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Justin Herbert expects Chargers’ late-game execution to improve after 0-2 start

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) shakes hands with Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill after an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert (10) shakes hands with Tennessee Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill after an NFL football game Sunday, Sept. 17, 2023, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/George Walker IV

BY DAN GREENSPAN contributing

COSTA MESA, Calif. (AP) — Justin Herbert had the ball in his hands with a chance to lead the Los Angeles Chargers on a game-winning drive against the Tennessee Titans last Sunday.

Much as he had the previous week against the Miami Dolphins, Herbert failed to pick up a first down, let alone the points needed to stave off another loss.

Herbert insisted Wednesday that he, the offense and the Chargers can overcome their latest instances of poor starts and ineffective finishes.

“Things haven’t gone our way the past couple games, but panicking is never going to fix anything so it’s up to us to be able to fix that as an offense, score more points,” Herbert said.

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Going into a showdown of 0-2 teams at Minnesota on Sunday, Herbert has been at his most productive statistically in the fourth quarter. He is 16 of 23 passing for 162 yards in the final 15 minutes this season, overseeing seven drives that have have produced two touchdowns and two field goals.

However, when the final impression is a turnover on downs with an intentional grounding penalty and taking two sacks in the 36-34 loss to Miami or a quick three-and-out with three straight incompletions in the 27-24 overtime defeat at Tennessee, Herbert understands he is in line for criticism.

“You got to be better on those three plays, so got to try and complete the ball and that’s on me as as a quarterback to be able to get completions,” he said.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley doesn’t believe the losses can be attributed solely to late-game execution.

“There’s not just one ingredient, but I think the key thing is being able to capitalize on our opportunities,” Staley said. “And I think people are looking at the ends of the game, just like I think we’ve had opportunities at the beginning and middle part of the game to separate and I don’t think we’ve been able to do that.”

Staley could point to the end of the first half and start of the second half in both games. The Dolphins outscored the Chargers 10-3 in the final two minutes of the first half in the season opener, and the Titans also picked up a field goal at the end of the second quarter before taking their first lead on a 75-yard touchdown drive to start the third quarter.

That possession was extended by two different penalties on third down, with safety Derwin James Jr. called for unnecessary roughness and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day flagged for roughing the passer.

“There’s those critical big-picture components in a game, and that’s certainly one of them that we’ve emphasized since I’ve been here,” Staley said. “But last week, the end of the half and the beginning of the half, we didn’t have our best stuff. The beginning of the half with the two penalties, the two third-down penalties, that was a big factor in the game.”

And with a track record of failing to deliver in those moments, both historically for the organization and specifically in the Staley-Herbert era, the Chargers aren’t going to shed the label of underachievers until their performance in the critical moments improves.

“Just got to execute at higher level to get that accomplished,” Staley said. “And that at the end of the game, we got to be at our best.”

NOTES: RB Austin Ekeler (ankle) and LB Eric Kendricks (hamstring) missed Wednesday’s practice. Staley did not update the timeline for either player. … OLB Joey Bosa, who played on a limited snap count against Tennessee because of a hamstring injury, was limited. … OLB Khalil Mack got the day off for rest.