A down day for the Chargers opened with optimism as edge rusher Joey Bosa was able to play.
The four-time Pro Bowl player missed significant practice time in advance of Sunday because of a hamstring issue that he called “a little strain” following the Chargers’ 27-24 loss to Tennessee.
In limited snaps — the Chargers used Bosa judiciously as a precaution — he totaled two sacks and four combined tackles.
“To be able to recover and get back out there and at least help my team a little bit meant a lot to me,” said Bosa, before adding, “Should be able to come back strong next week.”
Rookie Tuli Tuipulotu started in Bosa’s place opposite Khalil Mack. The second-round pick from USC finished with seven tackles, including the first sack of his career.
The Chargers dropped Ryan Tannehill five times after failing to record a sack against Miami’s Tua Tagovailoa in Week 1.
“I thought he played aggressively,” coach Brandon Staley said of Bosa. “It says a lot about him that he wanted to be out there.”
At times, the Chargers deployed Bosa, Tuipulotu and Mack simultaneously along their defensive front with success.
There was a lot of ugly for the Chargers, led in part by two penalties that gifted the Titans third-down conversions on a touchdown drive to open the second half.
Safety Derwin James Jr. was called for unnecessary roughness when he lowered his shoulder into the upper body of a defenseless Titans receiver, Nick Westbrook-Ikhine, on a third-and-13 incompletion.
Three plays later, defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day was called for roughing the passer on a third-and-six incompletion.
“Those were costly plays for us…” Staley said. “If those don’t happen, we’re off the field and we feel a lot different about our day.”
James was flagged for a similar but more violent play last season against Indianapolis. He was ejected from that game.
Staley, beyond the 15 yards it cost the Chargers, defended his star safety’s hit on Westbrook-Ikhine.
“It’s a bang-bang play,” Staley said. “He read it beautifully. Those are bang-bang plays where he’s making a break and the receiver’s got a low target. Those are tough plays. … No harm for Derwin on that.”
Unlike when they surrendered 466 passing yards to Tagovailoa, the Chargers weren’t torched by Tannehill, but they were bested by his efficiency.
The 11th-year veteran completed 83.3% of his passes (20 of 24), his second-best showing in a single game. Tannehill reached 246 yards while throwing for one touchdown and running for another.
He also hooked up deep with Treylon Burks for a 70-yard gain (over Asante Samuel Jr.) and Chris Moore for 49 yards (over Michael Davis) during two touchdown drives.
“They gotta respect the deep part of the field and they gotta know who on the other team can get there,” Staley said when asked how the Chargers can stop the big pass plays.
Especially in the first part of the 2022 season, the Chargers were repeatedly victimized by long runs. Through two weeks this year, their pass defense has been the glaring issue in yielding explosive gains.
“Our secondary, we got full belief in, everybody who plays in the back seven,” Staley said. “It’s early in the season, and we’re gonna keep getting better.”
Under Staley, the Chargers are 12-13, including the postseason, in one-possession games. They’ve dropped their last four.
Cornerback J.C. Jackson appeared to land awkwardly at the end of a third-quarter incompletion but was able to stay in the game. He did spend some time on the bench throughout the afternoon, replaced in those instances by Davis.
Jackson is working his way back from a ruptured patellar tendon that ended his 2022 season on Oct. 23.
Ja’Sir Taylor took over for Davis in the starting lineup as the Chargers geared up to deal with Tennessee’s running game.
Nick Niemann started at linebacker in place of Eric Kendricks, who was unavailable because of a hamstring injury. Niemann finished with eight combined tackles.
Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s most creative moment came on a two-point conversion that ended with right tackle Trey Pipkins III on the receiving end of a Justin Herbert pass.
Midway through the second quarter, the Chargers were leading 9-0 when they went for two following a Herbert scoring connection with Keenan Allen.
They came out with backup center Will Clapp lined up as a receiver on the left and tight end Donald Parham Jr. and running back Josh Kelley lined up wide on the right but both off the line of scrimmage.
Pipkins acted as though he was going to block before releasing into an empty space in the end zone.
In his words
“We have a standard. We expect to win. When we don’t win, it sucks.” — linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. on the Chargers’ somber postgame locker room
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.