian Price to return the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown.

Notre Dame scored the final 10 points in a 13-second span with three minutes left in the game to make the game a rout that put a damper on the USC season.

The Trojans now have to regroup with Utah coming into the Coliseum Oct. 21, a 5 p.m. game that will air on Fox.

USC lost twice to Utah last season, 43-42 in a shootout in Salt Lake City in October and 47-24 in the Pac 12 Championship Game in Las Vegas in December.

Cam Rising quarterbacked the Utes in both of those games but he has been out of action this season after suffering a knee injury in the Rose Bowl last January.

It wouldn’t be a surprise for Rising to pick this week to make his return.

The 5-1 Utes, ranked 14th, have the best defense against the run in the country, yielding only 66.8 yards a game. They lead the Pac 12 in 16 different statistical categories and have committed only three turnovers so far this season.

Although the loss to Notre Dame hurt the Trojans’ national stature, they remain on top of the Pac 12 with a 4-0 record. 

After Utah, the Trojans get a breather against Cal Oct. 28 before ending the season with a three-game gauntlet against Washington, Oregon and UCLA — teams that are a combined 16-3. 

The Trojans defense made some strides last week against Notre Dame. But Utah will be another tough opponent and the Trojans need to rebound in a big way to re-enter contention for the College Football Playoff.

POST MORTEM: It’s been more than a week since the Dodgers bowed out of the Major league Baseball playoffs, the second year in a row that they have fallen on their faces in the postseason.

Speaking to the media Oct. 17 for the first time since the season ended, team President Andrew Friedman didn’t have many answers as to what happened to his team.

The Dodgers scored more than 900 runs this season, the most in any season since moving to Los Angeles in 1958. They scored six in three playoff games against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The Diamondbacks scored 19.

The Dodger team that won 100 games for the fourth time in five years never led in the 27 innings of the three games against a team they beat eight times out of 13 during the regular season.

There really is no good explanation for the Dodgers getting swept by the Diamondbacks except to say that’s baseball. The Dodgers picked the wrong time to play three horrible games in a row.

It didn’t help that their starting pitchers got a combined 14 outs in the three games while giving up 13 runs. 

The team’s top two hitters all season — Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman — had one hit in the three games between them, and that was an infield hit by Freeman.

You can blame Friedman for not finding a better pitcher than Lance Lynn at the trade deadline to bolster the Dodgers’ injury-ravaged starting rotation or you can blame the playoff schedule that gives the best teams five days off at the end of the season before starting the playoffs against a team that has built momentum by winning a playoff series.

Three of the four teams that had first-round byes in the playoffs this season lost in the second round. Only the Houston Astros advanced and the Astros had the worst regular-season record of the four teams.

Once upon a time, the team with the best record in the American League faced the team with the best record in the National League in the World Series without any playoff series in between. There were upsets in that format, too.

Baseball is unpredictable.

The Dodgers now begin preparations for next season trying to find a way to turn their regular season success into post-season success.

As always, there will be changes. The only way J.D. Martinez returns as designated hitter is if the Dodgers fail to sign Shohei Ohtani once free agency begins.

Even with Walker Buehler returning next season, Friedman still needs to bolster the starting rotation, or turn it over to the kids. 

Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot and Emmet Sheehan all showed promise in their rookie seasons. How they play out over a full season remains to be seen.

Betts, Freeman and catcher Will Smith will be back to lead the lineup. Evan Phillips, Brusdar Graterol and Caleb Ferguson are still under club control contract wise, meaning the key pieces of the bullpen will be back.

Hopefully Gavin Lux will bounce back from his knee injury to provide more offense in the middle of the infield. James Outman now has a year under his belt and gives the Dodgers a solid centerfielder. 

There are a few tweaks here and there Friedman can make in the outfield to provide the depth that manager Dave Roberts uses to mix and match his lineup depending on the opposing team’s starting pitching.

The vocal minority of the fan base that blames everything on Roberts will not get their way. You don’t fire a manager with a .630 winning percentage in nine seasons.

There is no joy in Chavez Ravine this season. Like the fans in Brooklyn used to say: “Wait till next year.”