Just two games into an 18-week season, the Chargers left Nissan Stadium wearing the weight of consecutive defeats that felt like so much more.
They’re 0-2, heading back out on the road again next weekend and still facing the same questions about their ability to close when things matter most.
“It’s a heavy locker room because we care,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said. “We know that we should have finished that game.”
Instead, the Chargers allowed Tennessee to come back from an early double-digit deficit, come back again late in the fourth quarter and then win 27-24 in overtime.
Expected to contend for a postseason berth, the Chargers find themselves searching for positives, their two defeats leading to frustration that blanketed the visiting locker room in near silence.
“Pissed off because we know we should be winning these games,” edge rusher Khalil Mack said. “I put it on us.”
Afterward, coach Brandon Staley lamented a pair of costly penalties, two more explosive pass completions surrendered and an inability to protect quarterback Justin Herbert in key moments.
His team has dropped four in a row — by nine points total — going back to last season, the streak including an AFC wild-card playoff defeat in Jacksonville where the Chargers couldn’t hold a 27-0 lead.
What Staley dismissed was a reporter’s question about that loss leaking into this season, calling the idea “a convenient story line” that lacks truth. He noted that his Chargers have played hard to date and pointed to a strong training camp.
“We’ve lost two tough games,” Staley said. “This has nothing to do with the Jacksonville game.”
Still, the Chargers again faltered when presented with a late path to victory after they forced overtime with a 10-play, 60-yard drive, Cameron Dicker kicking a 33-yard field goal as regulation time expired.
After winning the game’s second coin toss, the Chargers began overtime with the ball. Having just marched down the field for the tie, their effort to go ahead was considerably less successful.
On first down, Herbert threw nearly 25 yards downfield to Mike Williams, who couldn’t make the catch while sandwiched between two defenders.
On second down, Herbert couldn’t find an open receiver and launched the ball out of bounds, deep and well over the head of Derius Davis.
On third down, there appeared to be confusion as the Chargers snapped the ball quickly and Herbert was left to throw deep again, this time over Joshua Palmer, who had cut his route shorter.
Williams later admitted that he erred on the play, during which he hurriedly went in motion across the formation and then didn’t run a route, instead turning and looking back at Herbert as a Titans defender shadowed him.
“That’s on me,” Williams said. “Gotta execute.”
The broken play broke the Chargers when their defense couldn’t prevent Tennessee from moving into position for Nick Folk to kick a game-winning field goal from 41 yards out.
It also came a week after Herbert and the offense had a chance to beat Miami with a late field goal at SoFi Stadium but — on the final possession — totaled minus-one net yard on five plays.
“We’ve got guys who are finishers,” Staley said. “We’ve got a quarterback who’s as good as anybody in the NFL, a guy who’s brought us back time and time again since I’ve been here and throughout his entire football-playing career.
“Defensively, we’ve got a lot of closers. We just gotta do it together as a team. We’ve had the tough side of it here. But this group is capable of it, … We’re going to find our way. This group’s gonna show what it’s made of.”
Herbert ended up 27 of 41 for 305 yards and two touchdowns. Both scores went to Keenan Allen, who had eight catches for 111 yards.
But, a week after rushing for 234 yards, the Chargers barely dented the Titans’ stout front — 61 yards on 21 carries — on an afternoon when running back Austin Ekeler was unavailable because of an ankle injury.
The Chargers also went just two of 14 on third down (they were three of three on fourth down) and reached the end zone only twice on five red-zone trips.
“Obviously, we’re missing something,” Allen said. “Don’t know what it is. But we’ll figure it out.”
Defensively, penalties by Derwin James Jr. (unnecessary roughness) and Joseph-Day (roughing the passer) converted third downs during a Tennessee drive that resulted in a touchdown to open the second half.
Two other Titans touchdowns came after Chargers cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was beaten for a 70-yard completion and fellow corner Michael Davis gave up a 49-yarder.
All this production came from a Titans offense that failed to reach the end zone in a Week 1 loss at New Orleans.
“We had everything to win that game,” Joseph-Day said. “We just gotta be better. You can’t make mistakes like that.”
But the Chargers did and now they’re 0-2 and perhaps feeling even lower than that.