Another year, another Los Angeles Chargers playoff collapse.
L.A. lost major ground in the AFC playoff race on Sunday, dropping a crucial game to the lowly Houston Texans, 41-29.
Turnovers and strong play by Texans quarterback Davis Mills proved to be the Chargers' undoing. Los Angeles couldn't finish drives early, picking up two field goals in the first quarter. After a touchdown put the Chargers up 12-7 in the second quarter, the Texans answered with a field goal. On the Chargers' next drive, Justin Herbert threw an interception to safety Jonathan Owens near the goal line. Simone Biles — Owens' girlfriend — was a big fan of that play.
Mills responded with a seven-play scoring drive. With just under a minute left in the second half, Mills hit Chris Conley on a 41-yard touchdown pass.
— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) December 26, 2021
Halftime didn't fix the Chargers' inability to finish. The team tacked on a field goal in the third quarter, but still trailed 17-15.
Mills opened the fourth quarter with a 13-play scoring drive to put the Texans back up two scores. Rex Burkhead converted a 1-yard touchdown to put Houston up 24-15. The Chargers then fumbled the ball away on their next drive as Owens recovered Justin Jackson's miscue. The Texans picked up a field goal after the turnover, making it 27-15.
Los Angeles fought their way back, cutting the deficit to just 4 points with just under 6 minutes to play. That's when the wheels fell off. Mills led a clutch 7-play, 72-yard drive to put the game out of reach. He connected with Nico Collins for a 13-yard touchdown with just 2:36 remaining.
With the Chargers in catch-up mode, Herbert threw an interception four plays into the next drive. Tavierre Thomas took it all the way into the end zone for the score, giving the Texans a 41-29 win. Houston improved to 4-11 with the victory.
Chargers lose ground in playoff race with upset loss
The Chargers entered the contest fighting for the second wild-card spot in the AFC. The Baltimore Ravens, Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals and Chargers entered the weekend with identical 8-6 record. With Baltimore and Cincinnati playing each other, and the Bills taking on the New England Patriots, the Chargers had an opportunity to move into prime position in the playoff hunt with just a few weeks left in the regular season.
With the loss, the Chargers drop to 8-7 on the season. The Bills and Bengals won on Sunday, pushing both teams a game ahead of the Chargers in the wild-card hunt. Los Angeles now sits a game outside the playoffs. They are tied with the Ravens for that spot after the Ravens fell to 8-7 after a loss against Cincinnati.
The Chargers play the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders over the final two weeks of the regular season. Even if the Chargers win those games, they'll need help from other teams to secure a playoff spot.
Davis Mills shines in win over Chargers
Mills turned in an excellent performance in the win. He completed 21 of 27 pass attempts for 254 yards and two touchdowns. Mills showed some encouraging flashes, hitting Conley and Phillip Dorsett on long connections at the end of the second quarter.
— NFL (@NFL) December 26, 2021
Mills also showed calm under pressure while leading the Texans to another score after the Chargers cut the lead to 4 points.
With the performance, Mills has 12 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 11 games. Those numbers might be enough to earn Mills a chance to compete for the starting job next season.