Buffalo squeaks out a victory over the Chargers

The Buffalo Bills came into SoFi Stadium in Inglewood last Saturday night having beaten the Miami Dolphins, the Kansas City Chiefs, and the Dallas Cowboys this season, teams that are among the best in the NFL. They had made the playoffs the past four seasons and are expecting to make it five consecutive seasons in 2023.

The Bills were 12.5-point favorites against the struggling Los Angeles Chargers, who had recently fired their head coach Brandon Staley and their General Manager Tom Telesco. The Chargers had already been eliminated from the playoffs and have made the playoffs just once in the past five seasons.

In a game that had all the makings of a blowout win for the favored Bills, the Chargers instead used three turnovers and five field goals to keep it competitive, before falling to the Bills 24-22 on a Tyler Bass 29-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining in the game. The win gave the Bills a 9-6 record for the season, while the Chargers dropped to 5-10 for the season.

The Chargers led early 10-0 and had taken a 22-21 lead with 5:26 remaining in the game on a Cameron Dicker 53-yard field goal, his fifth field goal of the game. The Chargers were coming off an embarrassing 63-21 loss to the Raiders, a game that got a half-hearted effort from some players on the team and resulted in the firing of Staley and Telesco. In the game against the Bills, the Chargers were more focused and energetic. Interim head coach Giff Smith confirmed that.

"Going into the game, we wanted to keep it close and have a chance to win it at the end," Smith said. "But we wanted every player to fight for each other, no matter what. If there was ever a guy that wasn't going to do it, we were going to pull them out. But we didn't have any of that. They fought, they fought every play."

The Chargers did fight, and they made it a difficult night for the Bills. "We went into this game thinking that it was going to be a heavyweight fight and we wanted to have a chance at the end for the knockout," Smith said. "So, we were going to play it a little close to the vest. The team knew that. Get points on the board and give ourselves a chance to win. That's the way it went. Came up a little short."

By keeping it close and putting points on the score board Smith was alluding to Staley's habit of frequently eschewing field goal attempts and going for it on fourth down. Smith took the three points and Dicker delivered every time, which helped to keep the game close. Staley was often over-aggressive and at times reckless with his decisions to go for it on fourth down. When you have an asset like "Dicker the Kicker," it often makes more sense to kick the field goal.

Dicker has been a star kicker since his high school days at Lake Travis high school in Austin, Texas. Lake Travis won the 6-A Texas football state championship in 2016, a team that consisted of Dicker, Chargers offensive guard Brenden Jaimes, and New York Jets star wide receiver Garrett Wilson, among others. Dicker holds the Lake Travis school record with a 53-yard field goal and converted 229 of 232 extra point attempts in high school.

As a freshman at Texas, Dicker set a school record for freshman field goals made with 18, and achieved legendary status that season with the Texas Longhorns and their fans when he made a 40-yard field goal with no time left on the clock to beat the Oklahoma Sooners, 48-45, in the 2018 Red River Showdown. That Oklahoma team was coached by current USC head coach Lincoln Riley. Dicker was a three-time All-Big 12 Conference selection for the Longhorns.

Dicker is 59 for 59 on extra point conversions in the NFL and has made 45 of 47 field goal attempts, with a long of 55 yards. As Smith said after the game. "Dicker, he's a cool cat. Kickers are different, but we sure are glad that we have him." Dicker should get consideration for the AFC Pro Bowl team this season.

he Chargers lone touchdown of the night was setup by a fumbled punt and recovered by Chargers linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga on the Bills 27 yard-line. Four plays later, quarterback Easton Stick, in for injured starter Justin Herbert, scored on a 1-yard run around the right end. Stick completed 23 of 33 passes for 215 yards but was unable to produce another touchdown. The Chargers were without star wide receiver Keenan Allen, who missed his second consecutive game with a heel injury.

In the end, Bills quarterback Josh Allen was too much. Allen, who played his high school football in Firebaugh, California, leads the NFL in with 40 touchdowns, 27 passing and 13 rushing. He became the first player in NFL history to account for 40 touchdowns or more in four consecutive seasons.

Allen ran for two touchdowns and threw for another in the Bills victory over the Chargers. It was the 11th game this season in which he had both a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown, which is also a new NFL record. The lone touchdown pass came on a scramble to his right, connecting on a deep throw to wide receiver Gabriel Davis, who was somehow matched up on linebacker Kenneth Murray for an easy 57-yard touchdown reception.

The Chargers changed things up on defense and had some success slowing the Bills down offensively. They won the turnover margin 3-0. They took safety Derwin James and moved him closer to the line of scrimmage, playing him more in the box, which he used to do as a rookie in 2018, which was his best season in the NFL. James played only 75% of the snaps on Saturday Night. He has struggled in man-to-man coverage at times and that may be the reason he was on the sidelines at times.

The next head coach and defensive coordinator will have some difficult personnel decisions to make. Along with the likely loss of personnel due to the salary cap issues they will inherit, they need to decide if they have the defensive personnel needed to run whatever defensive system they decide to install. For example, is Joey Bosa a better fit as a base defensive end in a 4-3 defense?

Coming off the debacle against the Raiders, the Chargers seemed to be pleased that the game was close. "I think the team responded to the message that the organization and the staff had," Smith said. "There are no moral victories in any of this, but they really achieved fighting for each other and knowing what that feels like. I thought they did that."

The Chargers need to find a head coach that can get this kind of effort out of the team consistently and establish some winning habits. As the late great Hall-of-Fame coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning is not a sometime thing; it's an all the time thing. You don't win once in a while; you don't do things right once in a while; you do them right all the time. Winning is a habit. Unfortunately, so is losing."

The Chargers will travel to Denver this Sunday, December 31st, to take on the Broncos. The game will start at 1:25 pm locally and will be televised on CBS. The Broncos have a 7-8 record for the season and have lost two in a row since their 24-7 victory over the Chargers. After a 42-17 pounding in Detroit to the Lions, and a 26-23 loss to the New England Patriots at home, the Broncos are reeling a bit.

The Broncos still have an outside shot at the playoffs if they win their final two games and get some help. The Chargers incentive is to win and spoil their opponents playoff hopes in the final two games. The Chargers are currently ranked 6th in the 2024 NFL draft order, so if they lose their final two games, they will end up with a high draft pick. That could work well for the next Chargers head coach and general manager.


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