After losing to the Raiders, the Chargers can’t afford to lose again.
LAS VEGAS —
He just watched his team blow an early 10-point lead, give up 100 yards each to an opposing runner and receiver, and fall to .500 with only five games remaining.
Safety Derwin James Jr., one of the Chargers’ hardest hitters, delivered a stark and sobering shot Sunday when asked about the team’s next two foes — 8-4 Miami and 7-5 Tennessee.
“From here on out, the opponent don’t have a face” he said. “We gotta win ’em. The opponent … it don’t matter who we’re playing, we gotta win.”
The Chargers, 6-6 and ninth in the AFC, now will meet teams consecutively that currently hold playoff positions. Both games are at SoFi Stadium, where the Chargers are 2-3 this season.
They have the same overall record as New England and sit one game behind the New York Jets, who currently hold the AFC’s final postseason spot.
By losing 27-20 to a Las Vegas Raiders team that entered Sunday 4-7, the Chargers pushed themselves even closer to the brink.
Or perhaps they were shoved there.
The Raiders sacked Justin Herbert five times and hit him 14 times total, strong-arming the game away with a 4-minute 7-second stretch of bullying to open the third quarter.
Leading 13-10 and having received the second-half kickoff, the Chargers turned over the ball on their second play when running back Austin Ekeler fumbled on a hit by Raiders safety Duron Harmon.
“Had the ball in the inside arm, which is putting yourself at risk,” Ekeler said. “I had a defender on the outside. I wasn’t even thinking about the ball, and, sure enough, [it got] punched out.”
On the next snap, Las Vegas’ Derek Carr hit Davante Adams for a 31-yard touchdown pass when the two-time All-Pro wide receiver won a battle for the ball with cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the end zone.
The Chargers moved 42 yards in eight plays on their next possession but failed to score when Cameron Dicker’s 52-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right.
Before the miss, the Chargers had made 45 consecutive tries — field goals and extra points — during a streak that began in Week 2 and covered the efforts of three kickers.
This time, the Raiders needed only two snaps to reach the end zone and open a sudden 24-13 edge. After a 13-yard run by Josh Jacobs, Carr and Adams connected for a 45-yard touchdown.
Cornerback Bryce Callahan was in coverage and tweaked a previous groin injury on the play, knocking him out for the rest of the afternoon.
“The third quarter was where the game was decided,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “That was the story, those two big passes.”
The story did have another thick chapter, one that detailed Las Vegas’ early and intense pressure on Herbert. Raiders edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones came out flying and dominant.
Even Jerry Tillery, a 2019 Chargers first-round pick released by the team in November, had a hit on Herbert in the first quarter. Las Vegas claimed Tillery on waivers.
Jones, who entered the game with only half a sack for the season, got to Herbert three times. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao had a sack, and Clelin Ferrell and Matthew Butler split one. Tillery hit Herbert again later too.
The Chargers began Sunday missing 60% of the offensive line — center and both tackles — projected to start this season. Then, throughout the game, rookie right guard Zion Johnson battled a shoulder injury that cost him snaps.
“It was tough out there,” Staley said. “The rush was coming. They had a lot of different designer looks.”
The Raiders blitzed at times and mixed personnel packages that continually challenged the Chargers’ protection scheme. Fill-in tackles Jamaree Salyer and Foster Sarell were given help, but the struggles were evident.
Herbert finished 28 for 47 for 335 yards but could drive the Chargers into the end zone only once, and that came on a desperate fourth-and-12 pass to Keenan Allen midway through the fourth quarter.
“I thought we were good at times,” Staley said of the protection. “And then, at times, a little bit leaky. Didn’t run the ball well enough. But I thought [Herbert] managed it well, was able to protect the football. But the heat was on, for sure.”
Adams finished with eight receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns. In two games against the Chargers this season, he had 18 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns.
Jacobs added 144 yards rushing in 26 attempts, becoming the seventh running back this year to top 100 yards against the Chargers.
And up next comes a Miami team that features wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who made a habit of torching the Chargers’ defense during his time with AFC West rival Kansas City.
Not that, as James suggested, the opposition matters as much for this team now as the result.
“We gotta keep playing,” the Pro Bowl safety said. “There’s more games to be played. Prime time next week. We gotta come out [with a] sense of urgency. Each game from here on out, we can’t lose anymore. We gotta win out.”