Brandon Staley, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers are leading the AFC West while building an impressive early-season resume
The Bolts' 47-42 victory over the Cleveland Browns on Sunday was their third fourth-quarter comeback against a team that made the playoffs last season. At 4-1, Los Angeles has a one-game lead over Denver and Las Vegas along with a two-game cushion over defending AFC champion Kansas City, including a victory over the Chiefs in Week 3.
“I think when you’re at the game and it’s happening for you, then that’s when you can create even more belief because most people see better than they hear,” Staley said. “We haven’t flinched in some of those big moments, and I feel like that’s the way we’re trying to create that competitive environment.”
After winning Offensive Rookie of the Year last season, Herbert has put himself into consideration for NFL MVP. Herbert accounted for five touchdowns against the Browns, tying a career high with four passing scores. He is tied for third in the league with 13 TD throws and is fourth in yards (1,576).
While Herbert continues to play at an elite level, the Chargers are continuing to play complementary football. The defense forced a three-and-out late in the fourth quarter that led to Austin Ekeler scoring the winning touchdown with 1:13 remaining. Wins earlier this season at Washington and Kansas City were set up by the defense forcing fourth-quarter turnovers.
Even though they have confidence and momentum, the Chargers aren't interested in the standings at this point of the season with 12 games remaining.
“We can’t look at it right now. It is only a quarter of the season and there’s still a lot of ball to be played. I know we just got to keep building, keep getting better and keep sticking together as a team,” safety Derwin James said.
Mike Williams has been used so much on short routes this season that Cleveland must have forgotten he was a deep threat. Williams had touchdown receptions of 72 and 42 yards en route to a career-high 165 receiving yards on eight catches. The fifth-year receiver is tied for sixth in receptions (31) and fourth in yards (471).
WHAT NEEDS HELP
Run defense continues to be a problem. Cleveland's vaunted rushing attack had 230 yards, but the Chargers have allowed at least 126 yards on the ground in all but one game. This was only the sixth time in 41 games since the 1970 merger when the Chargers have allowed 200 rushing yards or more and won.
Ekeler has five touchdowns and is averaging 132 scrimmage yards over the past two games. He is the fifth running back since 1991 and the first since 2008 to have three scrimmage TDs (two rushing, one receiving) in the fourth quarter. Ekeler had 66 rushing yards and was able to bounce back from a fumble late in the second quarter that allowed the Browns to kick a field goal to go up 20-13 at halftime.
“What you can do is activate him in the passing game and in the running game to give you an advantage depending on how people are playing you. I feel like he showcased both of those things," Staley said of Ekeler.
Tristan Vizcaino missed two extra-point attempts on Sunday and has botched four in the past three games. Staley said after the game that he continues to have faith in his young kicker.
“With Tristan, we’re going to have to deal with this," Staley said. "He has a fantastic kickoff leg, and as a kicker, he needs to be in a lot of those situations to make sure he gets his rhythm and timing. He missed two today, that was disappointing. But what we need him to do is bounce back."
Right guard Oday Aboushi will require season-ending surgery after tearing the ACL in his left knee during the first quarter. Michael Schofield will take over with rookie Brenden Jaimes possibly seeing some playing time.
“It bums me out about Oday because he has some real toughness. I feel like the offensive line has given us a real good chance to be successful," Staley said.
5 — touchdown passes of 50 yards or more by Herbert, tied with Seattle's Russell Wilson for most in the league since the start of last season.
The Chargers hit the road to face the Baltimore Ravens, their final game before the bye week. It is the first time the teams have faced off since the Chargers defeated the Ravens in an AFC wild-card game during the 2018 season.
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