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Any way you slice it, third quarters have been a nemesis for Chargers

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert throws in front of Saints  linebacker Demario Davis.
Quarterback Justin Herbert helped the Chargers get a lead on the road against the Saints, but the visitors were unable to stop a New Orleans comeback.
(Tyler Kaufman / Associated Press)

The Chargers have won the first quarter and the second quarter, outscoring their opponents 71-55.

They led at halftime against Kansas City, Tampa Bay and New Orleans before losing to all three.

In their last two games, they’ve scored points on half of their 12 first-half possessions, not counting the one time they took a knee to run out the clock.

Starting hasn’t been the problem for a team that is 1-4 and has dropped four consecutive games. The problem has been restarting.

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“That’s one of the focuses of the week,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “I think we’ve played pretty good football in the first half and at times in the fourth quarter. Putting together a full game, all four quarters, is what’s going to separate us.”

The Chargers have scored one touchdown in the third quarter, and that came on the final play of the quarter in Week 4 against the Buccaneers. Otherwise, their offense has produced a pair of field goals.

Chargers rookie Justin Herbert plays the game much differently that predecessor Philip Rivers, and his measured approach has had its highs and lows.

Despite having the edge in time of possession, the Chargers have been outscored 26-13 in the third quarter. They have moved the ball at times but been unable to regain whatever momentum generated earlier.

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The sluggish restarts have led to a second-half deficit of 70-39, which helps explain how a team can blow double-digit leads three times in four weeks.

“We got to eliminate the three-and-outs,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “We got to sustain drives.”

Because of schedule changes necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Chargers just had their off week, which was moved up from mid-November.

They returned to practice Wednesday to prepare to play a team on an longer losing streak. After opening with a victory over Indianapolis, Jacksonville has lost five in a row.

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A softer spot on a reshuffled schedule might be exactly what the Chargers need after beginning the season with five tense one-score games.

“There’s no need for no overhaul,” Lynn said. “I mean, I know we’re 1-4. We’re going to tweak some things a little bit that I believe will make a difference.”

Offensive coordinator Shane Steichen echoed Herbert’s claim that coming out stronger in the second half is a point of emphasis in preparation for the Jaguars, who have surrendered at least 30 points five consecutive weeks.

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One of the issues the Chargers have faced offensively is the health of the line. Right tackle Bryan Bulaga returned to practice Wednesday after missing the past two games because of a back problem. Right guard Trai Turner remains out and has appeared in only one game, first because of a knee injury and now with a groin issue.

The struggles up front have frequently left Herbert scrambling and made running the ball challenging. The Chargers have averaged 91 yards on the ground over their past three games.

“We didn’t win our one-on-ones,” Lynn said, when asked about the offensive line’s problems in the most recent defeat, 30-27 to the Saints in overtime. “We were just getting beat off the edge and a couple times we got beat up the middle. … We have to block better.”

That starts at kickoff this week and, the Chargers certainly have to hope, continues into the third quarter.

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The Chicago Bears shut down the high-powered Rams offense two seasons ago, leading to L.A. rethinking approach. Now the meet again Monday.

Injuries

Defensive end Melvin Ingram (knee) and defensive lineman Justin Jones (shoulder) returned to practice. Both were designated Monday to return from the injured reserve list. Their availability for Sunday won’t be clear until later in the week.

Austin Ekeler also is on IR, but Lynn indicated the running back is on a longer timetable.

“It will be later than sooner with Austin,” Lynn said. “He had a very serious injury there with his hamstring. We want to make sure that he’s right before he comes back.”

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Ekeler, who suffered a strain Oct. 4 against Tampa Bay, has missed one game. Soon after the injury, he indicated on social media that he expected to be out four to six weeks.

Wide receiver Keenan Allen (back) and cornerback Casey Hayward (undisclosed) both practiced, though Allen’s participation was limited. Both were hurt against New Orleans. Defensive tackle Linval Joseph (elbow) and running back Justin Jackson (knee) also were limited Wednesday.


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