CARSON (CNS) - The Los Angeles Chargers' attempt for a fourth-quarter comeback fell short for the second consecutive game in a 23-20 loss to the Tennessee Titans today, although twice it appeared it did not.
The Chargers twice appeared to score a go-ahead touchdown in the final 39 seconds, but replays determined both times the ball carrier did not break the plane of the goal line.
The Chargers' comeback hopes ended the third time they had the ball on the Titans' 1-yard line in the final 39 seconds when a replay determined that Melvin Gordon had fumbled and defensive tackle Jurrell Casey recovered for Tennessee in the end zone.
The Chargers first appeared to take the lead with 39 seconds to play when officials signaled touchdown on an Austin Ekeler catch-and-run of a Philip Rivers' pass on a play that began at the Titans' 16-yard line.
However, replay initiated by the automatic scoring review indicated he did not break the plane of the goal line, giving the Chargers a first down inside Tennessee's 1-yard line.
“We all thought we scored to win it,” Rivers said. “I'm not here to question the calls. They obviously saw enough to overturn it. I just didn't.
“I knew they were piecing together two shots. The sideline cam couldn't see the football. The end zone cam, it looked like he might have been short, but I don't know how you tell for sure that there's not just that much of that football touching the white line,” Rivers said while holding his right thumb and index finger narrowly apart.
Chargers coach Anthony Lynn said he “did not have a doubt that we couldn't get the ball in the end zone” following Ekeler's catch.
A false start penalty by Chargers left guard Dan Feeney pushed them back to the Titans' 5-yard line. Tennessee cornerback Malcolm Butler was called for pass interference in the end zone against Mike Williams, giving the Chargers a first down on the Titans' 1-yard line with 34 seconds left and no timeouts.
Gordon appeared to score on the next play, but replay determined he did not break the plane.
“I was trying to get under” the defender, Gordon said. “He was trying to get low, so I was trying to get lower than he was, (but) there wasn't the leverage.”
Gordon fumbled the ball away on the next play.
“I've never been in a ballgame like that before where you go from feeling like you won ... the ballgame and losing it the way we lost it,” Lynn said. “At the end, we needed one yard to win this game and we didn't get it. If you don't get one yard, you don't deserve to win the damn game.”
“Like I told our players, that one yard can bring us together or it can tear us apart. That character we have in that locker room, I do believe this group will rally and we'll fight and we'll be back.”
The Chargers had cut the deficit to 23-20 with five minutes, nine seconds to play on Rivers' 41-yard touchdown pass to Ekeler before a crowd at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee announced at 62,431.
Tennessee (3-4) broke a 10-10 tie on Ryan Tannehill's 5-yard touchdown pass to Tajae Sharpe with 13:11 remaining, completing a 14-play, 85-yard drive that consumed 7:09. Cody Parkey's extra point attempt hit the right upright.
Chase McLaughlin kicked a 50-yard field goal for the Chargers (2-5) on the ensuing possession. The Titans responded with a seven-play, 75-yard drive in 4:16, culminated by Derrick Henry's 11-yard touchdown run with 6:39 to play.
The Chargers were outgained, 403 yards to 365 and trailed 32:15-27:45 in time of possession, including 11:25-3:35 in the third quarter and 8:54-6:06 in the third. The Chargers led 24-22 in first downs.
“We played pretty well offensively,” Rivers said. “We didn't play perfect by any means, but we played pretty good. We had a little stretch in the third quarter that wasn't great, but that's a good defense.”
The Chargers were forced to punt after three plays on their first possession of the third quarter. They picked up a first down on a third-down defensive holding penalty on their next possession, then punted four plays later after Rivers threw back-to-back incomplete passes.
Both teams were six-for-11 on third-down conversions, 54.5%. The Chargers were unsuccessful on their only fourth-down conversion attempt, which came on the game's first drive.
Tennessee was one-for-two on its fourth-down conversions, with Tannehill stopped for no gain on a fourth-and-1 play from the Chargers' 49-yard line with 2:35 left.
