How the Chargers got comfortable closing out games

For years the Chargers struggled to keep leads late, but they're now 11-0 since Week 11 of last season when holding a lead in the fourth quarter. AP Photo/Matt Dunham

COSTA MESA, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Chargers have finally solved the riddle of how to win close games -- an issue that had plagued the team over the past few years.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Chargers are 11-3 since Week 11 of last season -- only the Los Angeles Rams and the New England Patriots have a better record in the NFL during that span.

And they are a perfect 11-0 when they have had a lead in the fourth quarter of those games.

"This team has a lot of grit," coach Anthony Lynn said. "This is a tough football team. We emphasize that, and our players go out and execute that. And I feel like they demonstrate that every single week."

From the start of the 2015 season to Week 10 of 2017, the Chargers lost 13 games when they led at any point during the fourth quarter -- four more than any other team. The Chargers also were 9-23 in one-score games (eight points or fewer) during that span, but they are 3-0 from Week 11 last season to the present in one-score games.

So how have the Chargers turned around their fortunes in close games? First, they are following an edict established when Lynn took over in January 2017 by taking care of the football.

During their 11-3 stretch, the Chargers have a plus-16 turnover margin, which is No. 1 in the NFL.

The Chargers also have closed out games by running the football. They are No. 9 in fourth-quarter rushing yards since Week 11 of last season.

Lynn pointed to the team's conditioning level as something he established when he took over the program last year. Strength coach John Lott established an offseason program built on more endurance and interval training, the kind a track athlete uses to create more stamina.

"We talk about being the best-conditioned team on the field," Lynn said. "They work at it. You see these guys out after practice running gassers, or inside running in the pool and on the treadmills.

"A lot of times it just comes down to stamina, last man standing. And these guys, I think they're in great shape right now, and that plays a part in it."

Running back Austin Ekeler pointed to one other thing: belief. After winning a couple of close games, the Chargers now believe that things will go their way at the end of games, like the team's 20-19 win over the Tennessee Titans two weeks ago.

"We have a close team, and I love coming to work," Ekeler said. "Last year we were so close, and this year it's like, we can actually do it. Everything is looking good for us right now, and we're just trying to keep that going."