Chargers takeaways: Justin Herbert’s turnovers prove costly in loss to Texans

Texans running back Rex Burkhead (28) avoids  Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (26) as he runs for a touchdown.
Texans running back Rex Burkhead avoids Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. as he runs for a touchdown in the first half. Samuel had a difficult afternoon in his return from a second concussion.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

The Chargers lost 41-29 to the Texans on Sunday to fall to 8-7. They slipped from the No. 6 seed in the AFC to No. 8, which is the first spot outside the postseason. They are tied with Baltimore and Las Vegas, but the Ravens have the tiebreaker edge with their 34-6 Week 6 win over the Chargers.

Five takeaways from a brutal loss on the road.

Samuel comes back with mixed results: Asante Samuel Jr. returned after missing four games because of his second concussion of the season. His performance — quite predictably given the time off — was uneven.

The rookie cornerback was beaten late in the first half on a 36-yard completion from Davis Mills to Phillip Dorsett II.


The Chargers and coach Brandon Staley couldn’t make any excuses for the team’s underwhelming performance in a 41-29 loss to the Houston Texans.

Dec. 26, 2021

Samuel also was called for pass interference early in the game, costing the Chargers 24 yards. Samuel was flagged for interference again in the fourth quarter, but the penalty was declined.

He was credited with three tackles and two passes knocked away.

“He made some good plays,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I think there are some plays that he’s going to learn from. … I know it’s good to have him back, that’s for sure. Hopefully he’ll be able to stay out there for us because he’s a quality player.”

Samuel, who said he never had a concussion before this season, suffered two in the span of three weeks.

Herbert also up and down: Justin Herbert finished with another 300-yard passing day — his eighth of the season — but also threw two interceptions. He was 27 for 35 for 336 yards with a touchdown to Josh Palmer in the final minute.

Herbert was going deep for Palmer late in second quarter when Houston safety Jonathan Owens intercepted the ball near the goal line.


“A little bit late, left it a little bit inside,” Staley said. “We liked the look.”

The Texans went 94 yards in seven plays after the interception to take a 17-12 lead into halftime.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) scrambles away Houston Texans' DeMarcus Walker (55) in the second half.
DeMarcus Walker (55) and the Texans defense had Justin Herbert (10) and the Chargers offense on the run.
(Eric Christian Smith / Associated Press)

Houston sealed its upset when cornerback Tavierre Thomas returned a Herbert interception 48 yards for a touchdown with 1:49 remaining.

Herbert and the Chargers also struggled to get Pro Bowl wide receiver Keenan Allen involved. Allen had only four catches — matching his season low — for 35 yards. He was targeted six times, his second fewest this year.

Herbert credited the Texans’ defense, saying they covered Allen well.

Searching for the right mix: With so many pieces missing, the Chargers were forced to play Essang Bassey at slot corner in the second half. Bassey just joined the team last Monday after being signed off waivers from Denver.

He replaced another replacement, Davontae Harris, who was benched after being ineffective. Harris gave up a 41-yard touchdown reception to Chris Conley in the final minute of the second quarter.

Harris started the game after Michael Davis tested positive for COVID-19 shortly before kickoff. Harris was signed last month off San Francisco’s practice squad.

Tom Brady throws for 232 yards and a touchdown to lead the Buccaneers to a win over the Carolina Panthers and their first NFC South title since 2007.

Dec. 26, 2021

“Just trying to search for the combinations to give us the best chance,” Staley said. “We’re working hard to figure it out. It’s been a fight. It’s gonna continue to be a fight.”

After benching Harris, the Chargers moved Chris Harris Jr. from inside to outside cornerback.

The Chargers were missing so many players Sunday that they had no inactives for the game, a rarity in the NFL.

More COVID concerns? The late loss of Davis was a stark reminder of how much and how quickly the virus can impact plans. He was so far into his pregame routine that Davis actually had his game pants on before testing positive.

The question now: Will the Chargers lose more players before they face Denver next weekend at SoFi Stadium?

Texans wide receiver Nico Collins (12) catches a pass for a touchdown against the Chargers.
Texans wide receiver Nico Collins (12) catches a pass for a touchdown as Los Chargers’ Chris Harris Jr. (25) and Nasir Adderley (24) try to defend.
(Justin Rex / Associated Press)

They likely will get back the bulk of the 13 active-roster players they had on the COVID-19 reserve list entering Sunday. But there could be new additions at a time when players throughout the NFL are going on the list.

Also, wide receiver Mike Williams — who was ruled out Saturday — is unvaccinated, meaning he figures to miss the game against the Broncos, as well.

“It’s a scary thing going on, especially with our team,” Chris Harris Jr. said. “You see it’s running rampant right now.”

A lack of quality depth has hurt the Chargers this season, particularly on special teams and now, with the losses mounting, in the secondary.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 41-29 road loss to the Houston Texans on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Dec. 26, 2021

A lesson to learn: Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater grew up about a half-hour from NRG Stadium, in the city of Sugar Land. This was his first NFL homecoming, making the day very bittersweet.

The rookie said the Chargers’ young players were introduced Sunday to the reality of playing football at its highest level.

“There’s no such thing as an easy game, whether someone’s down with injuries, COVID, no matter what,” Slater said. “Records don’t matter in the NFL. Everyone’s playing really good football at the end of the day.”