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Now needing help to make playoffs, Chargers get some much-needed help back on roster

 Austin Ekeler (30) runs for a touchdown the last time the Chargers played the Broncos in a November loss.
Austin Ekeler (30) runs for a touchdown the last time the Chargers played the Broncos in a November loss. Ekeler’s return should boost the Chargers offense.
(Jack Dempsey / Associated Press)

After beating the New York Giants on Dec. 12, the Chargers were one win from taking over first place in the AFC West.

Since then, they’ve lost twice, put 25 active-roster players on the COVID-19 reserve list and watched Kansas City clinch its sixth consecutive division title.

“I just feel like the last couple of weeks have been a rollercoaster,” defensive tackle Linval Joseph said Wednesday. “Eventually, you’re going to go on the top end of that rollercoaster. Hopefully, last week was the down end. Now we can come back up.”

The Chargers lost in overtime to the Chiefs, costing them whatever realistic shot they had of winning the AFC West. Then they fell as nearly two-touchdown favorites to a Houston team depleted by COVID and simply playing out the season.

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They enter their final home game Sunday against Denver outside a playoff spot, likely needing back-to-back wins and some help in other games to have a chance of qualifying.

The Chargers activated five players off the COVID-19 reserve list on Tuesday, including starting defensive lineman Justin Jones.

“You have to respond after something tough happens,” coach Brandon Staley said. “On Sunday, that was the tough side of the NFL. As a team, it’s just about our response to that.”

When they lost to the Texans, the Chargers had 14 active-roster players out because of COVID protocols. They’ve activated 13 players off the list and added 11 over the last three days.

On Wednesday, those activated included edge rusher Joey Bosa and center Corey Linsley, both Pro Bowlers. Also activated were wide receiver Jalen Guyton and defensive backs Trey Marshall and Kemon Hall.

The Chargers added starting right tackle Storm Norton and edge rusher/linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. to the list.

This is hardly the only NFL team to deal with significant COVID turmoil this season but, since mid-December, the Chargers are among the league leaders in trying to navigate the virus.

“All you can do is stay connected as a team — coaches, players, staff,” Staley said. “That’s what I think all of us are trying to do.”

The Chargers are expecting to activate more players from the virus list before Sunday. Those still out include starting defensive backs Chris Harris Jr., Michael Davis and Nasir Adderley. Mike Williams, the team’s No. 2 wide receiver, also remains sidelined.

Running back Austin Ekeler rejoined his teammates on the practice field in Costa Mesa after missing the game in Houston. The Pro Bowl alternate said he experienced chills and a “super sore throat” during his time away.

If the Rams can win Sunday at Baltimore and their finale vs. San Francisco, they will win the NFC West. The Chargers’ playoff hopes are not as solid.

“Had my house like 80 degrees and I was still under a blanket and I was still cold,” Ekeler said.

Watching his teammates struggle to a 41-29 loss to the lowly Texans didn’t make Ekeler feel any better.

“I was definitely pretty disappointed just seeing our team lose the way we did, not making enough plays to get it done,” he said. “You know, the Texans showed up and we really didn’t.”

Ekeler is second in the league with 17 touchdowns — 10 rushing and seven receiving. His absence Sunday, along with Williams being out, meant the Chargers didn’t have their top two touchdown producers on the season.

That might help explain why the offense had to settle for Dustin Hopkins field goals on its first two possessions and lost a scoring opportunity late in the second quarter when Justin Herbert was intercepted near the goal line.

Those missing points proved vital in the second half as Houston pulled away.

On the plus side for Ekeler, he said his ailing ankle had a chance to improve while he was out. He said the injury has lingered since the Chargers’ victory over Las Vegas in Week 4.

NFL legend John Madden was more than a star coach, broadcaster and video-game innovator. He was a funny, generous friend to everyone he met.

“Just put some tape on it,” Ekeler said, “and, you know, play through some pain.”

The Chargers are ninth in the AFC, two spots outside the playoffs. They are one of four teams — along with Miami, Baltimore and Las Vegas — at 8-7. Losses by the Dolphins and Ravens would notably enhance the Chargers’ chances.

But all they can worry about now is rebounding from their most stunning defeat of the season and finishing with a two-game winning streak.

“You gotta put it away quickly and then keep it moving,” Staley said. “That’s what we’ve done this week. We put that one away on Monday and then our full focus has been on Denver.”

Etc.

The Chargers designated edge rusher Kyler Fackrell (knee) and safety Mark Webb (knee) to return from injured reserve. Both practiced Wednesday. ... The team also activated kicker Tristan Vizcaino and linebacker Cole Christiansen, both practice squad players, off the COVID list. ... Linebacker Drue Tranquill (ankle) did not practice. He was hurt Sunday. Safety Derwin James Jr. (hamstring) was limited. James was held out of the loss to Houston.


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