A case of defensive yips? Chargers aim to conquer meltdown demons vs. Raiders

Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley and coach Anthony Lynn look on from the sideline.
The Chargers’ struggles with giving up points in the second half of games has been a big concern for defensive coordinator Gus Bradley, right, and coach Anthony Lynn, center.
(Phelan M. Ebenhack / Associated Press)

He had just watched his defense give up 28 points in the final 21 minutes, including three touchdowns in the fourth quarter.

Gus Bradley explained that he felt the same sensation many Chargers fans probably felt at that moment: disbelief.

“I would say this one probably stung a little bit more just because of the way it happened,” Bradley said. “It’s almost like, you can’t possibly … these things can’t possibly take place in this amount of time, and it did.”

The Chargers’ defense — somewhat break-but-don’t-bend lately — last weekend had its most dramatic collapse yet in a series of startling free falls.

After dominating into the middle of the third quarter, Bradley’s unit gave up every bit of a 24-3 lead and then some as the Chargers lost 31-30 at Denver when the Broncos scored as time expired.

The Chargers could also be without top cornerback Casey Hayward, who missed practice Friday for reasons not related to an injury.


“You feel like you have really good control of the game,” Bradley said. “You come out of there like, ‘How did this happen?’”

That question has gone painfully unanswered during a mystifying, history-making stretch of failure for this team. The Chargers have blown leads of at least 16 points in each of their last four games, an NFL record.

Before this season, no team had ever done such a thing in more than two consecutive games. The Chargers did it twice, took their off week to regroup and then returned to do it two more times.

They are 2-5 and in last place in the AFC West, their spirit quite possibly also in the cellar.

“There’s got to be the belief that we can do it,” right tackle Bryan Bulaga said. “You see such big swings in the first half of games where we’re on top of teams and we’re moving the football and getting big stops. …

“It’s that little bit of lull that we need to cut out of our mind-set. It’s got to be full throttle, 100% of the time to win. This is the NFL. This isn’t like, you know, you go up 17 on a team and they’re just going to go away.”

The Chargers lost at Tampa Bay after leading 24-7 late in the second quarter and at New Orleans despite having a 20-3 edge just before halftime.

They jumped on Jacksonville 16-0 at home before falling behind twice in the second half and then rallying to win.

Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert looks on from the sideline.
Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert looks on from the sideline during the second half of a 31-30 loss to the Denver Broncos last week.
(Justin Edmonds / Associated Press)

Against the Broncos, their previous 21-point cushion was still 24-10 entering the fourth quarter before giving up touchdowns all three times Denver possessed the ball to finish the game.

Football isn’t a sport where the yips is often discussed. But when a team does what the Chargers have done, can the issues go from between the lines to between the ears?

Coach Anthony Lynn unnecessarily confirmed that scoring first Sunday against Las Vegas remains the goal. He said he hasn’t avoided discussing the meltdowns for fear of making the situation worse.

“It’s something we’ve talked about,” Lynn said. “No, we’re not afraid to bring it up. We know that it’s a problem. We know that we need to fix it. And we need to do it soon.”

In Bradley’s three previous years with the Chargers, the opposition reached 30 points only six times in 48 regular-season games. This defense has given up 30 points three of the last four games.

The Chargers’ secondary has been burned for 11 touchdown passes during that stretch, including three in the fourth quarter last week by Denver’s Drew Lock.

Dealing with injuries and inexperience, the Chargers repeatedly have blown assignments and lacked communication. They’ve frequently failed to make the sorts of plays that win games late.

The Chargers hope to quiet the chaos entering the second half of the season when they take on the Las Vegas Raiders.

Safety Nasir Adderley and cornerbacks Tevaughn Campbell and Brandon Facyson committed crucial penalties in the final eight minutes against the Broncos.

“I’ve got to look at our players and make sure I’m not asking too much of them in these situations,” Bradley said. “It seems like a broken record a little bit, but we just keep going through these growing pains.”

Bradley explained that the mistakes have been most glaring — and damaging — in moments of chaos, when both teams are frantically scrambling to find a route to victory.

The Chargers surrendered the deciding touchdown to Denver in part because, with only one second left on the clock and the field in a frenzy, one of their defensive ends lined up on the wrong side of the formation.

Despite going to splinters when it matters most, the Chargers contend that they remain intact, that they won’t crumble, regardless of how violently they crash.

“What’s been positive for me is you haven’t seen guys waver,” Bulaga said. “No one has their head down. There’s no finger-pointing here. It’s been really positive. We know we can win these football games.”

Asked about possible finger pointing, edge rusher Melvin Ingram said: “We’re never going to do that. It’s not that type of bunch. That’s one thing we don’t worry about.”

Good thing, because the Chargers have plenty of other concerns already.

Illness and injury updates

Wide receiver Keenan Allen became the latest Charger who could miss the team’s game Sunday when he was placed on the injury report because of an illness. He was designated as questionable. The Chargers play Las Vegas at 1 p.m. at SoFi Stadium.

Cornerback Brandon Facyson missed practice Friday for what the team also labeled as illness. Facyson was placed on the COVID-19 reserve list Saturday.

The Chargers probably will be without defensive end Joey Bosa, who is doubtful after he spent the past week in concussion protocol. Running back Troymaine Pope is doubtful as he also remains in concussion protocol.

Cornerback Casey Hayward remains questionable for reasons unrelated to an injury.

Also questionable are right guard Trai Turner (groin), defensive end Isaac Rochell (neck) and safety Jahleel Addae (hamstring).

Due to their numerous question marks, the Chargers signed defensive end Jessie Lemonier to the active roster and activated running back Kalen Ballage and defensive back Quenton Meeks from the practice squad.

They also signed veteran safety Jaylen Watkins to the practice squad.