This most disjointed of Chargers seasons continued Sunday when the defense found itself but the offense lost the ball.
Over and over and over and over.
After dominating the takeaway battle for much of the year, the Chargers had all four of the game’s turnovers in a 20-10 loss to Baltimore at SoFi Stadium.
Against the top team in the AFC, the sputtering Chargers produced a performance that was spirited and encouraging but ultimately not enough — again — as they lost their third in a row to fall to 4-7.
“We hung tough,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I love that about our guys. We were in it until the end. But that’s not the way you need to play in the big game.”
The Chargers’ already dim playoff hopes lost even more light as they were limited to their lowest point total since a 38-10 loss to Jacksonville in Week 3 of last season.
They remain at the bottom of the AFC West and are even in second place in their city, falling a game behind the Rams.
But unlike their SoFi Stadium roommates, the Chargers were forecast to be postseason contenders. Instead, they continued their season-long trend of being unable to seize late, game-deciding moments.
This time, the Chargers failed after taking over at their 34-yard line and trailing 13-10 with just under three minutes to go.
“That’s where our season’s been,” Staley said. “It’s been tight, and we just haven’t been able to finish some of these games.”
Justin Herbert did pick up one first down, hitting little-used wide receiver Alex Erickson for a 17-yard gain.
But two incompletions and a short pick-up made it fourth-and-six at the Baltimore 46-yard line. The Ravens brought a blitz, forcing another incompletion and an intentional-grounding penalty.
“We just didn’t pick it up well enough and make the right timing with the route and the quarterback,” Staley said. “Credit to Baltimore. They made the winning plays tonight.”
Three snaps later, Baltimore wide receiver Zay Flowers put the game away with a 37-yard touchdown run.
After his team’s Week 11 loss at Green Bay, Staley promised to open up the competition in his struggling secondary in search of a more effective combination.
The changers were plentiful Sunday as Deane Leonard replaced Michael Davis at one of the starting outside cornerback spots.
Safety Jaylinn Hawkins and cornerback Essang Bassey also saw their playing time increase at the expense of Dean Marlowe and Ja’Sir Taylor.
The results were noticeable as the Chargers dramatically slowed a Ravens’ offense that entered the game fourth in the league in points scored.
“I thought our defense really competed tonight,” Staley said. “I thought we were ready for the challenge. Our guys played at a high level for most of the game. But we didn’t get it done as a team.”
The one thing the defense didn’t do — for the third consecutive game — was produce a takeaway. During this latest losing streak, the Chargers are minus-six in turnover margin.
Though the Ravens came up with only three points off the Chargers’ miscues, the three fumbles were killers. Keenan Allen and Austin Ekeler lost the ball to end drives quickly and Herbert fumbled early in the fourth quarter in the red zone.
“They attacked the ball well,” Allen said. “They went straight for the ball as soon as I caught it. Ekeler, same thing. And that’s two guys you want with the ball on our team. We came up short.”
The Chargers’ fourth turnover was a Herbert interception on a “Hail Mary” attempt late in the first half.
Herbert finished 29 of 44 for 217 yards, with a touchdown pass to Gerald Everett. He also led the Chargers in rushing, 35 of his 47 yards on the ground coming on one fourth-quarter scramble.
That play happened during a series Herbert nearly missed because he was in the medical tent following a sack on the Chargers’ previous possession.
With backup Easton Stick about to trot onto the field, Herbert emerged from the tent and, after a few warmup tosses along the sideline, was ready to return by the time the Chargers’ offense entered.
After the game, Herbert said he was told by league officials that he had to be checked for a concussion following the sack.
Early in the game, Herbert took another shot along the sidelines, that hit appearing to be late but wasn’t ruled as such.
A pool report from referee Alan Eck said that officials decided “since the defender already committed to the tackle while the quarterback was in bounds, it was deemed a legal hit.”
Staley refused to comment on the no-call, while Allen suggested rather strongly and colorfully that he believed it should have been a penalty.
Regardless, the Chargers were left feeling less than contented as their fading season ambled on.
“Very frustrated,” Allens said. “It’s the NFL. They’re the No. 1 team, and we gave them a dogfight. But that’s not an excuse or anything that I’m proud of or anything.”
Not an excuse. Just another game for the 2023 Chargers.