Dec 16, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) throws a pass against the Kansas City Chiefs in the second half at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chargers continue playoff push against Texans

Only the Indianapolis Colts will have more players going to the Pro Bowl than the Los Angeles Chargers. And no team will have more players scheduled to start the game than their five.

But Los Angeles still needs wins to qualify for the AFC playoffs, its pursuit continuing with Sunday’s visit to the Houston Texans.

At 8-6, the Chargers are realistically fighting for one of the three wild-card spots after last week’s tough 34-28 overtime home loss to Kansas City. Had Los Angeles won, it could have tied the Chiefs for first in the West at 9-5 and held the tiebreaker by virtue of a season sweep.

Instead, the Chargers will have to do this the hard way.

“I felt like they left everything out on that field against a team that is a champion,” said first-year coach Brandon Staley. “I felt like our team competed at a championship level. I felt like that was a championship environment.”

The good news is the final three games appear to be manageable. Los Angeles is a 10-point favorite against Houston before hosting Denver and traveling to Las Vegas. And it has a rising star at quarterback.

There has been no sophomore slump for Justin Herbert. He’s gone from Offensive Rookie of the Year to leading the AFC with 32 touchdown passes in his second year. It’s not unrealistic to project that after having a quarterback start every game for 14 consecutive years in Philip Rivers, the Chargers may enjoy the same luxury with Herbert.

“He’s balling,” said wide receiver Keenan Allen. “He’s going crazy. He’s leading us in his second year. He’s just making outstanding play after outstanding play. Savage, he’s throwing touchdowns to everybody on the field. He’s just ridiculous.”

Herbert may have to approach those superlatives again this week, even against the 3-11 Texans. Los Angeles will be without three defensive starters, including elite pass-rusher Joey Bosa, and its defense is tied for 27th in points allowed per game.

Then again, the Texans haven’t exactly put the fright in opponents’ hearts, except for Jacksonville. Their 14.8 ppg mark ranks 31st in the league, and if it weren’t for the Jaguars, they would be averaging just under 12 ppg.

But they did get Davis Mills’ first NFL win last week in Jacksonville as he threw for 209 yards and two scores in a 30-16 victory. Brandin Cooks riddled the Jaguars for 102 yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions, putting him in range of a 100-catch year. He needs 20 over the last three games.

Houston might also be able to make headway on the ground, even with the league’s worst running game. The Chargers haven’t been able to get good run fits this year, meaning that the likes of Rex Burkhead and David Johnson could enjoy good games.

Burkhead helped the Texans salt away last week’s victory in Jacksonville.

“He’s able to do what’s best for the team,” Mills said of Burkhead. “When we were having to drive the ball in that four-minute mode trying to eat the clock, he was running hard.”

–Field Level Media

Dec 12, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers running back Austin Ekeler (30) reacts during the game against the New York Giants at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chargers add Austin Ekeler, Jalen Guyton to COVID-19 list

The Los Angeles Chargers officially placed running back Austin Ekeler on the reserve/COVID-19 list Wednesday, while wide receiver Jalen Guyton also was designated to the list.

The Chargers now have 11 players on the reserve/COVID list, with multiple reports saying that Sunday’s road game against the Houston Texans is on schedule to be played.

Ekeler was reported to be headed to the list earlier this week, along with defensive end Joey Bosa. On Monday, the Chargers ruled Bosa out for Sunday, but Ekeler was not officially put on the list until Wednesday.

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said Wednesday that he is hopeful Ekeler and Guyton both will end up playing Sunday.

Along with Ekeler, Guyton and Bosa, other Chargers players on the reserve/COVID list include center Corey Linsley, quarterback Chase Daniel, cornerback Tevaughn Campbell, linebacker Chris Rumph, defensive back Kemon Hall, wide receiver Andre Roberts, defensive end Joe Gaziano and safety Trey Marshall.

The Texans added three players to the reserve/COVID list Wednesday and now have 18 players listed. Players added Wednesday included wide receiver Brandin Cooks, kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn and linebacker Eric Wilson.

