The Chargers hit the road looking for what exactly Sunday in Houston’s NRG Stadium?
A sharper, more well-rounded game than last week at SoFi Stadium? Yes.
A payback? Of course.
A victory of any kind? Absolutely.
A game without a significant injury to a key player? Seriously.
The Chargers’ first three games of the season have been, well, newsworthy.
After all, they split the first two, defeating the Las Vegas Raiders and losing to the Kansas City Chiefs by narrow margins. They were bruised and battered during each game and maybe that’s why they were thumped in Week 3 by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who had no such concerns.
Clearly, the Chargers aren’t at their best, with quarterback Justin Herbert sustaining fractured rib cartilage against the Chiefs, wide receiver Keenan Allen suffering from a hamstring injury against the Raiders, and edge rusher Joey Bosa tearing his groin and tackle Rashawn Slater hurting his biceps against the Jaguars.
Sunday is a new day, though.
The Chargers (1-2) said they relished a shot at redemption, shorthanded though they might be when they face the winless Houston Texans (0-2-1). Allen is out for Sunday’s game. Bosa and Slater are out long term after undergoing surgeries. Bosa might return by season’s end, but Slater will not.
“We get the opportunity to respond from last week,” coach Brandon Staley said. “We get to respond to a tough loss and to make those adjustments that you have to make in the NFL when things change. I think that we’ve had a good week of practice. Now, we have to make sure that we take the field the right way on Sunday.”
No question, Herbert and the Chargers must be at their best Sunday. They certainly weren’t anywhere near their best when they last faced the Texans, on the day after Christmas 2021. Herbert passed for 336 yards, but the Chargers dropped a 41-29 decision to Houston that helped derail their playoff chances.
Herbert looked better Friday during the portion of practice that reporters were allowed to witness, with little question that his smooth throwing motion and remarkable accuracy were back to what they were before he was hurt on a fourth-quarter passing play against the Chiefs on Sept. 15.
There were plenty of questions about his fitness in the days since his injury, none more pointed than after the Chargers’ 38-10 loss last Sunday to the Jaguars. True, he passed for 297 yards and one touchdown, but he didn’t look as mobile or fluid as usual while completing only 25 of 45 passes.
“I think I learned a lot about our team and about our staff members, the medical staff, the treatment staff that have put in so much work over the past couple of weeks to help me be at my best and help me to get out on that field,” Herbert said. “They have handled it all so well and I have complete trust in them.”
Staley took plenty of heat for allowing Herbert to play the Chargers’ final series in last Sunday’s game, but it was nothing compared to the widespread condemnation of the Miami Dolphins’ actions after quarterback Tua Tagovailoa suffered a head injury for the second time in five days.
“Any time you’re dealing with concussions, with someone’s head, with someone’s future, it’s the toughest thing to see,” Staley said when asked about the Miami situation. “I went through it last year with Asante (Samuel Jr.) and Joey (Bosa) and (Donald Parham Jr.). As a coach, no one will be able to understand what it’ll be like to go out on the field and see one of your players like that (concussed).
“It’s the toughest thing to see. We feel the greatest responsibility to keep them well. I’ve had the opportunity as a head coach to go through it three times and all three times our philosophy here is to make sure we’re super safe, both in that moment and in the weeks and days and months following.”