By Cameron Buford, whatsgoodinsports.com

At the NRG Stadium in Houston, Texas, the 8-6 Los Angeles Chargers would have a chance to maintain control of their playoff destiny against the 4-9 Houston Texans. Having squandered an opportunity to sweep the reigning division champs last week on national television, the Chargers go on the road to right the ship. However, they would be without multiple contributors to their fourth-ranked offense, including their all-purpose running back Austin Ekeler, one of their starting wide receivers Mike Williams, Pro Bowler’s Derwin James, and Joey Bosa, along with several others due to the league’s health and safety protocol.

Coming into this game, the Chargers had an overall 5-2 record against the Texans while maintaining an unbeaten road record against them. In this game, Herbert also had an opportunity to establish a new single-season career-high in passing yards. Break Philip Rivers’ franchise record for most touchdowns thrown in a season, and extend the NFL’s longest active streak of games with multiple passing scores by throwing for two touchdown passes.

Previously, as confident as a young Kobe Bryant was when he shot three airballs against the Utah Jazz. By going for the first down on fourth down on consecutive possessions last week, Staley appeared to choke up like the New York Knicks John Starks did in game seven of the NBA Finals versus the Houston Rockets, when he shot 0-11 from three-point range. After the Charger’s first couple of drives stalled, Staley opted to kick fields goals. Once they did score their first touchdown, Staley elected to go for the 2-point conversion rather than kicking the field goal and going up by six points. Instead, they failed and came away with just the five-point lead.

The Texans kicked a field goal to narrow the Charger’s lead to 2 points after their initial drive. The Chargers would follow that drive up with Herbert’s first interception of the game. The Texans converted that interception into a touchdown to take a 17-12 lead just before halftime.

The Chargers forced a Texans missed field goal on their initial drive of the second half and narrowed their lead to 2 points after kicking a field goal of their own. However, by giving up explosive play after explosive play in this game, the Chargers continued to make things difficult for themselves. Texans Rex Burkhead would score in runs of 1 yard and 36 yards in this game. Rookie quarterback Davis Mills would complete 21 of his 27 passes in this game, and four of his receivers would record long gains of 23, 27, 36, and 41 yards.  

“I felt like defensively we couldn’t get into a comfort zone or rhythm in the run game or the passing game.” Staley said about their defense. Instead of blaming things on missing players due to the NFL’s health and safety protocols, Staley took the blame for this loss saying, “I didn’t coach well enough today. I didn’t put our guys in good enough positions to be consistent, and that why we lost!” He added, “we didn’t play well in any area on defense. There wasn’t an area that we played well in today.”

Considering they were missing key players on defense due to the health and safety protocol, Staley should be commended for accepting blame, “This was a challenging week for us. I think all the circumstances of what’s happened in the last few weeks. We’re just figuring out as we go, and we are just going to try and continue to coach our guys and play well enough when guys go out like that.”

Justin Herbert would also add about their offensive effectiveness, “We did move the ball well, and I thought we ran the ball well. Unfortunately, we didn’t get to turn those drives into touchdowns.” Not turning those drives into touchdowns was a major factor in this game, just as the decision to kick those field goals and not go for the touchdowns. 

“There (are) no excuses. Everyone is going through the same thing right now. It just comes down to execution, and we didn’t do that well enough today.” Rookie Slater would state otherwise post game. Whether it was because of last week’s results that tempered Staley’s choice to go for the first downs on fourth down, these decisions seemed to sap the confidence out of the team. Or was it the impact missing their key players’ defensive players had on this game? 

The Chargers recently named as Pro-Bowl offensive tackle Rashawn Slater would add, when asked about the mood of the locker room, “We’ve got a bunch of pissed off guys. We’ve just got to lock in on next week. That’s all we can do. You can only dwell on the past for so long, but next week is coming, and we’ve got to be ready. Because now it’s even more important that we finish these last two strong.”

The Chargers allowed multiple Texans to have career days in Sunday’s game, they allowed them to convert a field goal attempt of 50-plus yards for the third consecutive game, which happens to be their longest streak in franchise history. They allowed Rex Burkhead to gain a career-high 149 yards on 22 carries and score two touchdowns. Also, they permitted David Mills to earn a 130.6 passer rating which is the second-highest of his career.   

Coming into this season, I predicted an 11-win season for these Chargers. This loss will not allow them to get there this season. Provided they get healthy, they should be a formidable challenger in the playoffs. But they’ll have to beat their divisional rivals Bronco’s and Raiders in weeks 16 and 17 to sneak in there. Kindly share your thoughts on the Chargers’ progress this season; are they better than you expected, or are they playing above their heads? You can contact me by reaching out on Twitter @whatsgoodnsport or email or voiceofthefans@outlook.com. I’d love to hear any suggestions you have on what angles, or players, on this Los Angeles Chargers team you would like to read about this season.

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