The Chargers have had starting offensive tackles Russell Okung and Sam Tevi on the field at the same time for only three full games this season.
While pointing out that he wasn’t making excuses for his quarterback, coach Anthony Lynn acknowledged Monday that the injuries up front might have contributed to Philip Rivers’ interception issues through 14 games.
“I think some of it may [have been] not having his tackles, his right and left tackle, at different times,” Lynn said. “That can help speed the game up on a quarterback, any quarterback.
“Some of it is you gotta be more careful with the football, just period. I’m not trying to make any excuses for him, and he wouldn’t want me to make any excuses for him. We just have to do a better job taking care of the football.”
Rivers was picked off three times Sunday in a 39-10 loss to Minnesota, a defeat in which the Chargers committed seven turnovers as a team.
Rivers has thrown 18 interceptions for the season, including 11 in the last five games. He also has lost three fumbles for 21 total turnovers.
Only Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston has more turnovers this season with 29 — 24 interceptions and five lost fumbles. Rivers’ single-season career high for interceptions is 21, set in 2016.
“It’s a lot of different reasons,” Lynn said when asked to explain Rivers’ recent sloppiness. “Sometimes a receiver may fall down. Sometimes there’s pressure on the quarterback. He knows he can’t turn the ball over.”
Okung missed the first seven games after suffering a pulmonary embolism in June. He was hurt early in his third game back, a groin injury knocking him out against Oakland. He then missed the Chargers’ Week 11 meeting with Kansas City before coming back to start the last three games.
Tevi started the first nine weeks of the season but then missed two games because of a knee injury. He too has started the last three games.
But Okung was hurt again Sunday, suffering an injury to his opposite groin muscle. Lynn had no update on his status for this week. If Okung can’t play, Trey Pipkins or Trent Scott would start.
Rivers has been sacked 30 times, a number consistent with his recent seasons. His interception percentage of 3.6 matches his worst mark since he became the starter in 2006.
Against the Vikings, his first interception came in the second quarter when he was pressured and lofted the ball in the middle of the field toward wide receiver Mike Williams. Minnesota safety Harrison Smith made the interception.
“It was a bad throw,” Lynn said. “He never saw the safety. ... It happens sometimes. He would love to have that throw back, I’m sure.”
Rivers’ second interception happened in the fourth quarter after the Chargers had fallen behind by 29 points. He again was trying to go to Williams but underthrew the ball with cornerback Mike Hughes intercepting.
“It was a situation where we were trying to push the ball down the field,” Lynn said, “and [he] probably forced it a little bit there.”
The third interception was the result of a deep ball thrown in desperation in the final two minutes.
On Sunday, the Chargers play their final game at Dignity Health Sports Park against a Raiders team that picked off Rivers three times in Oakland last month. Two other interceptions that night were nullified by penalties.
Lynn said his sideline discussions with Rivers after turnovers typically involve attempting to aid the quarterback in figuring out what went wrong and why.
“You try to ask, ‘What did you see?’ because you want to know how you can help a player,” Lynn said. “That feedback determines maybe the plays that you call for the rest of the game.”
This season has represented a decided spike in turnovers for Rivers. In his first two years under Lynn, he was intercepted 10 and 12 times, respectively, as the Chargers went 21-11.
He threw only two interceptions through the first four weeks before the miscues began arriving in bunches and this season unraveled into a 5-9 record.
After the loss to Minnesota, Rivers talked about possibly facing his final two games as a Charger.
At age 38, he has no contract beyond this season but has expressed an interest in re-signing at least through 2020. The Chargers share that interest, though Rivers’ recent play has ignited debate outside the team about his future.
“I think you always don’t take any of it for granted,” Rivers said Sunday. “I sure hope I haven’t. I don’t feel like I have over 16 years. But I think this is a unique situation in terms of my contract being up, it being a bit of a bumpy year to say the least, and you just don’t know that uncertainty. Even more so now, these last two against Oakland and Kansas City … you take it all in just in case.”
Lynn said he’s in no position at the moment to contemplate what 2020 might hold for Rivers or the Chargers.
“My future is right now and this Sunday,” he said. “I don’t have time to think about the future. I hope his concentration and focus is on the present as well.”
Asked whether Rivers would start the final two games of 2019, Lynn answered with a line he has used repeatedly this season: “As of right now, he’s our starting quarterback.”