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Davis Mills, Rex Burkhead too much for Chargers, who take playoff hit in 41-29 loss

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Houston Texans wide receiver Nico Collins catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Chargers defensive backs.
Houston Texans wide receiver Nico Collins, left, catches a pass for a touchdown in front of Chargers defensive backs Chris Harris Jr. (25) and Nasir Adderley (24) during the Chargers’ 41-29 loss Sunday.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

The COVID-depleted Chargers were unable to contain Rex Burkhead and the Houston Texans in a 41-29 loss that will likely drop L.A. out of the top 7 in the AFC playoff race.

Chargers’ playoff ambitions take a huge blow in stunning loss to Texans

HOUSTON — On a day when other teams clinched division titles and playoff berths, the Chargers lost as nearly two-touchdown favorites to a three-win opponent ravaged by COVID-19.

Of course, the Chargers were missing 13 of their players because of the virus, but that fact offered scant consolation in the aftermath of a bitter defeat in the NFL’s Backup Bowl.

Houston’s 41-29 victory was an indictment of the entire franchise on a day when the Chargers fumbled away control of their postseason fate.

“I just didn’t coach well enough today,” Brandon Staley said. “I didn’t coach well enough, didn’t put our guys in good enough positions to be consistent in the game, and that’s why we lost.”

Said rookie Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, “It sucks, you know, to be frank.”

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The story of the Chargers-Texans game told in eight highlights

1. Houston countered an early Chargers field goal with a 25-yard Rex Burkhead touchdown run.

2. Justin Jackson, Austin Ekeler’s replacement, ran it in from 17 yards out as Chargers scored for third straight drive to retake the lead.

3. A late second-quarter Chargers drive ended with a Jonathan Owens interception of a Justin Herbert pass at the Houston 1. Which led to ....

4. ... a rather easy 94-yard Texans drive that ended with Davis Mills dropping a 41-yard touchdown pass into the arms of Chris Conley.

5. Rex Burkhead’s second touchdown of the game, a one-yarder, makes it a two-score game early in the fourth quarter.

6. Justin Jackson’s fumble at midfield on the following drive set up a Houston scoring drive.

7. One series after his fumble, Jackson made amends by gaining 54 yards and capping the drive with a 10-yard TD run.

8. A 13-yard TD pass from Mills to Nico Collins late put the game away.

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Chargers D can’t contain Texans O, which puts game away late

Houston moved to put the Chargers away with a seven-play, 72-yard touchdown drive to go up 34-23 with 2:32 remaining.

Davis Mills passed 13 yards to Nico Collins for the score.

Mills is 21 of 27 for 254 yards and two touchdowns. The Texans are nine of 13 on third down and have an 11-minute advantage in time of possession.

Rex Burkhead, who already had two touchdowns, rushed for 57 yards on the drive and has 149 yards, on 22 carries, for the day.

On the first play after the two-minute warning, Justin Herbert threw another log on this conflagration when he threw a 48-yard pick-six to Tavierre Thomas.

A garbage-time touchdown from Herbert to Josh Palmer made it 41-29.

Texans 41, Chargers 29 FINAL

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Justin Jackson make amends, Chargers cut lead

The Chargers went to a no-huddle offense to cut their deficit to 27-23 on a nine-yard touchdown run by Justin Jackson.

That was followed by a two-point conversion, Justin Herbert passing to Jared Cook with 5:50 to go.

Jackson now has two scoring runs and 64 yards on 11 carries. He has six receptions for 77 yards while filling in for starter Austin Ekeler, who is out because of a positive COVID-19 test.

The Chargers went 75 yards in nine plays and now need their defense to provide a stop.

Texans 27, Chargers 23 5:50 left in fourth quarter

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Justin Jackson fumble leads to a Texans scoring drive

Houston extended its lead to 27-15 with 8:54 remaining in the game on a 25-yard Dominik Eberle field goal.

The Texans took advantage of a Justin Jackson fumble, scoring after taking over at the Chargers’ 47-yard line.

For the game, Houston is eight of 12 on third down, the Chargers struggling again in an area that was a trouble spot earlier in the year.

They have been outgained 366-260 in total yards and have the game’s only two turnovers.

Texans 27, Chargers 15 8:54 left in fourth quarter

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Texans make it a two-score game at start of fourth quarter

Houston used a 13-play drive to move up two scores on the Chargers barely a minute into the fourth quarter.

Rex Burkhead went in from one yard out on third-and-goal to make it 24-15 with 13:37 remaining in regulation.