–Field Level Media

Dec 16, 2021; Inglewood, California, USA; Los Angeles Chargers tight end Donald Parham (89) is taken off the field with an injury sustained in the first half against the Kansas City Chiefs at SoFi Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Chargers TE Donald Parham Jr. ‘alert’ after concussion

Los Angeles Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr. is expected to go home Friday after spending the night in the hospital with a concussion.

Parham stayed overnight at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center for observation following a scary fall in the first quarter of Thursday night’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

“He is resting comfortably, alert and will likely be discharged from the hospital later today,” the team wrote in a Twitter post on Friday.

Parham, 24, left the field on a stretcher after tumbling on his head trying to make a touchdown catch at the 13:27 mark of the first quarter.

He did not have a reception in the 34-28 overtime loss. He has 20 catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns in 14 games (nine starts) this season, his second in the NFL.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) reacts after stooping Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) (not pictured) during the first quarter at Lincoln Financial Field. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

Chargers’ Joey Bosa exits vs. Bengals with apparent head injury

Los Angeles Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa left early in Sunday’s game against the Bengals in Cincinnati and was being evaluated for a head injury.

Bosa left the field for the locker room midway through the first quarter, as the Chargers were building a healthy 16-0 lead over the opening 15 minutes. It was unclear when the injury occurred or what the severity might be.

Bosa, 26, had multiple concussions last year. The three-time Pro Bowler ultimately missed four games in 2020.

Prior to Sunday’s game, Bosa had 7.5 sacks, 36 tackles and four forced fumbles for the Chargers in 11 contests.

–Field Level Media

Nov 28, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) before the game against the Denver Broncos at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterbacks take center stage in Chargers-Bengals matchup

Considering where they were drafted, Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert were always going to be compared with one another. Now, they’ll square off for the first time on Sunday when the Los Angeles Chargers visit the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Bengals (7-4) and Chargers (6-5) are both thinking playoffs, and it’s due in large part to those young quarterbacks. Burrow, the No. 1 overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, leads the AFC with a 101.6 passer rating this season. Herbert, the No. 6 pick in 2020, ranks fourth in the NFL with 3,230 passing yards and fifth with 24 touchdown passes.

Cincinnati is gunning for the postseason for the first time since 2015, while the Chargers are trying to secure a playoff spot for the first time since 2018. Both trail their respective division leaders by one game; LA trails Cincinnati by one game in the wild-card hunt.

But for all the stakes, and the emphasis on the QBs, Burrow said it’s just another game for him.

“Everybody likes to talk about the quarterback matchups, but we’re playing on offense against their defense and their defensive coach,” Burrow said. “I’m excited to watch (Herbert) play, he’s a fun player, but we’re going to go out and execute.”

The Bengals have won two in a row and are playing the second of three straight home games. And they have more than just Burrow. Defensive end Trey Hendrickson (10.5 sacks) has at least one sack in seven straight games and leads a revamped and effective defense.

In the backfield, running back Joe Mixon (924 rushing yards, 11 TDs) has scored at least once in eight straight games and has two touchdowns apiece in each of the last four. That will be as much of a concern as Burrow for a Chargers squad that is last in the NFL in rushing defense (145.3 yards per game) and 29th in scoring defense (26.6 ppg).

“It’s Dec. 1 today, and now there’s a different level when you’re in the hunt,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “There’s another level of focus, there’s another gear that you have to get to. … When you’re in the hunt now you’ve got to make those improvements.”

Herbert was the 2020 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, but has been up and down this season. He was picked off twice in last week’s 28-13 loss at the Denver Broncos despite throwing for 303 yards. Austin Ekeler (604 rushing yards, 14 total TDs) was held to 31 yards rushing in the loss as well.

It’s time for Los Angeles, which has split its last four games, to put it all together, Keenan Allen said. He leads the Chargers with 81 catches for 895 yards, but just two touchdowns.

“It’s different in the room when you are playing for something; it means something obviously. We got the right team, the right coaches. Everything is going good so we just have to put it together,” he said.

The Chargers lead the all-time series 21-14 and have won two straight against the Bengals, including 16-13 in the 2020 season opener. Herbert was the backup and didn’t play in that matchup.

