Play perfect football.
“Based on where we stand now at 4-6, I do,” Gates said. “Despite what we believe, we’re a 4-6 team. When I think of every game we lost this season, we made errors and we weren’t good enough to overcome them. So now we understand as a team that we’re not the caliber of a team that can make these kinds of mistakes and overcome them. It’s just too tough to overcome them.”
The mistakes the Chargers could not overcome were plentiful in Sunday's 20-16 loss to the Miami Dolphins. San Diego finished with a season-high 10 penalties for 76 yards. The Chargers once again struggled to tackle receivers in the open field. They finished 1 for 3 in the red zone.
And San Diego did not make plays in the critical moments of the game to overcome those mistakes.
Elite teams can overcome those types of errors when they aren’t playing well because they have talented playmakers bail them out at the end of games. But general manager Tom Telesco and head coach Mike McCoy are in Year 1 of the rebuilding effort in San Diego.
Expect a lot of roster moves by those two once the season’s over, as they continue to infuse this roster with young talent that can help turn the Chargers into a sustainable playoff contender long term.
But right now, the Chargers have to play mistake-free football to win games. Five of the team’s six losses this season have been by eight points or less.
“I don’t know about perfect, but we know we have to play well,” San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers said. “I think that’s the mentality of most teams, and all of the teams that I’ve been on. You never play with a mentality that you can afford some hiccups, but we all know that we’ve been able to overcome some hiccups, and right now we’re not overcoming those.
“There are two ways to look at it. One we’ve got to find a way to overcome them. And the other one is to not have them. I don’t feel that we feel an added pressure to make every play be perfect. We’ve just got to go cut it loose and play. But we’ve got to try and avoid some of those critical errors.”
At 4-6, the Chargers are on the outside looking in as far as the postseason is concerned. Gates knows it will take an extraordinary effort for his team to work back into the AFC playoff conversation.
“It goes back to what kind of team we are,” Gates said. “You want to be a certain kind of team. You want to find that identity. But what happens is when you play 10 games, and you go back and look at those 10 games, you somehow create an identity,
“Whether you like it, whether it’s positive or negative, it doesn’t matter because you’ve created one and that’s who you are. Right now we just can’t do things. We can’t make these mistakes and assume that we will be able to overcome them, because we haven’t been able to do that this year.”