Kalen Ballage keeps Chargers’ offense running in loss to Raiders

The Chargers' Kalen Ballage runs through a small hole in the Raiders defense at SoFi Stadium.
Kalen Ballage runs through a small hole in the Raiders defense at SoFi Stadium. He led the Chargers in rushing with 69 yards in 15 carries, and ran for a touchdown.
(Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times)

He started the week on the practice squad but finished it in the end zone.

Kalen Ballage made his Chargers debut by rushing 15 times for 69 yards and a second-quarter touchdown in a 31-26 loss to Las Vegas.

The former Arizona State Sun Devil began the season with the New York Jets, appearing in three games.


The Chargers signed him to their practice squad in October. Ballage, 24, was a fourth-round pick by Miami in 2018.

“I don’t look at myself as a practice squad player,” he said. “I’ve been in the league for three years now. The ball just hasn’t rolled my way. But I prepare myself like I’m the No. 1 back on every team I get on.”

Ballage was promoted Saturday because the Chargers were short a running back with Troymaine Pope in concussion protocol. Because Justin Jackson went down with a knee injury, Ballage got his chance against the Raiders.

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. can’t hang on to a potential touchdown pass on the final play as the Chargers lose to the Raiders, 31-26.

He started getting the ball because he proved more effective than rookie Josh Kelley, who finished with nine carries for 28 yards.

“I was excited about it and appreciative of the opportunity,” said Ballage, who has appeared in 28 NFL games.

The Chargers have struggled to run consistently with Austin Ekeler out because of a hamstring injury. Ballage became the third player to lead the team in rushing since Ekeler went out in Week 4.

“I just want to win football games,” Ballage said. “Whatever I can do to help the team ... that’s what I’m most excited about.”

Having played in the Pac-12, Ballage is familiar with Chargers rookie quarterback Justin Herbert.

He said his first live-game experience with the one-time Oregon Duck only confirmed his beliefs.

“I think Justin is ahead of his time, just composure-wise,” Ballage said. “He’s making smart plays. He’s very talented.”

Can’t convert

The Chargers lost by five points Sunday after losing five potential points. Kicker Michael Badgley missed a 48-yard field goal in the first quarter. He is now 14 of 19 for the season.

In the fourth quarter, trailing 28-26, they failed to convert a two-point conversion attempt. The Chargers had scored when Herbert hit fullback Gabe Nabers for a four-yard touchdown pass with 9:04 remaining. On the play, Herbert was shaken up after being hit by Las Vegas defensive end Maxx Crosby.

Justin Herbert is a franchise quarterback for the Chargers, but amid a season of constant struggle, the team isn’t doing enough to protect the rookie.

Since Herbert was attended to on the field by athletic trainers, he had to leave the game for at least one play. Backup Tyrod Taylor came in and was unable to find an open receiver. He was stopped trying to run for the two points.

The Chargers could have used a timeout in order to allow Herbert to stay in the game, something coach Anthony Lynn did earlier this season.

“I’m not opposed to burning a timeout there,” Lynn said. “But on that particular play I didn’t feel like I needed to.”

Taylor began the season as the Chargers’ starter but was replaced by Herbert in Week 2 after a medical mishap resulted in Taylor suffering a punctured lung.

He also suffered a rib injury in a season-opening victory at Cincinnati. Taylor was inactive for the last five games before returning Sunday.

The Chargers put a drive together in attempt to beat the Raiders before time ran out, but two dropped passes in the final six seconds cost them a victory.

Run over

Las Vegas quarterback Derek Carr completed only 13 passes but two went for scores.

The Raiders also rushed for 160 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. Ten of their 16 first downs came on the ground.

“That’s not good,” Lynn said. “We knew they have a big offensive line and they were going to lean on us a little bit. … Six yards a carry is not good enough.”

Even worse, Las Vegas was missing three starting offensive linemen.

The Chargers have given up at least 30 points in four of their last five games.


Rookie K.J. Hill muffed a punt in the fourth quarter, the turnover leading to three points for the Raiders. “The young man’s been good all year in returning those punts,” Lynn said. “He hadn’t even [bobbled] one yet. So I can’t say that he’s an issue because he’s not.”… Right tackle Bryan Bulaga left the game after the Chargers’ second play from scrimmage and did not return. He continues to deal with a back problem.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 31-26 loss to the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday.