When Austin Ekeler thinks back on Sunday’s loss to the Jaguars, he doesn’t focus on the pair of highlight-reel touchdown catches that accounted for both Chargers’ TDs on the day.
It doesn’t matter that he accomplished something Hall of Famer LaDainian Tomlinson never was able to, hauling in multiple touchdown catches of at least 20-plus yards.
It doesn’t mean a thing that he was the first NFL player since Jamaal Charles in 2012 to accomplish that feat.
Instead, he laments his fumble late in the game that prevented the Chargers from grinding out the win. As a result, it opened the door for the Jaguars against all odds to get the game to overtime, where they eventually won.
“My fumble, you can’t have that,” he said. “That’s crucial. Ball security’s the main thing, especially at that point in the game. Are you kidding me?”
Ekeler's fumble wasn't the only reason the Bolts fell in Jacksonville. It was only one of a myriad of mistakes the team made down the stretch.
“Austin was in the game prior to that, and Austin was running well,” Head Coach Anthony Lynn explained. “He was hitting the hole a little quicker at that time, and we tried to finish the game on the field. The young man, he coughed it up. In that situation, he’s got to learn from that. The defense is going for the football. It’s a four-minute offense. It’s a tough learning lesson.”
It’s one the running back wishes he didn’t have to learn in a loss.
“It wasn’t my best ball security, obviously,” he said. “Should’ve gotten two hands on the ball. It was a running situation. They knew we were going to run the ball. We knew we were going run the ball. So that should’ve been the first priority I had; ball security. I didn’t have two hands on the ball, and it came out.”
Still, there’s a lot to be said about the performance of the undrafted rookie. In addition to his two touchdowns, including a 28-yarder at the end of the first half when he tightroped the sideline, Ekeler ran the ball 10 times for 42 yards (4.2 ypc) while catching all five passes thrown his direction for 77 yards (15.4 ypc).
While it’s understandable that Ekeler would be down about his late fumble, Philip Rivers noted how the Chargers would never have even been in a position to win the game if not for his earlier heroics.
“He was big,” Rivers said. “Those catches and runs were huge plays to get us into the end zone twice. He’s probably going to tell you he wants the fumble back, obviously. But nobody wants to fumble and nobody wants to throw an interception, or miss a tackle. We know it’s our job to make those plays, but Ekeler is a big reason we were in a position to win. He’s made a lot of plays for us this season and we’re going to need him to make some more plays. He’s not the first guy to make a mistake.”
“I’m sure he’s beating himself up over that fumble,” added Head Coach Anthony Lynn. “But he made some great plays today too. He was one of the reasons why we were in the game. So he’s just going to have to learn from it, and keep it moving.”
Ekeler’s teammates quickly came to his side after the fumble. Antonio Gates, Joey Bosa, Derek Watt and many more offered words of encouragement, explaining how they’ve all been in similar situations where a late mistake proved costly.
The key, as Lynn said, is to learn from it.
“I had teammates keeping me up,” Ekeler said. “I’m hard on myself, because I want to be great. For them not to put me back in there (after), I understood. We’ve got Melvin Gordon. He’s one of the best in the league right now. They put Mel out there, I was like, ‘OK.’ I was still ready to go if they called my name, my number.”