Chargers move into first place with win over the Raiders
October 7, 2021
Through the first three games of the 2021 NFL season, the Los Angeles Chargers have looked like a work in progress, a team with a lot of potential and talent, but also a team that was not quite in sync offensively and defensively. The Chargers looked like a team installing new offensive and defensive schemes, which can take a while before they look and feel fluid.
On Monday Night at SoFi Stadium, the work in progress finally came together. After a delay of 35 minutes due to lighting and thunder in Inglewood, the Chargers took the field and played their best game of the season against the previously undefeated Las Vegas Raiders, winning 28-14 before a partisan Raider crowd of 70,240 fans.
The Chargers pummeled the Raiders in the first half of the game behind a dominant performance by their offense. The Chargers led 21-0 at halftime, behind three first half touchdown passes by quarterback Justin Herbert. It should have been four touchdown passes, but Herbert overthrew a wide-open Mike Williams deep down the right sideline in the second quarter.
The first half numbers were outstanding considering how good the Raiders offense had been through the first three weeks of the season. In the first half, the Chargers gained 245 yards to just 51 yards for the Raiders in the first half. They had 15 first downs to just one first down for the Raiders. Herbert completed 20 of 25 passes for 175 yards.
"We didn't do anything very well in the first half, offensively or defensively," Raiders Coach Jon Gruden said after the game. "The Chargers came out and took it to us from the start. They made a lot of plays and shut us down. And they made big plays in the passing game."
Gruden added that, "The Chargers are a very good team. They are an excellent football team. They are going places. They are a force to be dealt with. Sometimes you get your feelings hurt in this league and ours are hurt right now."
Charger head coach Brandon Staley was very pleased with the performance of his team, especially coming off a big win on the road over the defending AFC Champion Kansas City Chiefs. "It was a team win. What we got to do tonight as a team is show our response to winning a big game. I think that was our first time being able to respond to a big win like that. To be able to come back home, in front of the world, I felt like we played a complete game in all three phases. We prepared extremely well. That's a really good team that we just beat, I have a lot of respect for them. They were 3-0 for a reason."
It is very common in football for teams to have an emotional letdown coming off a big win. That appeared to happen to the Los Angeles Rams in their loss at home this weekend to the Arizona Cardinals, coming off a big emotional win over the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Chargers came out and took it to the Raiders from the start of the game.
Herbert spread the ball around in the first half, hitting tight end Donald Parham Jr. for a 4-yard touchdown pass, connecting with tight end Jared Cook for a 10-yard touchdown pass and throwing a 14-yard touchdown pass to running back Austin Ekeler to give the Raiders their 21-0 first half lead.
Ekeler rushed for 117 yards on 15 carries, including an 11-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter that put the game away for the Chargers. The Chargers rushed for a season high 168 yards on the ground against the Raiders and held the Raiders to just 48 yards rushing for the game, a season best for the Chargers defense.
The Chargers defense beat up Raider quarterback Derek Carr, sacking him four times and hitting him seven times. Carr did throw two third quarter touchdowns to cut the lead to 21-14, but he also threw a fourth quarter interception to Charger safety Derwin James. Edge rusher Joey Bosa had one sack and put constant pressure on Carr in the pocket.
Staley was impressed with his defense, especially in the first half. "We're coming together, that's the way we expect to play around here. It's not easy because the teams we're playing are really, really good. You see what Dallas is doing, what Kansas City is doing. These guys are real opponents, and that was a real opponent that we just played. But our guys are coming together. We're finding that sweet spot within the game plan of getting these guys into comfort zones."
The victory leaves the Chargers at 3-1 in the AFC West, tied for first place with the Raiders and the Denver Broncos. The Chargers are 2-0 within the division, which gives them the advantage in a tiebreaker. The Chargers are the only team in the AFC West with a division win. The Raiders are 0-1 within the division after their loss to the Chargers, the Chiefs are 0-1 within the division after their loss to the Chargers and the Broncos are 0-0 within the division.
The Chargers face another challenge this Sunday, October 10th, when they take on the Cleveland Browns at SoFi Stadium. The game is scheduled to start at 1:05 PM and will be televised locally on CBS. The Browns are 3-1 for the season, with their only loss in the season opener against the Chiefs at Kansas City, 33-29.
The Browns lead the NFL in rushing yardage per game, averaging 177 yards per game. They have one of the best offensive lines in the NFL and good running backs led by Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. They use multiple tight ends in the running game, and they do a lot of play action passing off their running attack. Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield is steady and accurate.
The Browns lead the AFC in sacks with fourteen through four games. For the Browns, edge rusher Myles Garrett is among the best in the NFL. The Chargers will need to account for him when they are on offense. The Chargers struggled against the run in the first three games but played the run well against the Raiders. They will need to stay tough against the run to beat the Browns on Sunday.