Reality check for the Chargers’ wounded players: Just average at best
The Chargers are unraveling.
What other conclusion could be reached after what they did Sunday, completely outplayed in their stadium by an opponent they should have beaten?
It’d be one thing if their 37-23 defeat to the Seattle Seahawks at SoFi Stadium was some kind of fluke.
Just four weeks earlier, the Chargers were humiliated here by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Blame Justin Herbert’s torn rib cartilage. Blame any of the other injuries. Blame the defense.
Whatever the reason, the Chargers don’t look like a Super Bowl team.
They’re seven weeks into the season and they still haven’t beaten anyone worth mentioning.
They can’t keep their key players on the field, as cornerback J.C. Jackson and receiver Mike Williams became the latest players to go down, with coach Brandon Staley calling Jackson’s right knee injury “significant.” The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that Jackson dislocated his kneecap.
They had a chance to extend their winning streak to four games and improve to 5-2 but will head into their off week with a 4-3 record.
From the lectern in the interview room, Staley attempted to recreate the speech he delivered to his team after their most recent setback.
“We’re 4-3,” Staley said. “The reality is that through seven games, we’ve had to fight really hard to be 4-3. We’ve endured a lot.”
While Staley went on to remind his players their season was still in front of them, the preamble to his postgame monologue was an acknowledgement of a problem that could destroy their visions of glory that would transform their franchise.
They don’t have the bodies, especially on offense.
The state of their team was reflected in Herbert.
Herbert has downplayed the injury he sustained in the Week 3 loss to the Jaguars but is still hurt.
With Rashawn Slater out indefinitely as he recovers from biceps surgery, Herbert was protected Sunday by rookie Jamaree Salyer, a sixth-round pick.
Herbert’s No. 1 receiver, Keenan Allen, was limited to a half after missing the previous five games with a strained hamstring.
His next-most-reliable receiver, Williams, went down in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury.
The result: the typically superlative Herbert looked entirely ordinary.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t execute the way we wanted to today,” Herbert said. “Turned the ball over a couple times and you can’t expect to do that and win games in the NFL.”
Herbert was responsible for both turnovers, a what-are-you-doing interception on the opening drive and a fumble later in the first quarter.
The mistakes contributed to a 17-0 deficit.
This was the third consecutive game in which the Chargers were behind by 10 or more points in the opening period, only this time they weren’t playing the Cleveland Browns or Denver Broncos.
Running back Austin Ekeler blamed the team’s inability to establish any kind of ground game.
“We were pretty one-dimensional today,” Ekeler said.
But how much of that had to do with the Seahawks not fearing Herbert as much as they would if he were healthy?
Or with backup running back Joshua Kelley now on injured reserve with a knee injury?
And what about the defense?
Joey Bosa is also on the IR — he is recovering from a groin operation — but the unit was relatively unscathed until Jackson went down in the second quarter.
The three wins after the loss to the Jaguars suddenly look as if they were the product of a favorable schedule, the triumphs coming against the 1-4-1 Houston Texans, 2-5 Browns and 2-5 Broncos.
Considering everything that’s happened, did Staley feel relieved or disappointed to be 4-3 at this stage?
“I don’t think today is the time to reflect,” Staley said. “Today I’m just really focused on how we played today in today’s game and it wasn’t good enough. Like I said, I gotta make sure I do a better job with this team. I thought we played fantastic on Monday night [against the Broncos], really showed the type of team that we can be, and today, in all three phases, it wasn’t good enough. That starts with me.”
Actually, it starts with health, and there’s nothing Staley can do about that.