Chargers defense can’t pass Bucs on failures at Tampa Bay

 Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady (12) eludes the Chargers'  Uchenna Nwosu (42) as he throws a pass.
Even with a big lead, the Chargers defense was unable to shut down Tom Brady and the Buccaneers in the second half of their game last week.
(Jason Behnken / Associated Press)

The Chargers defense hadn’t allowed three touchdowns in a game entering Week 4.

Then, in the second half Sunday, they gave up three touchdowns in the span of 10 Tampa Bay snaps.

It was a meltdown along the balmy Florida coast.

“It happened pretty quick,” defensive coordinator Gus Bradley said Friday. “We just had some big plays, a lot of explosive plays … that [were] really out of our character.”


The Chargers were among the stingy defenses to start a season in which points continue to come at an historic pace. They even limited the high-octane Kansas City Chiefs to two touchdowns in Week 2.

Everything changed dramatically and suddenly against Tom Brady, who threw for four touchdowns in the final 31 minutes as the Buccaneers overcame a 17-point second-quarter Chargers lead.

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The future Hall of Famer completed four passes of at least 28 yards to four different receivers in the second half. One of the concepts Bradley’s scheme is based upon is limiting big plays.

Bradley refused to blame the injuries that have riddled his group, knocking out five starters and slowing end Joey Bosa, the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history.

“Obviously, you want your best players playing,” he said. “But it should not reflect on performance like we saw. We’ve got plenty enough good players out there. … It’s not a talent issue at all. It was more of a focus issue.”

Bradley explained the Chargers defenders appeared unsettled throughout the second half and were “seeing too much.” The mental lapses led to physical mistakes that were glaring.

Tampa Bay kept the ball for nearly 12½ minutes of the decisive fourth quarter, totaling nine first downs. The Chargers’ final first down came on the last play of the third quarter.

“It can happen,” Bradley said. “You don’t like to see it happen, but it’s been a great learning lesson. I think it’s really got our focus of attention this week.”

Another issue against the Buccaneers was giving up a touchdown in the final 30 seconds of the first half. The defense was put in an almost impossible position after Josh Kelley fumbled inside the Chargers’ 10-yard line.

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Instead of returning to the locker room with a 24-7 lead, the Chargers were up 24-14, and the gap might have felt even slimmer. Bradley called the late score “kind of a punch in the mouth.”

“That scared me a lot because I knew going in that Tampa had some momentum,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “And it showed when we came back out early in the third quarter.”

The Chargers started with the ball but went three-and-out, with Justin Herbert sacked on third down. The Buccaneers then continued a stretch of scoring touchdowns on four consecutive possessions.

“That momentum shift at the end of the second quarter was tough,” Bosa said. “As a defense, we have to find a way, whether it’s a turnover or whatever, to switch that momentum back over in the second half.”

The Chargers instead failed to prevent Tampa Bay from putting up points as they fell to 1-3 entering a Monday night game at New Orleans, which features another offense capable of explosiveness.

The Saints are averaging nearly 31 points and could get two-time All-Pro wide receiver Michael Thomas back. He has missed three games because of an ankle injury.

“We’re just not finishing games,” Bosa said. “Maybe teams are figuring us out. I don’t know what it is…We have to step on their throats and keep the intensity going for four quarters straight.”

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Ekeler on IR

The Chargers placed running back Austin Ekeler on the injured list because of a strained hamstring. Ekeler has said on social media that he “hopefully” will miss no more than four to six weeks.

Second-year wide receiver Tyron Johnson was promoted to the active roster to take Ekeler’s place. Johnson had a 53-yard touchdown reception Sunday.

“He’s one of those dawg guys,” fellow wide out Keenan Allen said. “His mentality is pretty much like mine. He feels unguardable. He comes in every day, cherishes his job and works really hard.”

With Ekeler out, the Chargers signed veteran running back Kalen Ballage to their practice squad. Ballage has spent time with Miami and the New York Jets.


Bosa (triceps/knee) and wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring) returned to practice Friday at a limited capacity. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and right guard Trai Turner (groin) did not practice.