The Chargers have turned the ball over five times through three games.
One of those was pinned to wide receiver Keenan Allen when he and running back Austin Ekeler failed to connect on a desperate lateral as time expired Sunday in a 21-16 loss to Carolina.
The other four have come from rookies — quarterback Justin Herbert with two interceptions and a fumble and running back Josh Kelley with a fumble.
“I go to sleep at night like, ‘Dang, man, how differently had the game gone if I had just been more decisive in the open field?’ ” Kelley lamented Wednesday. “I don’t know. I just kick myself.”
The Chargers appeared to be rolling toward points against the Panthers midway through the second quarter when Kelley burst over the left side for a 16-yard gain that put the ball into Carolina territory. At the end of the run, however, he was chased down by linebacker Shaq Thompson, whose hit jarred the ball loose. Thompson then recovered.
“I think it was a great play by him,” Kelley said. “But, for me, I gotta do a better job of holding on to the ball. That was huge momentum shifter. I’m learning. I’m going to get better. … It won’t happen again.”
Eight plays after the turnover Carolina was in the end zone, and the Chargers were on their way to losing a game coach Anthony Lynn said he thought they could have won — should have won.
Kelley said the lesson he took away was to be aware of defenders closing from behind. He said he was more focused on eluding Panthers safety Tre Boston, who was right in front of him.
“I just told him, ‘In this league, it’s not the guys you see. It’s the ones you don’t see who get the ball,’ ” Lynn said. “I told him how important the football is. Giveaways/takeaways, that’s the No. 1 stat for winning and losing in this league. He had to learn that the hard way.”
A fourth-round pick out of UCLA, Kelley has been fast-tracked in his rookie year because of Justin Jackson’s inability to stay healthy. Kelley has carried 43 times for 167 yards and caught four passes for 58 yards. He has been splitting time with Ekeler, and said the experience has forced him to grow up quickly in the NFL.
“There’s no excuse going forward,” Kelley said. “I can’t use, ‘I’m a young guy. … It’s, OK, you’ve had three games now. It’s time for this to get going.’ I’m confident. … I’m pretty comfortable but never satisfied.”
Jackson, who has been dealing with a quadriceps problem, returned to practice Wednesday and — barring any setbacks — is expected to play Sunday when the Chargers visit Tampa Bay.
Even so, Kelley has proven himself to be a viable option and should remain in the running back rotation.
“It’s a learning curve for me. You get one,” he said of the fumble. “If I do it again, it’s bad. I learned from it. I gotta move forward.”
The Chargers continue to deal with significant injuries as wide receiver Mike Williams (hamstring), right tackle Bryan Bulaga (back) and right guard Trai Turner (groin) missed practice Wednesday, a discouraging sign as it relates to playing Sunday.
Defensive end Joey Bosa also didn’t participate, though he was held out of a mid-week practice and still played against Carolina. The difference now is, along with a strained triceps, the Chargers announced Bosa has an ankle issue.
“Yeah, I’d love to go into the regular season with the team I take to camp,” Lynn said. “But that’s just not practical. The guys that we have, we feel like we have enough. We’ll keep it moving.”
On Tuesday, the Chargers placed cornerback Chris Harris Jr. (foot) on injured reserve. Lynn said Desmond King would take over as the slot corner.
If Williams, Bulaga and Turner can’t play against the Buccaneers, the Chargers would be missing 10 of the 22 players projected to start when training camp opened.
NFLPA on grass
NFL Players Assn. President JC Tretter called Wednesday for teams to change all field surfaces to natural grass to reduce injury risk. Tretter, Cleveland’s starting center, cited data that suggests the rate of noncontact lower extremity injuries is 28% higher on artificial turf. He called that number “staggering.”
Tretter’s comments came the same week Bosa mentioned how beat up he felt following the Chargers’ game against Carolina. After playing on natural grass, the Chargers and Rams both moved this season into SoFi Stadium, which has artificial turf.
“It doesn’t feel great on your body,” Bosa said, when asked about artificial turf in general. “It doesn’t give like grass does and definitely isn’t soft. But it’s what we’ve got.”