Did the Chargers’ 27-20 loss Sunday to the Las Vegas Raiders at a raucous Allegiant Stadium all but end their playoff hopes? Here’s what we learned, what we heard and what comes next after their patchwork offensive and defensive lines couldn’t keep the Raiders at bay:
WHAT COMES NEXT?
The Chargers (6-6) have five games to play. Realistically, they can’t afford more than one loss the rest of the way if they hope to rally for an AFC wild-card berth by season’s end. The next two will be their toughest, when they host the Miami Dolphins (8-4) and Tennessee Titans (7-5).
Three of their final five will be played at SoFi Stadium.
“Keep working,” Chargers wide receiver Keenan Allen said after Sunday’s distressing loss to the Raiders, putting the best possible spin on the final weeks of a season teetering on the brink. “It’s a long road. We’ve still got five games left. (An) 11-6 (record). That’s not bad at all.”
Victories in their next two games would be considered big upsets, but they would set the Chargers up very well for their final three games, all against sub-.500 teams. They end the season with games against the Indianapolis Colts (4-8-1), the Rams (3-9) and the Denver Broncos (3-9).
The trouble for the Chargers is they haven’t beaten a good team all season, and they have lost twice to teams with poor records. Their wins have been over the Raiders (5-7), Houston Texans (1-10-1), Cleveland Browns (5-7), Broncos, Atlanta Falcons (5-8) and Arizona Cardinals (4-8).
See any potential Super Bowl champions in that group?
The Chargers have lost to the Kansas City Chiefs (9-3) twice, plus the Jacksonville Jaguars (4-8), the Seattle Seahawks (7-5), the San Francisco 49ers (8-4) and now the Raiders. The loss to the Jaguars in Week 3 stands out for the three serious injuries suffered in the game.
Edge rusher Joey Bosa injured his groin and hasn’t returned to the practice field yet. Wide receiver Jalen Guyton injured his knee and was ruled out for the rest of the season. Left tackle Rashawn Slater injured his biceps and the original guesstimation was that he’d be out for the season.
The Chargers’ lineup Sunday in Las Vegas bore little resemblance to the one that took the field against the Raiders for the season-opening game Sept. 11 at SoFi Stadium. Injuries are always a factor in the NFL, and they have played a key role in the Chargers’ middling station after 12 games.
Nowhere has that been more apparent than along the injury-riddled offensive and defensive lines. Two rookies (left tackle Jamaree Salyer and right guard Zion Johnson) and two backups (center Will Clapp and right tackle Foster Sarell) joined starting left guard Matt Feiler on the offensive line Sunday.
Johnson was sidelined briefly by a shoulder injury. Brenden Jaimes replaced him.
The defensive line was already without Austin Johnson (knee), Christian Covington (pectoral) and then lost Sebastian Joseph-Day for the final plays Sunday after he suffered an unspecified knee injury. The Chargers said they hope to know more about the severity later this week.
No excuses, but plenty of reasons for the Chargers’ current state of affairs.
“It’s like y’all asked me last week if we had lost,” Allen said, referring to questions after the Chargers’ last-second victory on a two-point conversion in a 25-24 win over the Cardinals on Nov. 27. “Come back next week ready to get a win. Move on to the next game. It is what it is.”
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Austin Ekeler has a team-leading 85 catches, the most receptions by an NFL running back through the first 12 games of a season. He had five catches for 67 yards Sunday against the Raiders. … Justin Herbert topped 300 yards passing for the 20th time in his career when he passed for 335 yards Sunday, the most by any quarterback in league history in his first three seasons.
Coach Brandon Staley on putting Sunday’s loss in their rearview mirror: “We’ve done it plenty of times this season. We’ve had plenty of tough losses. We’ve had plenty of adversity this season. Our guys are made up of the right stuff and this game is going to be the same as it has been all year when we faced a tough loss.”