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Backups QBs will be the focus when the Chargers play at the Raiders on Thursday

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick (2) passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Easton Stick (2) passes during the second half of an NFL football game against the Denver Broncos, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Inglewood, Calif. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

BY MARK ANDERSON contributing

LAS VEGAS (AP) — In what has become the season of the backup quarterback in the NFL, the Los Angeles Chargers head to Las Vegas with the QB2 facing a Raiders team that will either continue to start a rookie or return to the starter-turned-backup.

Easton Stick, the Chargers’ fifth-round draft pick in 2019, starts in place of Justin Herbert in the Thursday night game. Herbert suffered a season-ending finger injury Sunday against the Denver Broncos.

The Raiders could stay with Aidan O’Connell, the team’s fourth-round pick this year who began the season on the bench before becoming the starter five games ago. Or Las Vegas could turn back to Jimmy Garoppolo, the starter-turned-backup.

Stick showed some promise Sunday against the Broncos by completing 13 of 24 passes for 179 yards.


Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson (18) makes a catch as Las Vegas Raiders safety Marcus Epps (1) defends during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

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Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Aidan O'Connell (4) is pressured by Minnesota Vikings linebacker Danielle Hunter (99) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 10, 2023, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/David Becker)

Struggling AFC West teams Chargers and Raiders meet Thursday night in Las Vegas

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“Our guys have a lot of confidence in Easton,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said. “I think the way that he played in that second half does give us confidence going into this game.”

Even so, the film on Stick is limited, perhaps giving the Chargers an advantage.

“Just got to get a feel for him in the game,” Raiders cornerback Nate Hobbs said. “You can’t ever panic or anything like that. Just go out there and play football.”

On Las Vegas’ side, interim coach Antonio Pierce said he would evaluate the quarterback position. O’Connell spoke to reporters at the podium Tuesday, an indication he likely would remain the starter.

“I’ve never said Aidan wasn’t the starter,” Pierce said Wednesday morning. “We’re still evaluating. If there’s a chance to get better, a chance to improve, a chance to put us in position to win, then we have to get all the factors that go into it. Making decisions based off media, a loss, a bad, ugly performance, that’s not how you do things in the National Football League.”


With Stick taking over for Herbert, there will be a renewed emphasis on seeing if the Chargers’ struggling rushing attack can get in gear and provide a little balance to the offense.

There are some hopes that it can after Los Angeles averaged 4.0 yards per carry against the Broncos. Austin Ekeler had 51 yards on 10 carries, only the fourth time this season he has surpassed 50 rushing yards.

“There was a lot more consistency in that phase. I think we had five or six quality runs that were physical,” Staley said. “I thought that there was progress made, but when we got behind, I think it prohibited us from sticking with that like we wanted to, but I thought it was a good step for us.”



Pierce said he didn’t have an update on running back Josh Jacobs, who injured a knee Sunday against the Minnesota Vikings.

The Raiders have relied heavily on Jacobs, with backup backs Zamir White and Ameer Abdullah receiving limited playing time. Might that change even if Jacobs finds a way to play Thursday?

“If Josh Jacobs is ready to go, it’s the Josh Jacobs show,” Pierce said. “But you would definitely like to see Zamir get in there if there’s the opportunity this week or going forward.”


Khalil Mack set the Chargers’ single-game record with six sacks against the Raiders in their Week 4 meeting. The game helped propel Mack to a run where he leads the league with 15 sacks, which also ties a career high.

“We were able to sack the quarterback a little bit, hopefully that is still on the table this week,” he said.

Since joining the Chargers last season, Mack has nine sacks in three games against his former team.

“He’s been doing this for a long time. Really great player,” O’Connell said. “They have great players throughout the entire field, so it’s going to be a great challenge for us.”


The Chargers have lost four of their past five games and the Raiders on a three-game skid, so both teams are looking for some kind of spark.

“This group has really good makeup,” Staley said. “I think you’ve seen that through 13 games. I expect that to continue, and I think that any time you’re faced with an obstacle like this, and this is as big of an obstacle as you can face when you lose your starting quarterback, you’re going to find out about the locker room and your team. I know what’s in our locker room.

“We have four really tough opponents in front of us. This one division game on the road on a short week, it’s going to test us.”

After playing Las Vegas, the Chargers finish with Buffalo, Denver and Kansas City, but only the game against the Broncos is on the road.

The Raiders play at Kansas City and Indianapolis before ending the season at home against the Broncos.

Las Vegas will need to play considerably better than it did in Sunday’s 3-0 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

“We lost three games, but the locker room, the building doesn’t feel that way,” Pierce said. “Purpose is still there, the energy is still there, the concentration, the ‘want to’ is still there. The guys are believing. … Results haven’t been there like we want, but we’re going to keep fighting.” ___