Neither team has serious injury concerns. The Bengals rested seven players on Wednesday, but coach Zac Taylor believes both offensive tackle Riley Reiff (ankle) and center Trey Hopkins (ankle) will be available. For the Chargers, cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion) and safety Alohi Gilman (quad) did not participate in practice on Wednesday.

–Field Level Media

Oct 10, 2021; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Texans wide receiver Andre Roberts (19) runs with the ball during the game against the New England Patriots at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Chargers signing return specialist Andre Roberts

The Los Angeles Chargers are signing return specialist Andre Roberts, NFL Network reported Wednesday.

The three-time Pro Bowl selection was released by the Houston Texans on Monday.

Roberts, 33, played in each of Houston’s first six games, catching one pass for 35 yards, and returning eight punts for 33 yards and 18 kickoffs for 386 yards.

He has gained more than 11,000 all-purpose yards and returned three punts and two kickoffs for touchdowns in 169 games with Arizona (2010-12), Washington (2014-15), Detroit (2016), Atlanta (2017), the New York Jets (2018), Buffalo (2019-20) and Houston.

Roberts has 262 career receptions for 3,079 yards and 15 touchdowns.

The Chargers (4-2) entered their bye week ranked last in the NFL with an average of 16.5 yards per kickoff return.

–Field Level Media

Nov 25, 2018; Tampa, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Cornerback, Ryan Smith, (29) at Raymond James Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Chargers sign former Bucs CB Ryan Smith

The Los Angeles Chargers are signing cornerback Ryan Smith to a one-year, $1.75 million deal, NFL Network reported Tuesday.

Smith, 27, spent the past five seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, registering 117 tackles, four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and an interception in 73 games (16 starts).

Most of his snaps have been on special teams over the past two seasons.

A fourth-round pick in 2016, Smith played in all 20 regular season and playoff games last season for the Super Bowl LV champions.

–Field Level Media

Dec 26, 2020; Detroit, Michigan, USA; Detroit Lions quarterback Chase Daniel (4) drops back to pass against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during the second quarter at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Quarterback Chase Daniel signs one-year deal with Chargers

Quarterback Chase Daniel signed a one-year deal with the Los Angeles Chargers, giving the team a veteran backup for starter Justin Herbert.

Financial terms were not announced.

Daniel, 34, appeared in four games for the Detroit Lions last season, completing 29 of 43 passes for 264 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.

Through his career with the New Orleans Saints (2010-12, ’17), Kansas City Chiefs (2013-15), Philadelphia Eagles (2016), Chicago Bears (2018-19) and Lions, Daniel has made just five starts (2-3 record) and completed 178 of 261 passes for 1,694 yards, with eight touchdowns and seven interceptions.

He’ll serve as a backup and veteran sounding board for reigning Offensive Rookie of the Year Herbert.

Herbert, 23, was the sixth overall pick by the Chargers in 2020 and went 6-9 in his rookie season despite throwing for 4,336 yards with 31 touchdowns and just 10 interceptions. He also scored five times on 55 carries.

–Field Level Media

Sep 27, 2020; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll walks the field while wearing a mask prior to the game against the Los Angeles Rams at Bills Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rich Barnes-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Bills OC Brian Daboll favored for Chargers job

Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll has the inside track on becoming the next coach of the Los Angeles Chargers, according to ESPN.

Daboll would be replacing Anthony Lynn, who was fired in early January after posting a 33-31 record in four seasons. Lynn led the Chargers to a 7-9 record in 2020 after signing a one-year contract extension.

Daboll, 45, is one of nine candidates interviewed for the opening. He and Chargers general manager Tom Telesco were teammates at St. Francis High School in Buffalo.

If the Chargers intend to hire Daboll, they’ll have to wait for the Bills’ playoff run to end. The Bills host the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday night.

Daboll began his NFL coaching career under Bill Belichick in New England in 2000 and has worked as offensive coordinator for the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins and Kansas City Chiefs, along with a stint at Alabama in 2017. He was on staff for five Super Bowl titles in New England and a College Football Playoff championship with Alabama.

–Field Level Media