The 1979 Chargers finished in first place in the AFC West after having finished 9–7 in 1978. The Chargers made the playoffs for the first time in 14 years. Chargers quarterbackDan Fouts threw for more than 4,000 yards, and wide receivers Charlie Joiner and John Jefferson both gained more than 1,000 yards receiving. The Chargers became the first AFC West champion to run more passing plays (541) then rushing (481).
The 2006 edition of Pro Football Prospectus, listed the 1979 Chargers as one of their "Heartbreak Seasons," in which teams "dominated the entire regular season only to falter in the playoffs, unable to close the deal." Said Pro Football Prospectus of the team, "the creative [head coach] Don Coryell always designed potent offenses, but the San Diego defense didn't catch up until 1979. ... In their first playoff game, the Chargers hosted a Houston Oilers team missing running backEarl Campbell and quarterback Dan Pastorini – and fell on their faces. Fouts threw five interceptions and no touchdowns, and the Chargers blew a third quarter lead and lost 17–14. The Chargers would not have the best record in the NFL again until the 2006 season. They would not have another top ten defense in points allowed until 1989. They would not win 12 games in a season until 2004. Their best shot at glory went horribly awry, thanks to the worst game in the illustrious career of Dan Fouts."
The next week, San Diego got a come-from-behind win over the Buffalo Bills as Clarence Williams picked up 157 yards on 18 carries and had a team-record 4 rushing TDs.
In week 4, Chargers lost to the New England Patriots 27–21. Patriot linebacker Steve Nelson preserved the victory with an interception of a Dan Fouts pass on the New England 2-yard line with 1:37 remaining in the game.