Taking offense to 2-3 record, Chargers face daunting dose of reality in K.C.

The Chargers have lost more games than they’ve won, are decided underdogs Sunday and trail two teams in the AFC West, one of which is Las Vegas.

Las Vegas, which already has played three quarterbacks, is 27th in the NFL in scoring and just heard its best offensive player — wide receiver Davante Adams — publicly question its offensive direction.

Heading to Kansas City and noisy and unfriendly Arrowhead Stadium, the Chargers face some hard challenges and harder truths.

“We live in reality,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “Reality is we’re 2-3. We’ve earned that record.”

Reality indeed is harsh for the Chargers — harsh and somewhat bizarre.

Nothing this team did in the offseason generated more anticipation than the hiring of Kellen Moore as offensive coordinator. Forecasts league-wide called for instant improvement, highlighted by a steady stream of explosive plays.

The Chargers rushed for 233 yards and scored 34 points in Week 1 before Justin Herbert threw for 305 yards and two touchdowns in Week 2.

Then Herbert set single-game career highs for completions and yards passing in a Week 3 visit to Minnesota, where wide receiver Keenan Allen also established a franchise record for receptions in a game.

But that start has been followed by a lull during which the Chargers have slowed considerably.

Going back to the first half of Week 4 against the Raiders, this offense has produced two touchdowns and one field goal in its last 15 full possessions. Explosive plays? Both touchdowns came on one-yard passes.

During that stretch, the Chargers have had five three-and-outs and only three times picked up more than two first downs on a series.

“It starts with me being able to complete balls and being able to get first downs, keep the ball moving,” Herbert said. “If we’re able to do that, I think we’re a much more efficient offense.”

Things don’t figure to get any easier against the Chiefs, who have allowed the second fewest points per game in the league.

To understand how much the Chargers’ offense has faded after its rolling start, consider this:

In his fourth year, Herbert has the fewest attempts (182), passing yards (1,333) and touchdowns passes (nine) through his first five starts of any season.

His quarterback rating (101.7) is nearly seven points below where it stood after his first five starts as a rookie.

“This is the NFL,” Herbert said. “Tough things are going to happen, and it’s all about how you react to it.”

In Week 4 versus Las Vegas, Herbert finished with single-game career lows in completions, attempts and yards. In the Chargers’ next game, a 20-17 loss to Dallas on Monday, he twice overthrew a wide-open Allen.

The misfires were striking in that Herbert’s career to date has been marked by accuracy and a strong bond with Allen. The two rarely have failed to connect when given space and opportunity.

“There are going to be some tough games for players,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I think it’s noticeable for Justin because he doesn’t have very many of them in four years. You can point to one because there just haven’t been very many.”

Herbert admitted that such missed chances can be difficult to shake, saying he still thinks about throws he failed to complete four or five years ago. In this case, he said he “felt horrible” for Allen, who did his job by getting open.

The Chargers rewarded Herbert for the start of his career and all the potential he has displayed by signing him in July to a contract extension worth up to $262.5 million.

Now, Staley said, they only need him to remain being Justin Herbert.

“We just expect him to bounce back and play his game,” Staley said. “Justin just needs to keep being the player that he is and not do anything more than that, just play his type of ball and lead us and impact us, like he always does.”

The uneven open to 2023 for Herbert and the offense has included three stalled late-game situations, three times when the quarterback could have advanced his status as a performer in the biggest moments.

Against Miami, Herbert’s protection broke down. Against Tennessee, an overtime drive went nowhere. Against Dallas, a third-down interception ended the Chargers’ final chance.

Herbert was asked about the difficulty in letting go of tough plays and defeats.

“It’s incredibly tough,” he said. “It’s part of the game, unfortunately. …The important thing, for me, is to move on and understand we have to be realistic. We have to be critical and understand that I can make those plays. I know that I can make that throw. We’ve done that before.”

The Chargers fully expect Herbert to do it again. His next chance comes against Kansas City, the reigning Super Bowl winners and seven-time defending champs of the AFC West.

And that’s the Chargers’ latest reality.