Already bruised and battered, the Chargers literally absorbed another kidney punch Monday when Hunter Henry was diagnosed with a small laceration in his kidney, an injury that probably will sideline the tight end for the final two games and further reduce the team’s playoff hopes.
Henry, who has caught 45 passes for 579 yards and four touchdowns, was injured early in the fourth quarter of Saturday night’s 30-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs when he took a punishing blindside hit by defensive tackle Bennie Logan on Marcus Peters’ fumble return.
Logan was flagged for unnecessary roughness. Henry did not return and he appears highly doubtful for Sunday’s game against the New York Jets. Receiver Keenan Allen sat out the final eight games of the 2015 season because of a similar injury.
“That’s still up in the air,” coach Anthony Lynn said, when asked if Henry would return this season. “I’m not sure about that one yet.”
Lynn ruled out defensive tackle Corey Liuget (sprained knee ligament) and middle linebacker Denzel Perryman (hamstring) for Sunday’s game but was hopeful they could return for the Dec. 31 season finale against the Oakland Raiders.
Running back Austin Ekeler, who has a combined 539 yards rushing and receiving with five touchdowns, appears doubtful after breaking his left hand against the Chiefs, but Lynn wouldn’t rule him out.
“Running backs have played with broken hands before,” Lynn said. “You just cast it up and protect it.”
If Ekeler does play, “he won’t be catching many balls,” Lynn said. “But a lot of backs carry the ball in one hand. And Austin is such a good special teams player, you can put a club on him and he can play special teams.”
Lynn expects safety Adrian Phillips (ankle) and Allen (lower back) to play against the Jets. Offensive tackles Russell Okung (groin) and Joe Barksdale (foot) are listed as day to day after both sat out parts of Saturday night’s game.
Continuity on the line contributed to the Chargers’ four-game winning streak before the Chiefs game, when quarterback Philip Rivers passed for 1,348 yards and eight touchdowns, with no interceptions and four sacks.
With Sam Tevi and Michael Schofield filling in for Okung and Barksdale for about half of Saturday night’s game, Rivers had three passes intercepted, was sacked twice and absorbed five hits.
“When our young guys came in, the communication fell off a little bit, the protection wasn’t quite as good,” Lynn said. “But they have to step up and do their job.”
If Henry can’t play, veteran Antonio Gates would be the primary tight end, with Jeff Cumberland getting more snaps. Darius Philon or Damion Square would replace Liuget, and Jerry Attaochu could play a bigger role on the defensive line. Branden Oliver could replace Ekeler as the backup running back, and Hayes Pullard and Korey Toomer could fill in for Perryman at linebacker.
“Injuries in the NFL happen — it’s a next-man-up mentality,” Lynn said. “And sometimes when the next man steps up at this point in the season, it’s not necessarily an upgrade, but they’re fresh. When the starters have been playing 14-15 weeks and a guy comes in fresh, he can take advantage of some things.”
Given the boot
The Chargers agan made a change at kicker. Travis Coons, who made seven of eight field-goal attempts in his first two games but missed an extra-point attempt against the Chiefs, was waived Monday. He will be replaced by Nick Rose, who was claimed off waivers from the Washington Redskins.
Rose, who played at Texas from 2012-2015, made 10 of 11 field-goal attempts, with a long of 55 yards, and 18 of 20 extra points in eight games for the Redskins before being replaced Sunday by Dustin Hopkins.
He will be the fourth full-time kicker employed by the Chargers this season, following the ineffective Younghoe Koo, the injured Nick Novak and Coons.
“Travis did some good things … but I thought his leg strength was a little short on kickoffs, hang-time wise,” Lynn said. “We’re looking for a kicker we can keep around here for a few years. We liked the job Nick did in Washington. He had a lot of touchbacks. He had a little more leg.”
Assuming the Chiefs win one of two games to clinch the AFC West title, the Chargers could earn a wild-card playoff berth only if they win their last two games, the Buffalo Bills lose one of two against the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, and either the Baltimore Ravens lose to both the Indianapolis Colts and Cincinnati Bengals, or the Tennessee Titans lose to both the Rams and Jacksonville Jaguars.
“None of those scenarios matter if we don’t win Sunday,” Lynn said. “That’s the message to the team.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna