After long break, Chargers regaining health in preparing for Patriots

Chargers coach Brandon Staley talks to free safety Derwin James Jr. before a game.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley talks to free safety Derwin James Jr. before a game against the Cleveland Browns on Oct. 10 at SoFi Stadium.
(Gregory Bull / Associated Press)

He was busy at the time with his own challenge, coordinating a Rams defense matched up against elusive and explosive Kyler Murray.

Brandon Staley wasn’t there in December to witness the most-lopsided loss in Chargers’ history.

So, this week, the rookie head coach said he won’t specifically address the team’s 45-0 loss to New England with the Patriots set to revisit SoFi Stadium on Sunday.


“If our players can draw on some internal motivation — guys that were at the game — that’s their thing,” Staley said.

Staley and the Rams beat Murray and the Arizona Cardinals that Dec. 6 afternoon 38-28. The Chargers? They fell behind New England 28-0 by halftime and spent the final two quarters trying to limit the embarrassment.

Wide receiver Mike Williams suggested Monday that he and his teammates won’t invest much time in rehashing what went wrong.

“Everything in the game was bad,” he said. “We don’t want to talk about it.”

The Chargers had one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules through six weeks, so rookie coach Brandon Staley is quite pleased with their 4-2 record heading into off week.

Oct. 18, 2021

Plenty has changed for both teams since then, a reality underscored by this fact: Barely 10 months after losing to them by 45, the Chargers opened as 5 1/2-point favorites over the Patriots.

New England is 3-4 but coming off a 54-13 thrashing of the one-win New York Jets. The Chargers were off last week following a stunning 34-6 loss at Baltimore.

The Patriots have a rookie quarterback in Mac Jones and the most accomplished NFL head coach ever in Bill Belichick. The Chargers have second-year starter Justin Herbert and every reason to believe things will turn out better this time.


“A new year, a new team on both sides of the ball,” Williams said. “So I feel like it’s gonna be different.”

The Chargers also appear to be regaining some health. Defensive tackle Justin Jones (calf), safety Nasir Adderley (hip) and linebacker Drue Tranquill (chest muscle) returned to the practice field.

Staley said all three are “trending positive,” with the coach hoping each can play against New England.

Linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (ankle) worked out individually Monday, but the signs point to his return taking longer.

“He’s a little bit farther away than those three,” Staley said. “We’re going to be careful with his ankle and err on the side of time. But he’s progressing well, in a much different place than he was before the bye, for sure.”

Williams said the time off also helped him deal with a knee injury that limited him in the loss to the Ravens. He said he experienced swelling and soreness.

Chargers outside linebacker Kenneth Murray tackles New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton.
Chargers outside linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. (56) tackles New England Patriots quarterback Cam Newton at SoFi Stadium on Dec. 6, 2020.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

An injury to the same knee lingered for Williams throughout the 2019 season, though he still appeared in 15 games and finished with career highs in receptions (49) and yards (1,001).

“I’m good,” Williams said. “I don’t really feel it anymore. So I’m solid.”

When the Chargers face the Patriots, they’ll have a new return man, one they hope can provide a spark that’s been absent.

Andre Roberts signed last week after being cut by Houston. The veteran wide receiver is in his 12th season and on his eighth team.

Staley said Roberts will return punts and kickoffs.

“He’s exactly what we need,” Staley said. “We need someone with experience, that’s had a high level of production at the position. I think he’s going to be a real asset.”

Roberts, 33, has made the Pro Bowl three times, mostly recently last season when he was with Buffalo. He was named All-Pro in 2018 while with the Jets.


He has returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns during his career.

Takeaways from the Chargers game vs. Ravens. The Chargers had been very successful on fourth-down attempts, until this trip to Baltimore to play the Ravens.

Oct. 17, 2021

The Chargers have lacked explosiveness in the return game and lost significant field position on special teams against Baltimore.

KJ Hill Jr. has been returning punts. Adderley, Larry Rountree III and Jalen Guyton have been among the team’s kickoff returners.

Hill, who was waived to make room for Roberts, is now on the Chargers’ practice squad.

One change the Chargers aren’t making — for now, at least — is at kicker, where Tristan Vizcaino has struggled, missing five extra points over the last four games. Staley continued to express belief in the rookie but indicated the team is far from content.

“We’re going to make sure we keep all of our options open at that position,” he said. “But we still have a lot of confidence in Tristan. I still believe in my heart that this guy has real talent.”