On Sunday, defensive end Joey Bosa experienced some of the emptiness Herbert likely has been feeling.
The defensive end had a career-high three sacks against Buffalo, along with six total tackles for loss, two additional quarterback hits, a fumble recovery and a pass knocked away. The Chargers lost anyway, 27-17.
“It sucks,” Bosa said. “I really, really wanted to pull that one out. It’s just hard to feel excited after such a tough game like that.”
The Chargers were playing without edge-rusher Melvin Ingram to pair opposite Bosa. Ingram was placed on the injured reserve list Saturday because of a lingering knee problem.
Still, Bosa continually found his way into the Bills’ backfield as the game’s most disruptive defensive force. He finished with eight tackles.
“I feel like the games I’ve been healthy this year I’ve been playing at a pretty high level,” Bosa said. “It’s good to see it all come together.”
After pushing through a variety of injuries to stay on the field, Bosa missed two games because of a concussion before returning Nov. 22 against the New York Jets.
Although he had no sacks in that 34-28 victory, he was active, setting a career-high with five quarterback hits against Joe Flacco.
Then came Buffalo and big, athletic Josh Allen, and Bosa seemed to find another level.
“I thought he played outstanding,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “He was pressuring the quarterback all day. He hustled well, played in the running game. I thought he had one of his best days.”
In August, Bosa signed a five-year, $135-million extension that included $102 million in guarantees, a record for an NFL defensive player. On a team approaching what could be an offseason of significant change, Bosa remains a franchise cornerstone.
As such, he has assumed a role of increased leadership this season.
“If guys start falling out, it’s going to be a long five weeks,” Bosa said speaking of the remainder of the season. “People around me know that’s not going to happen on my end. I’m going to try my best to bring good energy every day.
“It just will be miserable if we don’t have a good attitude the rest of the way. And we could have a hell of a last quarter of a season. We could win five games in a row, whatever. Why not go out with a bang?”
After missing six games because of a hamstring strain, Austin Ekeler wasn’t exactly eased back into the lineup.
He carried 14 times for 44 yards and caught a game-high 11 passes for 85 yards.
“Got back in the rhythm,” he said. “Didn’t quite feel 100% as far as where my conditioning. … That’s to be expected, though, missing all those weeks. For the most part, felt pretty good.”
Ekeler returned just as the Chargers lost Kalen Ballage. The veteran did not play Sunday because of ankle and calf injuries suffered in Week 11. Rookie Josh Kelley backed up Ekeler and finished with seven carries for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Of Ekeler’s team-high 25 touches, the oddest came in the closing seconds when the Chargers ran the ball with the clock ticking instead of spiking it. Lynn afterward blamed the gaffe on “miscommunication.”
Ekeler was stopped at the Bills’ one-yard line for a one-yard gain as the time slipped away.
“I actually was,” Ekeler said when asked if he was surprised by the play call. “We needed to throw the ball there to make sure either it’s a touchdown or an incompletion to stop the clock.
“Ultimately, it wouldn’t have really mattered just because the time you need to get two possessions wasn’t there. But, yeah, that’s something we could have done better.”
Right tackle Bryan Bulaga missed the game because of what Lynn called an upset stomach. Trey Pipkins started in his place. … Linebacker Denzel Perryman suffered a back injury in the second quarter and left the game. … Michael Badgley missed a first-quarter extra point, his eighth failed kick of the season.