Chargers can’t afford any more losses after Raiders setback

He just watched as his team blew an early 10-point lead, gave up 100 yards each to an opposing runner and receiver, and fell to .500 with just five games left.

Safety Derwin James Jr., one of the Chargers’ toughest hitters, delivered a powerful and sobering shot on Sunday when asked about the team’s next two enemies — 8-4 Miami and 7-5 Tennessee.

“From now on, the opponent has no face,” he said. “We have to win them. The opponent… no matter who we play against, we have to win.”

The Chargers, 6-6 and ninth in the AFC, now face back-to-back teams currently occupying playoff positions. Both games will take place at SoFi Stadium, where the Chargers are 2-3 this season.

They have the same overall record as New England and are a game behind the New York Jets, who currently hold the AFC’s last postseason berth.

The Chargers came even closer to the abyss after losing 27-20 to a team from the Las Vegas Raiders, who started 4-7 on Sunday.

Or maybe they were pushed there.

The Raiders sacked Justin Herbert five times and beat him a total of 14 times, heavily arming the game with a 4-minute 7-second bullying stretch to open the third quarter.

The Chargers led 13-10 and, having received the kickoff in the second half, turned the ball over on their second game when running back Austin Ekeler fumbled with a hit by Raiders safety Duron Harmon.

“We had the ball in our inner arm, that puts you in danger,” said Ekeler. “I had a full-back. I didn’t even think about the ball, and indeed, [it got] punched out.”

Chargers cornerback Bryce Callahan (23) returns an interception for a touchdown against the Raiders.

The Chargers got off to a good start when Bryce Callahan (23) returned an interception for a touchdown against the Raiders to give the visitors an early lead.

(David Becker/Associated Press)

On the next snap, Las Vegas’ Derek Carr hit Davante Adams for a 31-yard touchdown pass as the two-time All-Pro wide receiver won a fight for the ball with cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. in the end zone.

The Chargers moved 42 yards on their next possession in eight games but failed to score when Cameron Dicker’s 52-yard field goal attempt sailed wide to the right.

Prior to the miss, the Chargers had made 45 consecutive attempts — field goals and extra points — during a streak that began in Week 2 and included the efforts of three kickers.

This time, it took the Raiders just two snaps to reach the end zone and open a sudden 24-13 edge. After a 13-yard run by Josh Jacobs, Carr and Adams connected for a 45-yard touchdown.

Cornerback Bryce Callahan was in cover, tweaking a groin injury earlier in the game, knocking him out for the rest of the afternoon.

“The game was decided in the third quarter,” said Chargers coach Brandon Staley. “That was the story, those two big passes.”

The story had another fat chapter, one that detailed the early and intense pressure Las Vegas put on Herbert. Raiders edge rushers Maxx Crosby and Chandler Jones came out flying and dominant.

Even Jerry Tillery, a 2019 first-round pick released by the team in November, had a hit against Herbert in the first quarter. Las Vegas called for waivers for Tillery.

Jones, who came into the game with just a half sack for the season, faced Herbert three times. Safety Isaiah Pola-Mao had a sack and Clelin Ferrell and Matthew Butler shared one. Tillery later punched Herbert again.

The Chargers started Sunday, missing 60% of the offensive line — centers and both tackles — expected to start this season. Then rookie right guard Zion Johnson struggled throughout the game with a shoulder injury that cost him a snap.

“It was tough out there,” Staley said. “The rush came. They had a lot of different designer looks.”

The Raiders blitzed at times and shuffled personnel packages that constantly challenged the Chargers’ protection system. Fill-in tackles Jamaree Salyer and Foster Sarell were helped but the struggles were evident.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert tries to break away from Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby (98) in the second half.

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert tries to get away from Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby in the second half.

(David Becker/Associated Press)

Herbert finished 28 for 47 for 335 yards but was only able to propel the Chargers into the end zone once, and that came with a desperate fourth and twelfth pass to Keenan Allen midway through the fourth quarter.

“I thought we were good sometimes,” Staley said of protection. “And then sometimes a little leaking. Didn’t run the ball well enough. But I thought [Herbert] did well, could protect football. But the heat was definitely on.”

Adams finished with eight receptions for 177 yards and two touchdowns. In two games against the Chargers this season, he had 18 catches for 318 yards and three touchdowns.

Jacobs added 144 rushing yards in 26 attempts, becoming the seventh running back that year to surpass 100 yards against the Chargers.

And next is a Miami team featuring wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who has made a habit of torching the Chargers’ defense during his stint with AFC West rival Kansas City.

Not that, as James would have suggested, the opponent now matters as much to this team as the result.

“We have to keep playing,” the Pro Bowl safety man said. “There are more games to play. Prime time next week. We have to get out [with a] sense of urgency. We can’t lose every game from now on. We have to win.” Chargers can’t afford any more losses after Raiders setback

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