In the NFL equivalent of garbage time Sunday, the Chargers tried to mine some treasure from among the trash.
Six times they called running plays for Austin Ekeler in the final minutes as they emptied the clock for a 26-10 victory over Oakland.
The decision to have Ekeler close the game wasn’t just an attempt to rest starting running back Melvin Gordon. The move also was for Ekeler’s continued development.
In Week 10 last season, he fumbled in the final two minutes at Jacksonville as the Chargers were trying to wrap up a three-point victory. They ended up losing in overtime, 20-17.
“I always want to put guys back in that situation and hopefully they learn from what they did last year,” Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said. “I thought he handled it well.”
Ekeler clinched the win over the Raiders with a 12-yard run that converted a third down as the game reached the two-minute warning. He nearly scored on the play before tripping.
Ekeler finished with just 15 yards on six carries but his involvement at the end wasn’t necessarily about production.
“I feel comfortable with both of those guys because Austin can run between the tackles, and he’s a strong man,” Lynn said. “He took care of securing the football, and I had no problem giving him the football at the end.”
Gordon carried 19 times and ground his way to 58 yards, an average of barely three yards per rush. He also caught four passes for 62 yards.
Yet, he talked later about feeling better physically than he typically does after a game.
“We were giving him a blow,” Lynn said of Gordon. “[He] had a lot of touches. Austin did not, so we thought we’d put it on Austin’s shoulders.”
Getting to the point
Lynn said the Chargers won’t be making a change this week at kicker despite the ongoing extra-point struggles of Caleb Sturgis. But he also made it clear that his patience is being tested.
“I have a lot of confidence with him coming into this week based on how he kicked in practice, that whole attitude, his psyche,” Lynn said. “I still believe in the young man. But he can’t keep missing extra points, I can tell you that.”
Sturgis is eight of 12 for the season and has missed extra points in each of the past three games. He is nine of 12 on field goals, two of the misses coming from 48 yards and the other from 54.
Sturgis missed a 48-yard field goal on the final play of the first half Sunday and an extra point in the fourth quarter. The extra point clanged off the left upright.
“I don’t think he hit it very well, to be honest with you,” Lynn said. “The hold didn’t look bad at all. He turned the ball a little bit at the end. That’s the frustrating part. He’s gotta make those. Those are gimmes. I expect him to make those.”
Rookie linebacker Uchenna Nwosu played only seven snaps on defense against Oakland, most of his action coming on special teams. The snap total was the lowest for Nwosu since the Chargers opener when he was in for only two plays on defense against Kansas City.
“We’re going to get him caught up more in base [defense] so we can get him on the field a little more,” Lynn said. “It had nothing to do with his performance or anything like that. It was just the packages that we had.”
Lamp is on, but off
Guard Forrest Lamp’s first NFL game Sunday did not feature his debut. He was active for the first time in his career but did not play.
Lamp, a second-round draft pick in 2017, missed all of last season and the first four games this year because of a knee injury.
“It was good for him to go through the routine in pregame, be in the locker room with the guys, remember how that felt,” Lynn said. “I’m sure at some point he’ll work his way in.”