When the Chargers’ defense improves, the offense commits 4 turnovers and the losing streak grows

Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) fumbles as he is tackled by Baltimore Ravens linebacker Patrick Queen (6) during the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Nov. 26, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. The Ravens recovered the ball on the play. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)(AP/Ashley Landis)

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Although the Los Angeles Chargers’ defense has been their primary problem for most of this increasingly unpleasant season, that unit put on a largely stellar performance Sunday night against dangerous AFC-leading Baltimore.

And just when the defense got it together, the Chargers’ offense fell apart with flagrant ball-security problems, an inept running game and a persistent inability to make big plays consistently.

It’s been one thing after another during the three-game losing streak that has made the talent-laden Chargers (4-7) one of the NFL’s most disappointing teams this season. Coach Brandon Staley’s job security could be tenuous with six games left in his third year in charge, but he hasn’t publicly given up on fixing the new problems that spring up almost weekly for his team.

“Every time it stings more, because it means a lot to these guys,” Staley said. “I think our guys know the quality we have, and we just have to hang tough. It’s not the popular answer, but it’s the right answer. We’re going to hang tough. We’ve got to keep working at our game in all three phases, and if we do that, then you’re going to see good football from this team.”

The Chargers’ 20-10 loss to Baltimore was only their second double-digit defeat of the season, and this one only reached 10 points when Ravens rookie Zay Flowers scored his second touchdown with 1:36 to play. The Bolts have lost their last three by a combined 16 points, and Staley had few answers when asked why so many talented players can’t close out games.

“It hasn’t happened there,” Staley said. “I think that we have the players who have the makeup and the mindset. It just hasn’t come together as a football team yet. It obviously starts with me. Fully responsible. But we need to hang in there, and as long as we keep after it the way we have … then we’ll get the quality that we’re after. All we can do is focus on New England and put this one behind us.”

Los Angeles’ biggest new problem this week was its four turnovers against the Ravens. Ball security hadn’t really been a problem this season for the Chargers: They entered the week tied with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh for the NFL’s fewest turnovers this season (8).

Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler had the ball ripped out of their hands to end consecutive drives in the second quarter. Justin Herbert also threw a Hail Mary interception to end the half, but the most costly turnover of all was his fumble while getting sacked by Jadeveon Clowney on a third-down play that began at the Baltimore 16 with 12:40 left in the fourth quarter.

The Chargers trailed 13-3 at the time, and the fumble cost them near-certain points. After the defense got a quick stop, Los Angeles drove for its only touchdown with 8:32 to play — but its final two drives died on downs near midfield.

“It’s awfully tough,” said Herbert, who went 29 of 44 for 217 yards while getting sacked three times. “The defense played really well today. It’s up to us, as an offense, to go out there and execute and perform in those two-minute drills. We haven’t done that, and that’s on us.”

Herbert and Allen, who had 14 receptions on 16 targets, had to drive the Chargers’ offense because it couldn’t run the ball against the Ravens. Nearly half of Los Angeles’ 86 net yards rushing came on one 35-yard scramble by Herbert, with Ekeler managing just 32 yards on 10 carries.

The Chargers might have suspected it was going to be a rough night when a contentious bit of officiating went against them on the game’s opening drive.

Herbert appeared to get hit clearly out of bounds while deep in Ravens territory in the first quarter, but the refereeing crew not only didn’t throw that flag, it whistled Los Angeles right guard Jamaree Salyer for unnecessary roughness for his response to the potentially dangerous hit.

“The ruling on the field was that the quarterback was trying to gain yardage,” referee Alan Eck said. “While he was still inbounds, the defender committed to the tackle, and as his foot landed out of bounds, the defender made contact. So, since the defender already committed to the tackle while the quarterback was inbounds, it was deemed a legal hit.”

Instead of a first down inside the Baltimore 10, the Chargers had third and long, eventually settling for a field goal. They wouldn’t score again until midway through the fourth quarter.


AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/NFL

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