HOUSTON (AP) — Coming off a tough overtime loss to Kansas City, the Los Angeles Chargers are focused on taking care of business against the lowly Houston Texans on Sunday as they chase a playoff spot with three regular-season games remaining.
“We have this conversation all of the time in the locker room about where we stand and what we have to do,” outside linebacker Uchenna Nwosu said. “How can you not? With the standings being so close, everybody is right there, every game is important, and every game is a playoff game. Everybody is focused on the details.”
The Chargers (8-6) got a 30-24 victory over the Chiefs in Week 3 before falling to the AFC West leaders 34-28 in overtime last Thursday.
Despite the loss, coach Brandon Staley was encouraged by the way his team competed.
“What we wanted to do is really focus in on those things that we can improve on from the game, for sure, that we can carry with us to Houston, and then really expound upon the strengths of the game because there were plenty of them,” he said.
They’ll get a chance to do that against the Texans (3-11). Houston ranks at the bottom of the league in most statistical categories in a difficult season but beat Jacksonville 30-16 last week.
“We have full respect for the Texans,” Staley said. “You know what they just did last weekend. They have a lot of quality players. It’s going to be a tough game on Sunday.”
The Chargers remain in playoff contention in large part because of a stellar season by second-year quarterback Justin Herbert. He ranks fourth in the NFL with 4,058 yards passing, third with 32 TD passes and his eight 300-yard games this season are tied with Tom Brady for most in the league.
“My MVP,” receiver Keenan Allen said. “(He’s) balling. He’s going crazy. (He’s) leading us his second year. He’s just making outstanding play after outstanding play … he’s throwing touchdowns to everybody on the field. He’s ridiculous.”
Houston coach David Culley knows trying to slow down Herbert will be a tall task for his team, which has allowed 250 yards passing or more six times this season.
“They throw it very well and they got weapons,” Culley said. “We’ve got to keep the ball in front. They are going to make plays. They’ve got playmakers. We’ve just got to make sure we don’t give up any of the easy, explosive plays that they’ve gotten.”
NEEDING TO STEP UP
The Chargers have lacked a consistent backup running back most of the season, but Justin Jackson has come on the past couple of weeks.
Jackson rushed for 86 yards against Kansas City and looks to be healthy after battling injuries for most of his four seasons. Jackson is the best option the Chargers have if Austin Ekeler remains on the reserve/COVID-19 list because Joshua Kelley and Larry Rountree have struggled.
Kelley fumbled at the Kansas City 1 in last week’s loss to the Chiefs while Rountree has been inactive for four games.
The Chargers are 18th in rushing, averaging 111.1 yards per game, but have averaged 172 yards in the past two games.
Houston rookie quarterback Davis Mills has been better than he was early in the season in the two starts since Tyrod Taylor was benched. He’s thrown for 550 yards combined with three touchdowns and one interception. And the third-round pick got his first NFL win last week after starting his career 0-7.
Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said Mills is much more confident now, and Culley has seen him grow, too.
“His decision-making is much better,” Culley said. “He’s seeing things. The game has kind of slowed down for him now.”
But this week could be a tough one for him with top receiver Brandin Cooks one of 16 Texans on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Cooks, who leads the team with 945 yards receiving, was placed on the list Wednesday and it’s unclear if he can play Sunday.
QUITE A WEEK
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert has already had a big week after being selected for his first Pro Bowl on Wednesday.
He has thrown for at least 300 yards in three straight road games. Herbert has done a good job on deep balls the past three games, completing 9 of 14, with two touchdowns.
“I don’t think people are appreciating how much he’s improving each week and the little things that he’s improving at. There’s still so far to go with his game, at the same time,” Staley said.
AP Sports Writer Joe Reedy contributed to this report.
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