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Chargers emerge from bye week seeking consistency and connection

COSTA MESA, Calif. – A few ugly wins. A couple ugly losses. All amid numerous ugly injuries.

And yet as the Los Angeles Chargers emerge from a bye week and prepare for the second half of their season, they’re in second place in the AFC West, one game behind the Kansas City Chiefs, with a goal of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2018.

“We’ve had to fight really hard to be 4-3,” second-year coach Brandon Staley said. “I’m proud of the way that our guys have competed. It hasn’t been pretty at all, but I think that we’re in a position now where we know where we need to go and more importantly how we need to get there.”

The Chargers resume action Sunday against the NFC South-leading Atlanta Falcons (4-4) at Mercedes-Benz Stadium (FOX, 1 p.m. ET)

Despite an early rock bottom 38-10 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 3 and a similarly embarrassing 37-23 loss to the Seattle Seahawks in Week 8, there remains a 58.1 percent chance that the Chargers will earn a playoff berth, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

“No one is down on the season,” safety Derwin James Jr. said after stumbling against the Seahawks. “No one is pointing any fingers. We still believe everything we want is still in front of us.”

Consistency and connectedness, according to coaches and players, are common threads that could propel them through the remainder of their schedule.

“We’re a work in progress,” Staley said of their midseason identity. “We haven’t played our best football, for sure. I think you have seen glimpses of it, but we have to bring this group together in the second half of the season.”

That could be easier said than done with an ever-changing cast of players as the Chargers continue to navigate several significant injuries.

The defense was once expected to be among the Chargers’ strengths, featuring several star players including edge rushers Khalil Mack and Joey Bosa, cornerback J.C. Jackson and safety Derwin James Jr.

But Bosa and Jackson have landed on injured reserve and the unit ranks among the worst in the league (31st), allowing an average of 27 points per game.

“We have all the talent, we have all the people we need, now it’s just us taking responsibility as a team, having pride in our performance and just doing our job,” defensive lineman Sebastian Joseph-Day said before the bye. “That’s what it is now. Just doing your job, it’s as simple as that, that’s all I can say.”

As to how players could go about doing their job? Joseph-Day didn't mince words.

“Just got to get [teammates] connected,” he said. “And you got to keep building together and keep grinding together and keep focusing on the details.”

Among the details that must be solved: How to stop the run game – the Chargers have allowed a league-worst 5.7 yards per carry. And they rank among the bottom half of the league in forced turnovers (nine), sacks (17) and yards allowed (357.6) per game.

“I don’t believe it’s always about who is the most talented,” said Joseph-Day, a member of the Los Angeles Rams' 2021 Super Bowl champion team. “Sometimes it’s just about the details and the grit and the fight.”

Behind Herbert, now in his third season, the offense has yet to match the success it found in 2021 and it’s unclear – with left tackle Rashawn Slater being placed on season-ending I.R., wide receiver Keenan Allen dealing with a nagging hamstring issue and Mike Williams recovering from a high ankle sprain – if or when the unit could hit its stride.

The offense ranks 11th in the NFL, scoring an average of 23.14 points per game. And while they boast an average of 279.4 passing yards per game (ranks fourth), they’re among the league’s worst at running the football, averaging 88.9 rushing yards per game (ranks 27th).

“We’ve always been connected through the journey, even though it’s been up and down,” said running back Austin Ekeler, who was held without a touchdown in the first three games of the season before exploding for eight scores over the last four games. “We’re going hard, we’re encouraging each other.”

But that doesn’t mean the offense won’t be making changes, beyond X’s and O’s, in an attempt to become more consistent.

According to Ekeler, after a bye week evaluation, the Chargers will change their meeting routines to include time to hear from different coaches and players who can provide alternative perspectives.

“We’re going to find out,” Ekeler said, when asked if he expected the changes to help achieve the consistency they’re seeking. “We’ll see.”

Despite several rocky first-half performances, coupled with what has become an injury-depleted roster, optimism -- though not always of the convincing variety -- remains inside the Costa Mesa practice facility.

“Looking back on what I told the guys is, ‘You don’t know it or not, but we have a really good thing here, fellas,’” Staley said. “Because if we didn’t, we wouldn’t be 4-3. We wouldn’t. We would be a lot worse if we didn’t have a good culture.”

And now, for a team that’s reached the playoffs only once in the last eight years, it’s about making a late push that will deliver them to the postseason.

“It’s a sense of urgency for everyone, not just the players but also the urgency the coaches put on the players,” Joseph-Day said. “Once we do all that, then it’s all going to get figured out.”