Trying to get ahead in their running game on Sunday, the Chargers actually retreated in the third quarter.
They finished with a minus one yard in four rounds against Philadelphia. By then, the Chargers had only averaged 30 yards in 15 attempts.
“It was a bloody race,” coach Brandon Staley said Monday. “But that commitment has served us really well.”
In the fourth quarter – the quarter the Chargers won to secure a last-second 27-24 win – they ran on the ball 12 times for 59 yards. Austin Ekeler has scored 10, 14 and 16 yards in the last 15 decisive minutes.
Towards the middle of the season, the Chargers are ranked 10th in the NFL for total yards and only 22nd for fastest yards. However, being able to claim land in the fourth quarter is vital.
The Chargers’ offense is at its best when it is in the hands of quarterback Justin Herbert. But the feet of players like Ekeler also have to play an important role.
“There will be some people who will probably look down on some of these two or three yard runs and say, ‘Okay, you won’t get the same result.’ Why don’t you just let Justin dump him? Staley said. “This is the right question, such an important question and topic of conversation.
“But I feel like it forces the defense to defend more. I felt that our O-line made this defense defend more games. I think that’s what ultimately allowed us to have such an important day offensively. “
The Chargers finished with a total of 445 yards, their second record of the season. They averaged 6.8 yards per game and had a seven-minute lead in possession. Their only two attempts that didn’t end with points came when they turned the ball down deep in Philadelphia territory.
“If we can finish some of these races in the first half,” Staley said, “I think we’re saying, ‘Dude, that was pretty special.’ “
The ending was still special, with Dustin Hopkins hitting a 29-yard game with two seconds left.
This moment was created by the final pass, during which the Chargers launched the ball seven times out of 15 rallies, taking fourth passes twice on the ground and taking more than six minutes.
Ekeler ran 16 yards just before Hopkins broke into a trot to win the game, lightening the veteran kicker’s burden.
“It’s just the type of player, the type of opponent that he is,” Staley said of Ekeler. “He was a good epitome of full play for us on offense.”
Staley also praised his line for its toughness and the entire attack for its mind-blowing attitude.
“I think the way we played football in that last race is a great example of the kind of thinking we’re talking about,” he said. “Managing football and protecting the quarterback is such a team effort.”
With regard to the offensive line in particular, Staley said, “These guys really paved the way for our football team to play fully.”
Sunday was the second this season that the Chargers won a game on the East Coast, emptying the clock with an extended main gear. They beat Washington at the season opener 20-16, eating the last 6:43.
In Philadelphia, they left the Eagles enough time to make a desperate attempt at a multilateral retaliation, which failed miserably.
The Chargers have apparently lost defender Ryan Smith this season with a knee injury. Staley said the initial diagnosis was anterior cruciate ligament rupture. Signed off-season due to his prowess on special teams, Smith missed the first four games of the season as he was dealing with a core muscle problem. He was also on the COVID-19 reserve list this summer. Smith made a season record of 41 defensive goals Sunday with injuries to starting corner-backs Michael Davis (hamstring) and Asante Samuel Jr. (concussion protocol). … Availability of Davis and Samuel on Sunday, when the Chargers play in Minnesota at SoFi Stadium, remains unclear. … Staley expressed the hope that Kenneth Murray Jr. will be able to return against the Vikings. The midfielder remains on the reserve injured list due to an ankle problem. He returned to training last week.