The Chargers lost another key piece Sunday when running back Austin Ekeler left in the first quarter with what the team said is a hamstring injury. He will be reevaluated Monday, but the expectations are not positive for the Chargers’ most dynamic offensive player.
“The way that young man limped off the field, I’m not sure how bad it is,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “But it looked pretty bad.”
With Ekeler likely gone for a while, the Chargers will have to rely on rookie Josh Kelley and third-year pro Justin Jackson, who has struggled to stay healthy.
Ekeler had 12 yards on two carries before leaving the game. Without him, the Chargers had no running attack. They finished with 46 yards on 23 carries.
The Chargers have lost to injury 11 players who were projected to start when training camp opened.
“Austin’s a special player,” quarterback Justin Herbert said. “Prayers go out to him. … Our offense is different with him on the field.”
Herbert has thrown one interception in each of his three starts. Kelley has lost fumbles in consecutive games. Lynn dismissed the suggestion that because the miscues have involved younger players they are more acceptable.
“Not really because that’s an excuse,” he said. “These kids have been playing football all their lives and you don’t turn the damn ball over. It’s that simple.”
Rookie fifth-round pick Joe Reed was inactive for the game, Lynn explaining that the Chargers preferred the speed of wide receivers Tyron Johnson and Jalen Guyton, who were both undrafted last year. The move paid off as Johnson and Guyton ran behind the Tampa Bay defense for long touchdown receptions.
“Those young guys, they’re on the come,” Lynn said. “They’re big. They can run. Exactly what we need. I thought they stepped up today and did a decent job.”
Tampa Bay coach Bruce Arians said tight end O.J. Howard appeared to rupture his Achilles tendon and likely will miss the rest of the season. … Herbert finished as the Chargers’ top rusher with 14 yards. … The Chargers failed to sack Tom Brady but hit him five times. Herbert was sacked twice and hit six times.
Miller reported from Los Angeles.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.