The point total is a season-high for the Texans against any opponent other than 2-12 Jacksonville.

Houston converted three third downs total to keep the drive going. On the second conversion, cornerback Essang Bassey, signed Monday off waivers from Denver, was beaten for a 27-yard gain.

Kenneth Murray Jr. also was called for a holding penalty to aid Houston’s cause.

Texans 24, Chargers 15 13:37 left in the fourth quarter

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Dustin Hopkins third field goal pulls Chargers to within two

Dustin Hopkins kicked a 35-yard field goal to cut the Chargers’ deficit to 17-15 late in the third quarter in Houston.

Hopkins has three field goals on day when the Chargers find themselves scrambling for points.

Both teams are playing with rosters heavily depleted by COVID-19 and injuries.

Justin Herbert is 14 of 19 for 181 yards, with one interception and zero touchdowns. Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen has just two catches for 22 yards.

Texans 17, Chargers 15 5:42 left in third quarter

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The story of the first half of Chargers-Texans in four highlights

Houston countered an early Chargers field goal with a 25-yard Rex Burkhead touchdown run.

Justin Jackson, Austin Ekeler’s replacement, ran it in from 17 yards out as Chargers scored for third straight drive to retake the lead.

A late second-quarter Chargers drive ended with a JJ Owens interception of a Herbert pass at the Houston 1. Which led to ....

... a rather easy 94-yard Texans drive that ended with Davis Mills dropping a 41-yard touchdown pass into the arms of Chris Conley.

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Justin Herbert interception leads to (rather easy) 94-yard Texans drive

Houston took a 17-12 halftime lead on a 41-yard touchdown pass from Davis Mill to Chris Conley, who beat Davontae Harris on the play.

The score came with 27 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

The Texans will receive the second-half kickoff.

Houston went 94 yards in seven plays against a Chargers defense that has struggled against a poor offense. Rookie Asante Samuel Jr. gave up a 36-yard completion on the series.

The Texans entered averaging 77 yards on the ground, last in the league. They have 79 through two quarters today.

The drive was aided by a holding penalty on defensive tackle Linval Joseph.

The Chargers also lost starting linebacker Drue Tranquill during the series. He limped off the field and was replaced by Amen Ogbongbemiga.

Houston took over after Justin Herbert was intercepted near the goal line. Herbert was trying to go deep to Josh Palmer.

Texans 17, Chargers 12 HALFTIME

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Underdog Texans giving Chargers a game, pull to within 12-10

Houston closed to within 12-10 on a 51-yard field goal by Dominik Eberle, a COVID replacement.

Houston went 42 yards in 12 plays, the drive stalling after a holding penalty. The Chargers appeared to get away with two possible pass interference penalties—on Chris Harris Jr. and Asante Samuel Jr.—during the series.

The Texans have been penalized five times for 35 yards. Samuel was called for pass interference in the first quarter.

Chargers 12, Texans 10 5:11 left in second quarter

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Austin Ekeler’s replacement gives Chargers second lead of the day

Justin Jackson ran 17 yards for a touchdown as the Chargers scored on their third consecutive possession to open the game against Houston.

After kicking field goals on their first two series, the Chargers went for the two-point conversion with Jackson being stopped just short of the goal line, leaving the score 12-7.

The touchdown was the third of Jackson’s career and first since his rookie year in 2018.

Chargers 12, Texans 7 11:15 left in second quarter

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Chargers score for second straight drive, but neither is a touchdown

Dustin Hopkins’ second field goal - this one from 46 yards - pulled the Chargers to within 7-6 late in the first quarter at Houston.

Justin Herbert has opened the game seven of nine for 88 yards. The drive stalled when Herbert failed to connect with tight end Jared Cook on third-and-five.

Texans 7, Chargers 1:57 left in first quarter

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Texans counter Chargers field with touchdown to take 7-3 lead

Houston took a 7-3 lead with an easy-looking eight-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 25-yard run by Rex Burkhead.

The Texans, who entered with the NFL’s worst rushing offense, picked up 44 yards on five carries. They repeatedly ran at Kenneth Murray Jr., who started on the edge in place of Joey Bosa (COVID list).

Davontae Harris started in place of Michael Davis (illness) and Alohi Gilman in place of Derwin James Jr. (hamstring).

Texans 7, Chargers 3 6:25 left in first quarter

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Chargers score on first drive of game, take 3-0 lead

The Chargers took a 3-0 lead on a 50-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins to finish off the first series of the game.

