Tragedy struck Casey Hayward's family for the second straight year when Jecaives Hayward, younger brother of the Chargers' All-Pro cornerback, was killed in an automobile accident late Monday on Interstate 75 in Macon, Ga.
Hayward — whose mother, Tish, died in July 2016 after battling breast cancer — left the team Tuesday to return to Georgia. Fellow cornerback Trevor Williams said Hayward had said he planned to return Friday and play in Sunday's game against the Cleveland Browns.
But the Chargers aren't banking on the return of Hayward, a lock-down defender who has three interceptions in the last two games and is the highest-graded cornerback in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.
"I told him he needs to go home and be with his family," coach Anthony Lynn said. "If Casey makes it back and plays, that's great. If he doesn't, then we certainly understand. … Sometimes you get home and things change. He may have more on his plate than he thought. I told him to take care of things at home, and we'll take care of this."
According to a Bibb County Sheriff's news release, Jecaives Hayward, 27, was a passenger in a car that struck a tractor trailer in the emergency lane at 11:46 p.m. Monday.
He died after being ejected from the vehicle and struck by cars. Driver Raymond Cox, 29, and passenger Oker Smith, 32, were hospitalized and are in stable condition.
Williams spoke to Casey Hayward on Tuesday and said, "It seemed like he was in positive spirits. He's handling it well. I wouldn't have been able to do the same thing. Prayers out to him."
Lynn said if Hayward does not return, Michael Davis would start at cornerback with rookie Desmond King remaining in the slot in nickel packages.
Philip Rivers lets it rip
The careers of the two quarterbacks who will be forever linked by the 2004 draft-day trade that sent Philip Rivers to the Chargers and Eli Manning to the New York Giants diverged dramatically this week.
Rivers was selected AFC offensive player of the week after completing 27 of 33 passes for 434 yards and three touchdowns in the Chargers' Thanksgiving Day win at Dallas, one of the best games of his 14-year career.
Manning, who forced the trade by refusing to play for the Chargers, was benched by coach Ben McAdoo in favor of Geno Smith, which will end Manning's streak of 210 consecutive regular-season starts since 2004.
The move did not sit well with Rivers, who has started 187 regular-season games in a row.
"I honestly thought it was pathetic, really," Rivers said Wednesday. "He's been out there 210 straight games, with no telling how many bumps and bruises and injuries for his team. He won two Super Bowl MVPs.
"And with the respect he's had in the locker room over the years — really, the respect he's gained throughout the league — I feel like he's earned the opportunity to finish off these last five weeks."
Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon, 26, will return Sunday after sitting out the last three years for multiple violations of the league's substance-abuse policy, providing an interesting challenge for the Chargers defensive staff.
How do you prepare for an electrifying receiver who led the NFL with 1,646 receiving yards and caught nine touchdown passes in 2013 but hasn't played in an NFL game since Dec. 21, 2014?
"The last time he played he was an All-Pro, so we know he's a heck of a receiver," Lynn said. "He's still young, so his skill set probably hasn't diminished much. He's one of the better run-after-catch receivers in the NFL. They'll probably try to get him the ball short and he'll try to run long with it."
The Chargers signed former Browns kicker Travis Coons to the practice squad as insurance in case Nick Novak, who couldn't finish last Thursday's game because of a lower-back injury, can't kick Sunday. Coons, an Alta Loma High graduate who kicked at Washington, made 28 of 32 field-goal attempts, including all 21 from 20-39 yards, and 22 of 24 extra points for Cleveland in 2015. … Receiver Mike Williams remained sidelined by a knee injury and appears doubtful for Sunday. Defensive tackle Corey Liuget (toe) did not practice, and Novak and center Spencer Pulley (knee) were limited.