Culver City Observer -

By Bill Seals
Sports Reporter 

Chargers are getting closer to making the playoffs

 

December 22, 2022

GEORGE LAASE

Charger wide receiver Joshua Palmer sets the block which helps running back Austin Ekeler turn the corner against the Titans last Sunday at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood.

Two weeks ago, at the end of Week 13 of the NFL season, the Los Angeles Chargers were 6-6 and coming off a loss to the Las Vegas Raiders. They were struggling to stay healthy and struggling to win football games. Two weeks later, after back-to-back wins over the Miami Dolphins and the Tennessee Titans, the Chargers are getting healthy and are on the verge of making the 2022 NFL playoffs.

The 17-14 victory last Sunday over the Titans was not a thing of beauty, but it got the job done. In the 2022 season, the Chargers are 7-4 in games decided by seven points or less and 5-2 in games decided by three points or less. Many of the wins this season for the Chargers have been of a similar nature. Just finding a way to get it done. Or as the late Hall-of-Famer Al Davis used to say, "Just win, baby!"

The Chargers won this game on a 43-yard field goal from rookie kicker Cameron Dicker with four seconds remaining in the game. The Titans had tied the score on a one-yard plunge by quarterback Ryan Tannehill with 38 seconds left. The Chargers started their offensive series on their own 23-yard line with just 44 seconds remaining and no timeouts. But that was more than enough for Charger quarterback Justin Herbert.

Herbert connected with wide receiver Mike Williams twice for a total of 51 yards, the second completion a 35-yard perfect laser that Herbert threw while rolling out to his right, giving the Chargers a first down at the Titans 20-yard line. That was all that Dicker needed for his game winning kick. On both catches, Williams managed to get out of bounds, stopping the clock.

Herbert passed for 313 yards in the game, giving him a total of 4,019 passing yards for the season. He is the first player in NFL history to throw for over 4,000 yards in his first three seasons. Charger head coach Brandon Staley was asked about Herbert's performance after the game. "I thought he was at his best when his best was required," Staley said. "You saw all the things that make him special there; his resilience, his poise, his play-making."

The Charger's defense has also been special lately, particularly in the past two games. Playing without pro bowl safety Derwin James in both games, the heart and soul of their defense, the Chargers seemed to play better defensively as a team. The last two weeks may be the most impressive the defense has looked under Staley, who came to the Chargers with a strong defensive reputation but has watched his defensive unit struggle.

"We have a really good defensive culture right now," Staley said. "We have a lot of guys that believe in each other. What we've had to do is have people step up and play significant roles, and it has brought out the best in them. We were excellent on third down today. Put a roof on the coverage. I thought we rushed the passer well, put a lot of pressure on the quarterback today. We made it tough on him in the run game. Our guys really competed today."

Offensively, Austin Ekeler rushed for 58 yards and one touchdown. Ekeler is tied for the NFL lead with 14 touchdowns scored this season. Joshua Kelly added a rushing touchdown as well. Kelly has taken on a bigger role on offense since his return from injury. Tight end Donald Parham returned to action from injury and had three receptions for 35 yards. Parham is a 6′ 8″, 238-pound tight end with 4.6 speed in the forty. He is a matchup problem for defenses.

The Chargers have moved closer to a playoff berth because the Jets, the Patriots, and the Dolphins have all been losing games. The Jets have lost three straight games, the Dolphins have lost three straight games, and the Patriots have lost three of their last four games. The Titans, after their loss to the Chargers, are 7-7 with four consecutive losses.

The losses have helped put the Chargers in a position where they could clinch a playoff berth in Week 16. The Chargers take on the Colts at Indianapolis on Monday Night. A win in that game, a Jets loss to the Jaguars, a Patriots loss to the Bengals and a Raiders loss or tie in Pittsburgh against the Steelers would clinch a playoff berth for the Chargers.

The Chargers game in Indianapolis will start at 5:15pm on Monday, December 26th, and will be televised on ESPN. The Colts are 4-9-1 and coming off a devastating 39-36 loss to the Vikings, a game they led at halftime, 33-0. They also lost star running back Jonathan Taylor to a high ankle sprain. Despite the game being on the road, the Chargers are favored by 4.5 points by the Las Vegas oddsmakers in this game.

A playoff berth for this Chargers team would be a blessing. For Staley, it would be proof that the team is headed in the right direction. If they can get left tackle Rashawn Slater healthy and linebacker Joey Bosa healthy before the end of the season, the Chargers could be a handful to deal with in a playoff game.

GEORGE LAASE

Chargers Khalil Mack (#52), front, and Chris Rumph II in the back sack Titan quarterback Ryan Tannehill

Injuries have made it difficult at times to evaluate the 2022 Chargers, but this team needs more depth and talent along the offensive line and more speed outside. Defensively, you can never have enough good corners in the NFL and the defensive side could use more depth along the defensive line and at linebacker.

But that is next season. This season, the Chargers have generated some excitement among their growing fanbase. The 70,240 fans in attendance at SoFi Stadium in Inglewood were loud and really made a difference for the Chargers in this game. The Charger fans, dressed in their powder blues, gave the Chargers a real homefield advantage.

"I definitely felt the Powder Blues, saw the Powder Blues," Staley said. "This was a big game for our team. You could really feel it on defense. When we were on defense, you could hear it, the energy that it provides your team. Then, obviously, the big plays on offense, you're going to get all that noise. Then, when your kicker hits it at the end, that eruption. The Powder Blues are coming."

 

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