July 29, 2021

Chargers relieved to get win but concerned about weekly defensive meltdowns

Don’t let the scoreboard fool you — the Chargers haven’t solved their problems yet.

Sure, they secured a 39-29 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars, the second victory of the season and the first since rookie quarterback Justin Herbert became the starter. Yes, the Chargers thwarted two fourth-down attempts.

But for the third game, Anthony Lynn watched from the sideline as his defense relinquished a double-digit lead.

It’s a pattern that called for a somber assessment even amid the celebration.

“I’m relieved that we got the win, but make no mistake about it, we are swimming upstream,” Lynn said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and character to turn this thing around.”

INGLEWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 25: Jaguars cornerback Tre Herndon, right, can't stop Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert, #10, as he drives in his five-yard touchdown run to put the Chargers up for good with five seconds remaining in the third quarter at an empty SoFi Stadium on Sunday, Oct. 25, 2020 in Inglewood, CA. Herbert's 66 yards set a franchise record for rushing yards by a quarterback. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The defense started strong, not allowing the Jaguars to convert a first down in the first quarter. But Jacksonville quarterback Gardner Minshew orchestrated a six-play, 78-yard scoring drive in the second quarter, gashing the Chargers defense with chunk plays of 26 yards and 36 yards to receivers DJ Chark and Laviska Shenault.

A four-yard touchdown run by James Robinson and successful two-point conversion brought the score to 16-8.

Two-drives later, the Jaguars scored again. Minshew connected with Robinson on a nine-yard touchdown pass, bringing the score to 16-14 just before halftime.

Lynn said he didn’t give a halftime speech, instead letting teammates motivate each other because, “I’m looking for players to step up.”

The second half started with a step in the wrong direction. The first drive ended with a three-and-out for the Chargers, and their punt was blocked and returned for a touchdown, putting the visitors ahead for the first time, 21-16.

If this story line sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

 

INGLEWOOD, CA - OCTOBER 25: Jaguars' safety Josh Jones, left, watches Chargers quarterback.

The Chargers surrendered 17-point leads to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New Orleans Saints and lost. But in those games, the Chargers were facing teams with future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Drew Brees, not a sinking, one-win club searching for an identity.

The issue still popped up, though.

“That’s the National Football League,” Lynn said. “People are not just going to lay over for you.”

Since last season, the Chargers have struggled in close games, posting a 3-13 record in contests decided by one score. Defensive end Melvin Ingram, who returned after missing three games with a knee injury, said he sensed players wanted this outcome to be different.

“We can’t keep making the same mistakes,” he said. “We come in, we look each other in the eye as men and say, ‘It‘s got to stop somewhere, so why not today? Let’s stop this.’

“We got to put our foot on people’s throat.”

The Chargers allowed one more touchdown, a 28-yard strike from Minshew to receiver Chris Conley. But thanks to Herbert conducting three touchdown-scoring drives in the second half, they escaped with a win.

Los Angeles Chargers defensive tackle Linval Joseph (95) walks off the field at the end of the first half.

Lynn said he was proud of the defense for buckling up when needed, saying he saw “growth” from previous outings in which leads and victories slipped away.

Ingram said teams are exploiting the Chargers’ “little mistakes,” such as someone not being in their gap or “doing something too extra.”

Now that they’ve held a lead down the stretch, Ingram said he hopes the Chargers have broken a bad habit.

“We’re just trying to keep adding stepping stones,” Ingram said. “We’re trying to be a special team. And to do that, you have to take it one day at a time, one game at a time.”

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