Ekeler scores 3 touchdowns, Chargers hold off Texans
HOUSTON (AP) — Justin Herbert threw for 340 yards and two touchdowns and Austin Ekeler scored three times as the Los Angeles Chargers built a big early lead and held on for a 34-24 win over the Houston Texans on Sunday.
Houston scored 17 straight points to get within three with about 8 1/2 minutes left. The Chargers (2-2) then put together a 12-play, 84-yard drive, capped by Ekeler's 14-yard reception, to put the game away and snap a two-game skid.
The Chargers faced fourth-and-2 from their 45 when Herbert connected with Ekeler on a 21-yard reception to keep the game-sealing drive going.
Ekeler, who had struggled this season as the Chargers ranked last in the league in yards rushing, had his best game this year, scoring on runs of 10 and 20 yards in the second quarter as Los Angeles raced out to a 21-0 lead.
The banged-up Chargers looked great early, scoring on five of their first six possessions to build a 27-7 lead by halftime despite Herbert still dealing with a rib injury and the team playing without star defender Joey Bosa, who had groin surgery, and top receiver Keenan Allen.
Sunday marked the first time the Texans (0-3-1) had scored in the fourth quarter this season after entering the game having been outscored 30-0 in the final period. But it wasn’t enough to dig them out of the early hole as they remained winless in coach Lovie Smith's first season.
Davis Mills threw for 246 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions, getting going after halftime after failing to move the offense effectively in the first half. A bright spot for the Texans was the continued strong play of rookie Dameon Pierce, who had 131 yards rushing, highlighted by a 75-yard scoring run in the second quarter.
Herbert topped 300 yards passing for the 19th time, tying the record for such games in a player's first three seasons. It was his seventh straight 300-plus-yard game on the road.
The Chargers led by 20 at halftime. Mills threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to Rex Burkhead to get Houston within 27-14 late in the third quarter.
Mills found Nico Collins for a 58-yard reception on Houston’s next drive and threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Brandin Cooks on the next play to cut the lead to 27-21.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin forced a fumble by DeAndre Carter on the ensuing kickoff and M.J. Stewart recovered to give Houston the ball back at the 16.
Mills was sacked and fumbled on second down, but the Texans recovered the ball. They settled for a 40-yard field goal that got them within 27-24.
Things went wrong for Houston immediately when Nasir Adderley intercepted Mills on the third play of the game and returned it 30 yards.
Herbert then connected with Gerald Everett on an 18-yard TD.
The Texans had a chance to cut the lead late in the first quarter, but Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 46-yard field goal attempt sailed wide left.
Ekeler made it 14-0 when he scored his first touchdown of the season on a 10-yard run early in the second quarter.
His second touchdown came when he scampered 20 yards on the next drive to extend the lead to 21-0 three minutes later. That score was set up Mike Williams, who had 120 yards receiving, grabbed a 50-yard reception a play before.
Pierce dashed 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play of Houston’s next drive. It was the third-longest run in franchise history and the longest run by a rookie since Miami’s Kalen Ballage also had a 75-yard run in 2018.
Houston LB Blake Cashman left the game in the first half with a head injury.
Houston rookie receiver John Metchie III, who was diagnosed with leukemia this summer, was on the sideline Sunday as the league promoted cancer awareness with its “Crucial Catch” campaign to encourage early detection and risk reduction.
A video was shown on the stadium’s big screens at the end of the first quarter showing Metchie hosting other people fighting cancer at the stadium this week.
Metchie was diagnosed with acute promyelocytic leukemia. The second-round pick from Alabama is taking time off from football to focus on his health and recovery.
He received a big ovation from the crowd when he waved to fans as he was shown on the big screens wearing a hoodie that said “Intercept Cancer.”
Chargers: At Cleveland next Sunday.
Texans: At Jacksonville next Sunday.
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