Chargers defense steps up in ugly win over Titans

Chargers defense steps up in an ugly win over the Titans. They back in the playoff seeding after win.

INGLEWOOD, Calif. — It wasn’t pretty, to say the least, but sometimes a win is a win. These Chargers will take the win, especially against a playoff-caliber team. It was a tough and aggressive defensive matchup that finished on the leg of Cameron Dicker to give the Chargers the 17-14 victory.

After the victory and some weirdness from the New England Patriots, the Chargers are currently sitting with the sixth seed in the AFC playoff picture.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley said his team has their blinders on and is just focused on the next opponent. They don’t want to get ahead of themselves, understandably so, because history isn’t on their side.

“I think the last part of what you said is the most important part, which is us controlling the Chargers and taking care of our football team,” Staley said. “We still have a lot of improvement to make. We got some guys back today on offense, but it’s fully integrating them into the plan and getting into rhythm. On defense, we get D.J. back, and, hopefully, get [OLB] Joey [Bosa] back. You want to make sure that you’re getting improvements, making the improvements, so that you can play your best at the end.”

Here are some takeaways from Sunday’s game:

1. Defense might be turning a corner

For most of the season, the narrative around the Chargers defense has been that they can’t stop the run and they give up too many points. They still give up yards to the running backs, but it isn’t as crazy as it was in previous weeks.

Last week, the defense was able to control Dolphins receivers Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. This week they were able to not let Derrick Henry go crazy on them. Yes, he did have 104 yards and a touchdown, but his longest play was a 37-yard catch. On the ground, it was a 13-yard run.

It started with the return of defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day and the play of the defensive line that is missing three starting defensive tackles.

“I just think just the belief in our in ourselves,” Joseph-Day said. “I think it’s hard hearing how bad we are, but we know we aren’t in bad some circumstances and certain things we’ve got to fight through that we feel like a lot of teams do go through the league.”

They got after Titans quarterback Ryan Tannehill in the second half. They had four sacks that all came at crucial moments in the game.

“It felt electric out there,” Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “They hit us with some plays. He’s a great back. Still probably the king of running backs in the NFL if you just look at physically what he’s able to do. But, man, down some guys, we came out and we were just playing together.”

They did give up the final touchdown for the tie, but for the most part, the Chargers defense held it down for a second straight week. Last week, defensive tackle Breiden Fehoko said it is better for the defense to start to flow in the back end of the season than the first few weeks.

If the defense continues to flow and can get safety Derwin James and edge rusher Joey Bosa back, it could elevate them even more.

“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. I really feel like we’re playing as a unit.”

2. Justin Herbert could throw to Allen or Williams blindfolded

It was a rough second and third quarters for Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert. Right before halftime, he threw a pass into the side of that end zone in which Titans cornerback Roger McCreary tipped it back to an inbounds Joshua Kalu for the interception.

In the third quarter, he threw a pass for Mike Williams, but Titans star safety Kevin Byard jumped in front of it and made a great play.

“We practice it all of the time, but he is a veteran player, too, and an experienced player,” Staley explained. “Mike [Williams] has been in a lot of these drills. I thought what was really cool was that I had a really good vantage point when Justin [Herbert] rolled right — just the chemistry those guys have like — as he was rolling right, you could just see that he was going to put it back shoulder, back in bounds, where the defender couldn’t make a play on it. Those guys just have that magic that you need to have. They’re a premium tandem.”

A couple of drives later, Herbert hit receiver Keenan Allen for a 31-yard that got the offense back in the red zone. Running back Austin Ekeler took a handoff at the 15-yard line and was able to rumble past four defenders for 12 yards and a first down.

Next play, they call his number again and Ekeler scores his 14th touchdown of the season, putting the Chargers ahead.

Herbert walked up the offensive sideline after Tennessee’s touchdown, clapping and trying to get his offense ready. They had 48 seconds to avoid overtime and win the game.

The Chargers quarterback hit Williams for a 16-yard pass, leading the receiver out of bounds to stop the clock. Two plays later, Herbert scrambled to his right, looked down the field and found Williams for a 35-yard connection.

“I was just pointing telling him to give me a chance to catch the ball, and he threw it, and I made a play,” Williams said.

That set up the Chargers for a game-winning field goal from Cameron Dicker.

Herbert was clutch when the team needed him the most, but he really can find Allen or Williams automatically.

“I thought he had his best one his best was required,” Staley said. “You saw all the things that make him special there; his resilience, his poise, his play-making. There was a lot of pressure inside, and it was tight, but Justin [Herbert] played like he always does. He’s patient. He was able to make big plays for us. He was able to find [WR] Keenan [Allen] and [WR] Mike [Williams] today, and [WR] Josh [Palmer] a couple of times. You find out about your quarterback in two-minute, and it was an amazing two-minute drill for him.”

3. Dicker does it again

Cameron Dicker has become the guy for the Chargers since they picked him up. He hit a game-winning kick against Atlanta a couple of weeks ago and did it again on Sunday.

After the big Williams 35-yard catch, the Chargers set it up so that the first NFL player born in Hong Kong could hit the 43-yard field goal.

“It’s what you hoped for,” Dicker said. “It’s what you kind of pray for and hope happens for you, and so it’s a cool opportunity to be able to have that and just go out there and do your thing.”

Kicker has been a problem for the Chargers in the past, but Dicker has hit two game-winners for them and once for the Eagles. That makes three game-winning kicks this season and could earn him a job.

The Chargers know they have things to work on because even though a win is a win, it was an ugly win. They need to clean up some things, and maybe they get some guys back for next Monday’s game against the Indianapolis Colts.

“We didn’t flinch a bit,” Chargers receiver Keenan Allen said. “We know we have the players that go down and do what it takes for us to win the game.”

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