Quarterback Justin Herbert led the offense on an eight-play, 43-yard drive that included a 16-yard completion to Jason Moore, one of the Chargers’ COVID-19 fill-ins today.

The catch was the third of Moore’s career.

Veteran backup Scott Quessenberry started at center in place of Pro Bowler Corey Linsley, who’s on the COVID list. Justin Jackson started at running back for Austin Ekeler, who also is out after testing positive.

Chargers 3, Texans 0 10:55 left in first quarter

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Essential pregame press box note of the day

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Derwin James Jr. active, questionable how much he will play

Just a reminder: The Chargers have 13 active-roster players unavailable today because of COVID-19, including starters Joey Bosa, Austin Ekeler, Corey Linsley, Justin Jones and Mike Williams.

Minutes before kickoff, the team also announced that starting cornerback Michael Davis was questionable because of an illness.

With all the absences, the Chargers had no inactives for the game.

Safety Derwin James Jr. (hamstring) is active after being listed as questionable on Friday. But James did not participate in the team portion of pregame warmups, suggesting the Chargers would prefer to not play him.

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Justin Herbert set to make more Chargers history vs. Texans

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert stretches before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 16.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Entering his 30th start, Justin Herbert already has done things no one else has done in NFL history.

On Sunday at Houston, he’ll do something he has never done before — play a game as a Pro Bowl quarterback.

Herbert was named to the AFC team Wednesday, one of six Chargers recognized during this bounce-back season that has put the team in position to make the playoffs with three games remaining to play.

“He takes it so seriously,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “I think sometimes, when you’re as talented as him, it’s easy to be like, ‘I don’t need to do that. I can rely on all this talent.’ He does not take that approach.”

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Chargers vs. Houston Texans matchups, start time and how to watch

Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi watches quarterback Justin Herbert warm up.
Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi watches quarterback Justin Herbert warm up before a game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 16.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Breaking down how the Chargers (8-6) and the Houston Texans (3-11) match up heading into their game at 10 a.m. PST on Sunday at NRG Stadium. The game will be shown on CBS.

When Chargers have the ball: They have the AFC’s starting Pro Bowl quarterback and a Pro Bowl wide receiver, the Chargers a top-five passing team for most of this season. “We’ve got a certain makeup of this roster,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said, “where it’s so tempting to be a pass-first offense ... and sometimes we are.”

But the Chargers also have rushed for 344 yards over their last two games, including a season-high 192 against Kansas City in Week 15. Even with starting running back Austin Ekeler and Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley on the COVID-19 reserve list heading into the weekend, the Chargers could look to muscle up again and be a bit of a run-first offense against a Houston team that ranks last in the league in rushing defense.

Justin Jackson is coming off his best game of the season and is in line to be featured Sunday. Jackson has shown plenty of ability during his time with the Chargers but has struggled to remain healthy. This is a game the Chargers would love to grab early and not let go, smothering the Texans in the process. A quick start by the offense is one way to achieve that goal.

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Justin Herbert set to make more Chargers history vs. Texans

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs on Dec. 17.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

Entering his 30th start, Justin Herbert already has done things no one else has done in NFL history.

On Sunday at Houston, he’ll do something he has never done before — play a game as a Pro Bowl quarterback.

Herbert was named to the AFC team Wednesday, one of six Chargers recognized during this bounce-back season that has put the team in position to make the playoffs with three games remaining to play.

“He takes it so seriously,” offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi said. “I think sometimes, when you’re as talented as him, it’s easy to be like, ‘I don’t need to do that. I can rely on all this talent.’ He does not take that approach.”

Herbert played well enough in 2020 to be selected as the NFL’s offensive rookie of the year. He had more completions, passing touchdowns and total touchdowns than any first-year NFL player.

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Chargers vs. Houston Texans: Betting odds, lines, starting time and how to watch

Chargers (-10, O/U 46) at Texans, 10 a.m. PST Sunday, CBS

At first glance, especially for Chargers fans, this looks too easy. The Chargers are fighting for a playoff spot and must win this game to keep pace while the Texans are among the worst teams in the league, so of course the Chargers are going to win in a rout, right?

These things aren’t always so simple, especially in the NFL this year where we’ve seen a lot of shocking results to show that parity is alive and well. While two of the Texans’ wins have come against the even more lowly Jaguars, they also had that 22-13 upset of the Titans in Week 11 that is cause for concern.

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