The Chargers scored a touchdown, got a field goal and lost a fumble on their three possessions inside the Titans' 20-yard line. Tennessee scored touchdowns all three times they were inside the Chargers' 20-yard line.
This was this fifth time in their seven games the Chargers did not score more than 20 points.
The Chargers are 0-5 in those games, including a 24-17 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers last Sunday when Rivers threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes as an attempt to rally from a 24-point fourth-quarter deficit fell short.
The Chargers are tied for 23rd in the 32-team league in scoring, averaging 20 points per game, boosted by scoring 30 points in both their victories.
The Chargers again got little production from their running game, rushing for 39 yards on 21 carries, the third consecutive game they have rushed for 39 yards or less, a span coinciding with Gordon's return to play after not reporting to the team as he sought a contract extension.
“We have got to find out what we can do in the run game,” Lynn said. “We have to run better than we have.”
Gordon rushed for 32 yards on 16 carries Sunday, the seventh consecutive game he has rushed for 42 yards or less dating back to last season, including the playoffs.
Gordon acknowledged the Chargers' running game “could have been better” and he should have “broke some plays and extended some runs.”
Gordon's longest run Sunday was 6 yards, one yard less than his longest run in his three games this season. He caught three passes for minus- three yards, including a 1-yard touchdown pass from Rivers 3:38 before halftime that gave the Chargers a 10-3 lead.
The streak began after Gordon suffered a knee injury Nov. 25 that sidelined him the next three games.
The Chargers rank 27th in the league in rushing yards per game, averaging 74.3.
They are off to their worst start through at least five games since 2015 when they began the season 2-8 and were 4-12 overall.
The loss was the Chargers' fifth in their past six games since winning their opener, their worst stretch of at least five games since they lost the final five games of the 2016 season, resulting in the firing of head coach Mike McCoy after four seasons.
“We'll find out about our guys now,” said Rivers, the Chargers starting quarterback since the start of the 2006 season. “We thought last week was a tough task coming off a (`Sunday) Night Football' loss where we didn't play very good. Now, losing like this, you'll really find out.
“When you lose one like this at 2-5 and things look rough, we'll find out about us. We can wallow around and go 3-13 or 4-12 or we can rebound, get back in the thing. The thing's going to be 8-8, 9-7, 10-6. There's going to be more teams in a cluster than maybe ever.”
Rivers completed 24 of 38 passes for 329 yards and two touchdowns. He passed Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning to move into sixth place in career passing yards with 56,770. Dan Marino is fifth with 61,361.
Rivers moved into seventh in career passes with 7,250, passing Pro Football Hall of Fame member John Elway.
Rivers had a 108.3 passer rating, making him the fifth player in NFL history to have 100 games with a passer rating of at least 100.
Tannehill completed 23 of 29 passes for 312 yards and two touchdowns with one interception in his first start with the Titans since they acquired him in March from the Miami Dolphins with a 2019 sixth-round draft choice in exchange for a 2019 seventh-round choice and a 2020 fourth-round choice.
Tannehill's 79.3 completion percentage was the best of his eight- season NFL career for games with a minimum of 20 passes.
Henry rushed 90 yards on 22 carries as Tennessee ended a stretch of four losses in five games.
The Titans opened the scoring on their first possession on Parkey's 45- yard field goal. The Chargers tied the score on the next possession on Chase McLaughlin's 29-yard field goal.
The Chargers took their only lead on Rivers 1-yard touchdown pass to Gordon on a 14-play, 94-yard drive in 7:37, the 11th time in their 60-season history they had driven at least 94 yards for a touchdown, including three times last season.
Tennessee then drove 86 yards on eight plays in 3:15, with Tannehill throwing an 8-yard touchdown pass to Corey Davis with 23 seconds left in the half.
The loss was the Chargers' second in their last 13 regular-season and playoff games between the two teams, dating back to 1993, when the Chargers played in San Diego and the Titans were the Houston Oilers.
“When you ... did a heck of a job preparing and coming here on the road to get this win and you come up short like that, it hurts,” Lynn said. “Every man in that locker room is hurting right now.”
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