Chargers make return to site of past failure while facing adversity
The performance was their most forgettable in a season that didn’t die until the last play of overtime in the final game.
It was so forgettable, that the Chargers today still haven’t forgotten.
“Oh, yeah, you remember,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “Trust me, you remember.”
In possession of their postseason fate, the 2021 Chargers traveled to Houston for a Week 16 matchup of teams ravaged by COVID-19. They were promptly defeated with emphasis by the then-three win Texans 41-29.
On Sunday, the 2022 Chargers travel back to NRG Stadium ravaged this time by injury while trying to prove their playoff worthiness all over.
“I think we’re all internally motivated,” Tranquill said. “I don’t think we need external things. But you certainly remember what happened and what you have to do to prevent it from happening again.”
With a sixth-round draft pick replacing the injured Rashawn Slater, Justin Herbert and the Chargers offense could be in for a rough game against the Texans.
If ever a team needed to get healthy, it is these Chargers, who are coming off a four-touchdown defeat at home during which they lost two Pro Bowlers — edge rusher Joey Bosa and left tackle Rashawn Slater — and their speediest wideout — Jalen Guyton.
Quarterback Justin Herbert also is playing with fractured rib cartilage that seems to be improving but remains a snap-to-snap concern.
“The more reps I get throwing with it, the better I feel,” Herbert said Friday. “This week was good to be able to throw a little bit more. Progress was made. It’s still got to heal … but recovery and treatment have been good.”
Herbert will be without his favorite target in Keenan Allen, the veteran receiver set to miss his third consecutive game because of a hamstring injury. Backup tight end Donald Parham Jr. (hamstring) also won’t play.
The ailing body parts have raised questions about the Chargers’ training habits and their medical staff that had Staley fielding a recent query about, well, curses.
“Curses are a part of your imagination,” he said. “When you talk about topics like that, that’s just what someone wants you to believe. The way that you change that is you join up with the right people that don’t believe that, that aren’t affected by challenges, obstacles, adversity.”
With the Chargers ravished by injuries and the Houston Texans struggling on offense, the matchup could provide some betting challenges.
On the plus side Sunday, the Chargers are planning on the return of center Corey Linsley (knee) and cornerback J.C. Jackson (ankle), both Pro Bowlers and vital pieces if this team is going to realize its potential.
“There’s a lot of belief still in this locker room,” Tranquill said. “We had some extreme adversity last Sunday. We did not play our best. Thankfully, we have veteran guys who have been on winning teams and understand.”
For solace, the Chargers (1-2) can look to last year’s Super Bowl participants. The Rams had a three-game losing streak midseason; the Cincinnati Bengals were a modest 5-4 entering their off week.
During his rookie season in 2014, Linsley and the Green Bay Packers also opened 1-2 before winning nine of their next 10 and eventually reaching the NFC title game.
“There’s nothing we did different throughout the year,” Linsley recalled. “It wasn’t like we tried harder or brought somebody in or changed our philosophy of who we were.
“In this league, this will happen. The biggest point of emphasis is to stay the course. … It’s three games in. We know what the issues are. We know what we gotta fix.”
The Chargers have to run the ball better and find a way to maximize Herbert’s effectiveness despite his injury even as a rookie, Jamaree Salyer, takes over for Slater at left tackle.
The Chargers admit they altered their offensive approach to project injured quarterback Justin Herbert against the Jaguars, and it cost them. They won’t be so timid against Houston.
On defense, they need to rally after giving up points last weekend on each of Jacksonville’s final seven full possessions, their 28-point loss the NFL’s second-most lopsided result in a season so far marked by a record number of close finishes.
“It was a big-time learning experience,” Tranquill said. “It was a big-time humbling experience.”
The Chargers opened the season with a league-high eight players on the NFL Network’s top 100 list and the understandable expectation of hoisting more awards throughout the season.
Instead, this has happened: One of their Week 2 opponents (Kansas City’s Jaylen Watson) was the AFC defensive player of the week and one of their Week 3 opponents (Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence) was the conference’s offensive player of the week.
The script indeed have been flipped on the Chargers, who now head on the road in search of improved health and fortune in a place cruelly unkind to them nine months ago.
Going back to the latter part of 2021, this franchise has dropped five of its last seven games.
“We can’t point and blame because there are other teams dealing with the same problem,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “They are dealing with injuries to players, too. We just have to overcome it.”
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