INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Even though it's a new season, Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers still can't shake the bitter memory of last season's 35-32 Week 18 overtime loss to the Las Vegas Raiders.
It knocked them out of a postseason spot — and put the Raiders in the playoffs.
The Chargers don't have to wait long for their chance to avenge that defeat. They host the Raiders in Sunday's regular-season opener.
“I know personally, I’ve been thinking about this one for the past six or seven months, however long it’s been. I know that everyone else has as well,” Herbert said. “For everyone to show up during OTAs, I thought that was huge growth for our team. We believe in each other just like the front office believes in us.”
Both teams have made sweeping changes since that meeting in Vegas on Jan. 9, when Daniel Carlson's 47-yard field goal as time expired in overtime made the Raiders the fourth seed in the playoffs and kept the Chargers out when a tie would have had them qualify.
The Raiders hired Dave Ziegler as general manager, Josh McDaniels as coach and have 24 new players on the roster, including All-Pro wide receiver Davante Adams.
The Chargers have 22 new players and six new starters on defense after going 9-8 last year. They acquired linebacker Khalil Mack and signed cornerback J.C. Jackson, whose status is questionable after having ankle surgery two weeks ago.
“We’ve watched that game, we’ve seen it. As you know, the scheme on their end may be a little bit more similar to that game than ours will be," said McDaniels, who is a head coach again for the first time since 2010. "I think there’s been so much change relative to the personnel on both sides. They have a new team, we have a new team, like there is every year.”
The one thing that hasn't changed is the quarterbacks. Herbert has set records for most yards passing and touchdowns by a player in his first two seasons.
Herbert’s 9,350 yards passing and 69 touchdown passes are both the most by a player in his first two seasons.
Carr has not thrown an interception in six of his last seven games against the Chargers, and threw multiple TDs in both meetings last season.
“I’m just excited to start the season. There’s no certain expectation of this or that. I mean, we just expect to play good football, sound football," Carr said. “Trust our rules, all those things, and try and do as right as possible and see where that takes us. I’m definitely excited to get out there with our guys.”
Mack makes his Chargers' debut against a familiar opponent. He was the fourth overall pick in 2014 and spent four seasons with the Raiders before being traded to Chicago in 2018.
Mack and Joey Bosa are expected to form one of the top pass-rushing duos in the league. The two have combined for 115 1/2 sacks since 2016.
Bosa's eight sacks against Carr are his most against a quarterback. Mack has one sack against Carr in two previous matchups.
The trade that sent Adams from Green Bay to Las Vegas reunited him with his close friend and former Fresno State teammate Derek Carr.
Adams and Carr combined for 38 TDs in their two college seasons together and have been offseason workout partners throughout their NFL careers. Now they get the chance to show off that chemistry on the big stage of a game when they play together in the NFL for the first time.
“For us, we’ve been doing this for the last 13 years,” Carr said. “Whether it was in college, or (training) together in the Bay Area, (and) doing it for months here at the facility. To us, it’s back to normal. But I think for everyone else, the excitement. ... I’m sure I’ll throw him the ball and he’ll get a catch or whatever and everyone will be like, ‘Oh my gosh, here we go.’ To us, it’ll just be the next play.”
The biggest question on the Raiders' offense comes on the offensive line. With Carr throwing to a talented trio of pass catchers, including Adams, tight end Darren Waller and receiver Hunter Renfrow, Las Vegas should have one of the top offenses as long as Carr has time to throw.
But Las Vegas enters the season with questions at every spot along the line outside of left tackle Kolton Miller.
Jermaine Eluemunor won the right tackle job after Brandon Parker got hurt and 2021 first-round pick Alex Leatherwood struggled so much he was released. Lester Cotton could be making his first start at right guard, while center Andre James and left guard John Simpson return after mediocre seasons. Rookie Dylan Parham could also get a shot.
MATCHUP OF NOTE
According to Next Gen Stats, Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby led the league with 82 quarterback pressures last season. He will be lined up against Chargers left tackle Rashawn Slater, who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie. Herbert was pressured on 4.2% of his dropbacks, the fourth-lowest rate in the league.
Las Vegas last season had the lowest blitz rate in the league (14.4%), but led the league in QB pressures (215) and pressure rate and pressure rate (33.6%). Patrick Graham, the Raiders new defensive coordinator, had a 24.2% blitz rate last season with the New York Giants, which was 20th.
AP Pro Football Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.
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