Five takeaways from the Chargers’ 13-10 loss to the Lions

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler walks off the field after fumbling at the goal line during the third quarter of a 13-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

What we learned from the Chargers’ 13-10 loss to Detroit on Sunday:

Michael Badgley is missed

A week being the AFC’s Special Teams Player of the Week, Ty Long’s charmed NFL start abruptly ended. He missed two field goals filling in for the injured Badgley (groin) in a game where the Chargers had only one touchdown drive and were shut out in the second half. Long punted well - 50.5-yard average - but he was unable to again fill Badgley’s right shoe. As of Sunday night, the Chargers were unsure of Badgley’s status regarding their game next weekend against Houston. “He’s getting better,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But he’s not quite there yet.” The Chargers lost this game for a myriad of reasons - poor execution, bad decisions, unfulfilled opportunities - and the two missed field goals just added to the frustration.

The run defense improved significantly

A week after Indianapolis’ Marlon Mack went Mack truck on the Chargers, they limited the Lions to 94 rushing yards on 28 attempts, an average of 3.4 yards. The Chargers struggled early in this game against the run but greatly improved as the afternoon wore on. The performance had to be encouraging for a bunch that was gouged badly by the Colts. “We didn’t win though,” cornerback Casey Hayward said, sounding an alarm heard often in the losing locker room. “We have to figure a way out to win no matter what…if we hold them from scoring on that last drive, before that touchdown, we win the game. And we were in position to do it. We had them in fourth down. How many third downs? But we just didn’t make the play.”


The Chargers aren’t going to win all close road games

This team forged its identity a year ago winning games exactly like the one it just lost. On Sunday, they failed to make a defensive play to hold off the Lions and couldn’t make the deciding offensive play in the final 90 seconds. So, for the first time in the regular season since 2017, they had to get on a plane and fly home with defeat ringing in their ears. “We’ll find out,” quarterback Philip Rivers said when asked about rebounding. “It’s been a long time…We just hurt ourselves too often. Houston doesn’t care. Houston will go full in next week on Sunday. They’re not going to say, ‘Oh, man, they lost a tough road game. We feel for you a little bit.’ They’re going to pile it on. We’ll have to regroup in a hurry.”

Like their fans, the Chargers understand they blew it

To a man, the Chargers sugarcoated nothing in the aftermath, stating exactly what everyone saw Sunday - a team that gave away an NFL game, the NFL being a league in which giving away anything hurts. “We just had one of those games where it just felt like nothing was going right,” center Mike Pouncey said. “The best thing about it is that everybody can correct themselves. We’ll all get on the plane and we’ll watch the film of this game, and it’s going to sting the whole way home. I know that because we let this game get away from us. We had this game.” Said linebacker Thomas Davis: “Games in this league are usually won and lost in the last four or five minutes. We have to do a much better job of executing in those situations. I believe in my heart that we’re going to do that.”

Injuries will not be an excuse

The Chargers lost another key contributor in the fourth quarter when safety Adrian Phillips went out with a forearm injury. The team continues to battle significant health problems, Phillips already filling in for the injured Derwin James. He’ll be reevaluated Monday, when the Chargers should know more about Phillips’ status. Still, for now, this isn’t a team that will lean on all the banged-up bodies as a reason for its struggles. “You know, it’s certainly - to see ‘AP’ (Phillips) go down, I don’t know how severe that is,” Rivers said. “It didn’t look good. I think at this point that would be an excuse…nothing we did out there, from the fumble to the interception to the two touchdowns called back to, you know, a couple third-and-shorts we didn’t convert, that had nothing to do with injuries. That’s all self-inflicted. When you go on the road in this league and you do that, teams will make you pay for it.”

Austin Ekeler’s fumble at the one is one of Chargers’ several miscues of a scoreless second half in 13-10 loss to the Lions.