Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen wore a boldly patterned silk scarf draped on his head, making as strong a fashion statement in the team’s locker room as he made on the field Sunday while providing some of the few highlights of another gut-wrenching and preventable defeat.
After setting a personal best with 183 receiving yards in the Chargers’ 27-20 loss to the Houston Texans at Dignity Health Sports Park, Allen was entitled to wear whatever he wanted. In this case that included the scarf, a bright silk shirt, sunglasses, and several gleaming necklaces.
One was a diamond-encrusted figurine of a space alien, a nod to the team’s receiving corps calling itself aliens for reasons that must have made sense at the time. Equally attention-grabbing was a diamond necklace that spelled out “SLAYER,” a nickname Allen adopted after a fan praised him for killing opponents’ defensive backs.
Allen played the role of slayer again Sunday by catching 13 passes and scoring two touchdowns, the first on a seven-yard pass from quarterback Philip Rivers to put the Chargers on the scoreboard in the first quarter and the second after he put a nifty fake on a defender and completed a 12-yard passing play to give the Chargers a 17-7 lead in the second quarter.
But the luster of what should have been a happy day for him was dulled by a repeat of the Chargers’ struggles to sustain their offense in the second half and their second straight loss in a game they should have won.
Asked if he was pleased with his personal record, he reminded reporters clustered around him that it came with something else. “And an ‘L,’ ” he said. “That pretty much sums it up, the ‘L.’ ”
The loss summed up what has been going right for two-time Pro Bowl pick Allen this season and what has been going wrong for the Chargers, who fell to 1-2 after another flat and unproductive performance in the second half. They were outscored 18-7 in the second half against Indianapolis and were lucky to win in overtime; they were outscored 7-0 in losing at Detroit last week and by 20-3 on Sunday. They miss holdout running back Melvin Gordon more urgently each week.
Allen caught 13 of the 17 passes quarterback Philip Rivers targeted to him and his 183 receiving yards topped the combined 135 receiving yards gained by Rivers’ other targets. Rivers was 18 for 29 for 135 yards with no touchdowns in throwing to Austin Ekeler, Justin Jackson, Mike Williams, Travis Benjamin, Dontrelle Inman, Lance Kendricks, and Sean Culkin. Ekeler ranked second in receptions, with seven, and tied Williams for second in receiving yards with 45 each.
“Keenan Allen is a big part of our offense,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We knew we could attack that secondary with Keenan and Travis on [cornerback Johnathan] Joseph on the other side. That was a big part of the game plan.”
That much worked. But there was still the “L” that left Allen and everyone else in the locker room wondering what’s next.
“It’s tough, games like this, you go play like this and you lose, they probably get overlooked,” Allen said of his feats. “It’s not as meaningful, obviously, with the loss. But I’ll try to be as consistent as I can, as available as I can, through the whole season.”
His teammates appreciated his efforts, but there weren’t enough of them approaching the level of Allen’s excellence.
“He had a great game,” Ekeler said, “but that just goes it show it takes everyone to win the game. You can have a couple players that have a great game but if you don’t win the game then, OK, something else has to change or step up.
“This is a team game, the ultimate team game, and I’m glad we’ve got Keenan on our team. I’m sure he’s going to show up every week and that’s what we need from him. We need as many playmakers as we can get.”
There are plenty of flaws to examine in puzzling this one out. Among them was that the Chargers had 48 rushing yards in the first half and only 25 in the second half.
“I felt like we had a pretty good running game in the first half. I don’t know what happened in the second half,” Allen said. “Felt like we weren’t on the field, really, until the last drive. And just couldn’t get over the hump. I don’t know.”
This much they know: they have to find some life and scoring in the second half of games or they will have more days like they endured Sunday. They haven’t been the gutsy team they were so often last season, when they found ways to win so many close games and their resilience became a significant and empowering part of their identity.
We know Allen is a slayer, but the Chargers don’t look like they’re following his lead.