The Chargers have been at this exact juncture as recent as last year. The team did its usual stumble from the gate and looked like anything but a Super Bowl-caliber contender.
But then it reeled off 11 straight wins to finish 13-3 and win their fourth straight AFC West title. There are no guarantees this squad can duplicate that performance on various fronts.
The offense, while high-octane, has trouble with ball security. The team already has two more fumbles that it had last year.
The defense was thought to be improved but there are still questions where the pass rush will come from. And the unit didn't gain much confidence in letting third- and fourth-quarter leads disappear in Sunday's loss to the Raiders.
Special teams also created problems. The team had two punts blocked in Oakland, and that's never happened in team history. Three returns have already been brought back for scores.
To be an elite team, you have to excel in all three phases. The Chargers are scuffling to find consistency in one phase, let alone three.
What makes this stretch of spotty play so maddening is this was to be the soft part of the schedule. The Chargers, through five games, have faced but one team that made the playoffs -- and they beat Arizona handily at home.
But when the Chargers go on the road -- they've already lost more road games than last year -- they play tentative with poor results.
The Rams game was one circled before the season as an easy win. But with the way the Rams have climbed off the deck and the way the Chargers have faltered, nothing is certain anymore.
The Chargers can't afford to be so inspired much longer. They've done it so far and have but two wins to show for it. But if they play like that going forward after the Rams -- the Patriots, Titans and Texans await -- they could be digging a substantial hole.
"We've been here before," safety Eric Weddle said. "We just have to understand the severity of it and get back to work."
The Chargers have proven they can climb off the mat. But there are no guarantees it will happen again, and privately, some players are concerned that so much has gone wrong so fast.
The game in Oakland was a perfect example of the Chargers not playing at a consistent level.
"We definitely played down to their level," linebacker Stephen Cooper said. "We lost the game; we aren't supposed to lose this game."
LINEUP WATCH: The offensive line could undergo a significant change Sunday when left tackle Marcus McNeill and right guard Louis Vasquez return to the lineup. McNeill is finally off the roster exempt list and Vasquez has been out with a sprained knee.
BY THE NUMBERS: The Chargers have another road game and that no longer is a good thing. After setting a franchise mark with seven road wins in 2009, the Chargers have already lost three away games. The Rams, in St. Louis, are up next.
--WR Malcom Floyd had a career-high 213 receiving yards Sunday.
--WR Legedu Naanee left Sunday's game with a hamstring injury and could be down against the Rams.
--OLB Shawne Merriman continues to have trouble staying on the field. He was active Sunday, but only played a limited number of snaps as he battles various injuries.
--ILB Brandon Siler is expected to return Sunday; he's been out with a foot injury. Siler will give the struggling special teams a boost.
--P Mike Scifres got hit around pretty good in the game but said he was OK after the game.
Chargers Continue to Underachieve
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