Chargers’ season-opening win came with some serious struggles and a significant loss

Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill is carted off the field.
Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill is carted off the field after sustaining a broken fibula during Sunday’s win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
(Aaron Doster / Associated Press)

At halftime Sunday, the Chargers had nearly three times as many yards as Cincinnati did.

They also had decided edges in first downs and offensive plays and led in time of possession.

But they trailed in the only place that matters, their 41 snaps producing just six points.

Coach Anthony Lynn was asked Monday about his team’s offensive balance in what became a 16-13 victory.

“There was nothing wrong with the balance,” he answered. “There was something wrong with the execution.”


The Chargers converted their first third down but failed on their next four. They had first and goal at the nine-yard line in the second quarter and first and goal at the two in the fourth quarter, and both possessions ended with field goals.

Chargers rookie Josh Kelley wanted to pay tribute to Breonna Taylor’s life with his first touchdown celebration but, in the heat of the moment, forgot.

Twice they failed on fourth and short, Tyrod Taylor first unable to scramble for two yards and then later unable to sneak forward for one.

“We gotta knock some people off the ball,” Lynn said of the unsuccessful second-quarter sneak. “We got a chance to get half a yard. We gotta step up and do that. I was not impressed with that.”

Taylor was starting his first game for the Chargers after serving as the backup to Philip Rivers last season. He was 16 for 30 for 208 yards but, as a quarterback known for his mobility, finished with only seven rushing yards.

The Chargers’ lone touchdown came on their 10th possession, early in the fourth quarter, and covered 55 yards in 10 plays. Taylor completed all three of his throws on the drive.

“He performed well enough for us to win the football game,” Lynn said. “But I think Tyrod knows he’s got to perform better. We all do. We gotta coach better and we gotta execute and make corrections.

“I thought he made some plays when we needed him to. He stood in the pocket. He threw the ball. He got hit a few times. There were times when he had to extend plays and create a little bit.”

The first unsuccessful fourth down came on a run-pass option, Lynn explaining that Taylor “took the wrong option. He’d like to have that play back.” Taylor also misfired a couple times on the type of red-zone passes that define Rivers’ game.

Making his NFL debut, rookie running back Josh Kelley scored the Chargers’ touchdown on a five-yard run and finished with 60 yards in 12 carries, emerging after Justin Jackson went out with a quadriceps injury.

But Kelley also overran the hole on what could have been a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and couldn’t make a yard on third and one in the final four minutes as the Chargers were attempting to run out the clock.

“You can talk to ’em all day long about where he’s supposed to go,” Lynn said. “But until you put ’em in that situation ... it just comes with time. Josh is a sharp kid. He will figure that stuff out. I’m not concerned about that.”

The Chargers also struggled at times last season in short-yardage situations. Lynn said he’d like to settle on one back to use in such instances, with Kelley being the most obvious option.

Listed at 5 feet 11 and 212 pounds, he is a downhill-type runner who, according to teammate Hunter Henry, was “banging some guys around” against the Bengals.

“It takes special running backs to get that one yard, that two yards when the defense knows you’re going to run the football,” Lynn said. “You gotta be able to find that soft spot in the defense.

“I anticipate that improving. But, right now, we’re ... still evaluating this football team. I think the first two or three games, it’s going to be that way throughout the National Football League.”

The Chargers’ offense also was down two starting linemen Sunday, right guard Trai Turner dealing with a knee injury and center Mike Pouncey out because of a chronic hip problem. Lynn indicated Turner was close to playing but the team decided to hold him out. Pouncey has been unable to practice for weeks.

In Turner’s absence, former practice squad player Tyree St. Louis started and played all 74 offensive snaps in his NFL debut. St. Louis, 23, was undrafted in 2019 after playing tackle at Miami.

Jerry Tillery helped the Chargers’ pass-rushing unit make life hard for Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the Chargers’ 16-13 win.

“He held his own,” Lynn said. “He can be better. I think he’s just a guy who’s going to get better every single week. He played in his first NFL football game. Saying that, I was pretty impressed.”

Injury updates

Lynn said linebacker Drue Tranquill suffered a broken left fibula Sunday and will miss an extended period. He did not know if the injury would end Tranquill’s season.

The team’s starter on the weak side, Tranquill was hurt on just his fifth play from scrimmage. He was replaced by veteran Nick Vigil.

The extent of Jackson’s latest injury isn’t clear. He carried only twice and was on the field for 11 offensive snaps before hurting his quadriceps.

“He’s very disappointed,” Lynn said. “J.J. does everything he can to stay on the field. There are some things you just can’t control.”

If Jackson is out this week, the Chargers could promote undrafted rookie Darius Bradwell from the practice squad.