Chargers’ Joey Bosa took more than baby steps in season debut and now aims to hit his stride

Chargers defensive lineman Joey Bosa dives at the feet of Denver Broncos quarterback Case Keenum in the third quarter Sunday at Stubhub Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

He reported that his shoulder was a little tender and so was his groin, before adding that such soreness is normal the day after a game.

Joey Bosa said his left foot, the one that was injured and sidelined him for the first 10 weeks of the season, was “all right.”

And as for how he felt Sunday during his 2018 debut against Denver …


“Like I had a lot of rust on me,” the Chargers’ Pro Bowl defensive end said Monday.

Bosa played 31 snaps against the Broncos, about twice as many as he had expected.

He finished with one tackle and one quarterback hit on a day when the Chargers lost 23-22 behind a torrent of mistakes.

But Bosa emerged from the game intact physically and is looking forward to returning to practice with a clear mind regarding his health.

“I think this week will be great for preparation,” he said. “It will be much more about getting ready to play football than worrying about if my foot can withstand it.”

The Chargers play Arizona on Sunday at StubHub Center, a game in which Bosa likely will start.

He entered in the first quarter against the Broncos and said he was thinking more about how his body felt and how his foot might respond than how he could disrupt Denver’s offense.

“Toward the second and third quarter, I started thinking more just ‘Get off the ball,’ ” Bosa said. “I knew my foot was going to hold up.”

That confirmation came on consecutive plays during the Broncos’ second possession.

The sequence began with Bosa chasing down running back Phillip Lindsay from behind on a screen pass.

On the next snap, he forced a Broncos punt when he sprinted more than half the width of the field to pressure Case Keenum into throwing the ball away along the Denver sideline.

“After those two plays, I was like, ‘All right, I’m feeling good,’ ” Bosa said. “I just pushed myself really hard there and I wasn’t really even feeling much with adrenaline going and everything.”

Bosa’s hit on Keenum came during the third quarter when he lunged and grabbed the quarterback around the ankles forcing a third-down incompletion.

He played extensively in the final deciding minutes, including on Denver’s game-winning drive that ended with a 34-yard Brandon McManus field goal as time expired.

“I felt pretty damn good,” Bosa said. “My conditioning … I was scared to get more than 15 [snaps] for my conditioning alone. Anybody will tell you playing football and running drills isn’t the same thing.

“But those long drives in the two-minute I was gassed, for sure, but I felt good. You’re going to be gassed in the two-minute when you’re sprinting down the field to make plays. But at no point was it too much or overwhelming.”

Coach Anthony Lynn said he played Bosa more than he had planned, the extended time the result of the circumstances of the game.

The Chargers entered Sunday with the idea of limiting Bosa to about 20 snaps, mostly as a precaution.

“But you know how coaches are,” Lynn said. “We get ’em in the game and trying to win. … But we had to be careful with him. We didn’t want to just throw him out there and say, ‘Go.’ ”

Bosa said at halftime he texted his brother, Nick, an All-American defensive end at Ohio State who suffered a core muscle injury and left school in October to focus on the 2019 NFL draft.

Nick has been spending time in Southern California working out with his older brother. Bosa said Nick’s return text message basically encouraged him to stop thinking about his foot and just play.

“I thought for his first game back, not playing football for 13, 14 weeks, I thought he looked good,” Lynn said. “I thought he showed good speed and explosion coming off the edge.”

Bosa wasn’t quite as kind in his self-assessment, saying he knows he’ll have to play better moving forward. He also said he had to remind himself to be realistic since he had been out for so long. He originally suffered what was diagnosed as a bone bruise in training camp in early August. About a month later, in his first practice back in preparation for the season opener, Bosa reaggravated the injury.

One part of his performance that was apparently in midseason form was the way Denver blocked him. Bosa suggested the Broncos’ techniques weren’t entirely within the rules.

“Holy cow, I definitely didn’t miss getting held like that,” he said. “I better get used to it. It was fun playing. Wish we could have got the win, of course.”

Twitter: @JeffMillerLAT