COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Without a playoff berth on the line, the Los Angeles Chargers will focus on other goals during the final week of the regular season. Though larger concerns loom over the franchise, the Chargers have the rare opportunity to produce three 1,000-yard receivers in the same year.
In the 100-year history of the NFL, only five clubs have accomplished the feat. During the height of "Air Coryell" in 1980, the Chargers' Kellen Winslow, John Jefferson, and Charlie Joiner became the first trio to do it. Washington and the Atlanta Falcons followed suit over the ensuing 15 years, with Peyton Manning's high-flying Indianapolis Colts pulling it off in 2004. The Arizona Cardinals became the last team to hit the mark, with the triumvirate of Larry Fitzgerald, Anquan Boldin, and Steve Breaston each surpassing 1,000 receiving yards in 2008.
Just 87 combined receiving yards separate the 2019 Chargers from joining those ranks. Wideout Mike Williams and running back Austin Ekeler each crossed the 900-yard threshold during last week's loss to the Oakland Raiders. Each has averaged over 70 yards per game in December, giving both a strong chance to hit 1,000 sometime during Sunday's matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs. They would join Pro Bowl teammate Keenan Allen, who notched his third consecutive 1,000-yard season two weeks ago against the Minnesota Vikings.
"That would be lit," Williams says. "We're moving that thing around. A lot of big plays, to be honest. Because I have like 47 catches and almost 1,000 yards. I'm looking at other dudes, they've got 100 catches. At 40-something, 37 yards away from 1,000. My plays are big plays. I'm catching the deep ball, making things happen when I get the ball in my hands. It would be something big for all three of us to get to 1,000."
Several teams pass more frequently than the Chargers, but few do so with better efficiency. Los Angeles' passing attack enters Week 17 ranked 10th in DVOA and eighth in yards per attempt. Williams has caught less than 50 passes this year, but he has made the most of his opportunities. His 20.5 yards per catch lead the league among qualifiers.
"I feel like any receiver that plays the game, that 1,000-yard mark means a pretty good season," Williams says. "Thirty-seven yards away, and I missed a game, probably would have had it by now. But I'm looking forward to coming out this week trying to reach that goal that I set for this season."
Ekeler's season has come as an even greater surprise. While the third-year running back has seen his productivity improve each year in Los Angeles, few at his position ever sniff 1,000 receiving yards. To do so while splitting snaps with Pro Bowl teammate Melvin Gordon would represent a remarkable achievement. "I didn't even think about 1,000 yards," Ekeler says of his expectations for the year. "I just wanted to increase my role."
With both Williams and Ekeler delivering career seasons, Allen's consistency hasn't garnered as much attention as it should. Only five receivers have registered more 1,000-yard seasons since Allen entered the league in 2013: Antonio Brown (six), Julio Jones (six), Mike Evans (six), DeAndre Hopkins (five), and T.Y. Hilton (five). Each has earned an All-Pro nod or multiple Pro Bowl selections, putting Allen in rare company.
But while the three receivers stand a good chance at making history this Sunday, it doesn't appear many outside of the Chargers' fan base will notice. Even before the team fell out of playoff contention, most of the national attention it received centered around Gordon's early season contract holdout or quarterback Philip Rivers' future in Los Angeles. And with most fantasy football leagues ending in Week 16, even fewer will pay attention to the statistical output of a team without anything on the line.
Still, the lack of excitement around the Chargers won't necessarily dampen the enthusiasm in their locker room if all three hit the 1,000-yard mark.
"You just got to control what you can control with the opportunities that come your way with the plays that come to you and make the best of them," Williams says. "I feel like if we were winning and in the discussion for the playoffs, there would be a little bit more light on our team. I know the same day we could have three people with 1,000 yards, it'll be talked about a lot more. We just got to control what we can control right now. We're not in the playoffs, but we can finish the last game strong."
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH