Defense saves Chargers after they nearly blew big lead to Texans

After a four-touchdown loss at home, the Chargers had given away nearly the entire 20-point lead Sunday as the fourth-quarter halftime mark neared.

It would be overly dramatic to suggest that their season faced a collapse by biblical standards.

However, it wouldn’t be misleading to note that things changed when security guard Derwin James Jr. heard a booming voice from upstairs.

The public address announcer at NRG Stadium helped the Chargers recover to a 34-24 win over Houston.

27-21 and with just 10 minutes left, the Texans forced a fumble from DeAndre Carter on a kickoff return, and Houston took over at the Chargers’ 16 yard line.

The closed-roof stadium was noisier than it had been all afternoon as James and his defensive teammates trotted back.

“The little announcer guy [was saying], “Hey, we’re back in the game! Become loud!’ ‘ James later recalled. “I could hear that. … it somehow [ticked] me off I say, ‘Okay, we have to end this game.’ ”

The Chargers stopped the Texans and then some, a Jerry Tillery sack forced Houston back and led to a field goal that closed the difference to 27-24.

Her offense then made the rally after jabbing at her first three possessions in the second half. The Chargers rushed for 84 yards in 12 games and needed more than six minutes before securing the game on Austin Ekeler’s third touchdown of the day.

“You have to put out the fire,” James said. “If they have that turnover … if they score, they will take the lead. In my eyes we had to stop. Then our offense did a great job of closing them down.

Though they stumbled in the second half of Sunday, the Chargers still found a way to bounce back from their 10-38 loss to Jacksonville last weekend, a result that felt harder than just losing.

They responded by dominating the first half against the Texans, opening a 27-7 edge after two quarters and impressively protecting quarterback Justin Herbert, who plays with a fractured rib cartilage.

“We’ve experienced some adversity, which is pretty much the best way to start a season because it will tell you a lot about your team,” Ekeler said. “I felt like we accomplished something today, although it was still a fight.”

Ekeler broke through after going without a touchdown in the Chargers’ first three games. He also amassed 60 rushing yards in 13 carries after gaining just 80 yards in 32 attempts in weeks 1-3.

He hit on rushes for 10 and 20 yards before taking a short pass from Herbert and diving into the front corner of the end zone to play the 14-yard touchdown at 2:28.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler dives past Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens for a touchdown.

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler dives past Houston Texans safety Jonathan Owens for a touchdown.

(Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press)

“Finally, huh?” said disgust. “Finally.” Recalling he has scored three times, he added: “I’ve got some catching up to do. We will continue this as long as we can.”

The Chargers’ final, critical drive included conversions in third and second places, Herbert to Mike Williams for 13 yards, and in third and sixth places, Herbert to Williams again, this time for 11 yards.

There was also a conversion on the fourth and two off their 45-yard line. On that play, Herbert faked a handoff to Ekeler, then rolled right and passed to Ekeler in the flat for a 21-yard gain.

“It’s been kind of a mantra, right, for the past few years,” center Corey Linsley said. “Taking responsibility and knowing when to stop the game. We have all the faith in the world that we can do it. It’s all about execution.”

Herbert finished 27 of 39 for 340 yards and two touchdowns, his first shot going to tight end Gerald Everett from 18 yards just three minutes into the game.

The third-year quarterback looked more comfortable and confident in his second game with damaged rib cartilage. Herbert was only sacked once, on a play he abandoned and slipped just short of the line of scrimmage.

The Texans have not been credited with any other quarterback hits, according to official NFL statistics. Herbert absorbed a shot from behind in a game nullified by equalizing penalties.

“It’s getting better,” he said after his injury. “Grateful for the offensive line that kept me going.”

That offensive line included a rookie starting his first NFL game. Jamaree Salyer was forced into the lineup due to the loss of Pro Bowl left tackle Rashawn Slater, who sustained a bicep tear last weekend.

Salyer has survived more than just against Houston defensive end Jerry Hughes. He stood his ground with a performance that was crowned by Staley calling him “a stud”.

“I felt the time I had back in my pocket,” Herbert said. “For a guy to get promoted — first NFL game, first time playing — I thought he did an incredible job.”

And the Chargers did just enough to win and level a once chaotic start where they now sit 2-2.

https://www.latimes.com/sports/chargers/story/2022-10-02/chargers-nearly-turn-over-big-lead-but-defense-saves-them-against-texans Defense saves Chargers after they nearly blew big lead to Texans

Emma Bowman

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