INGLEWOOD, Calif. — Interim head coach Giff Smith said leading up to the game against the Buffalo Bills that the team would show fight, which they did. They showed heart as well, but it wasn’t enough.
The 24-22 Bills victory was much closer than many believed it would be. One of the main reasons was the change in coach would give the Chargers a jolt, which it did.
“Everybody did a great job,” Smith said. “I think the team responded to the message that the organization and the staff had. 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.”
Buffalo needed a 29-yard Tyler Bass field goal to improve to 9-6 and right in the thick of the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the Chargers have officially been eliminated from postseason contention and, at 5-10, sit with the fifth overall pick.
Chargers quarterback Easton Stick started the game by hitting Johnston for 21 yards, Palmer for 21 on two catches, and Stone Smartt for 23 yards. The drive stalled at the Bills’ two-yard line, bringing in Dicker to kick a 20-yarder to put them up 3-0.
Chargers special teams continue to make an impact. Whoever the new head coach and general manager are, they must retain Ryan Ficken. Before the end of the first quarter, AJ Finley caused a fumble by Deonte Harty, and linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga recovered it. It set up the offense with 1st-and-10 at the 27-yard line for Buffalo.
Stick finished that strong drive with a one-yard rushing touchdown while completing tight end Gerald Everett three times for 26 yards.
Stick finished 23-for-33 for 215 yards.
“He definitely showed that he’s an NFL quarterback,” Smith said. “We were proud of the way he played, and we’ll continue to move forward with him.”
The Bills offense finally woke up after they started their fourth drive on their 43-yard line. Allen hit receiver Gabe Davis, who had Kenneth Murray covering him after a safety error, and it turned into a 57-yard touchdown reception.
On their following offensive drive, they didn’t score on the first play, but they went 63 yards in eight plays with an Allen two-yard touchdown run. The big play on the drive came on 2nd-and-6 on the Chargers 44, when Allen hit Davis for a 20-yard catch and run.
“My question, going into the game, was how would they react the first time Buffalo punches you in the face?” Smith questioned. “We go up, and then Buffalo scores, 14 to 10, that could be where you crash and burn, and they rallied and they fought. That’s a step in the right direction.”
The Chargers’ offense came out, moving the football in the second half, thanks largely to a Taron Johnson personal foul on his tackle on Everett, where he twisted his leg. Stick completed a catch and run of 14 yards to Ekeler, but the drive stalled after a Rasul Douglas sack of Stick on 3rd-and-8 that forced them to punt.
On their first drive after the half, Allen made a terrible decision, throwing across his body to try to hit Diggs. If he had caught it, he would probably have walked into the end zone, but safety Alohi Gilman made the play by intercepting the pass.
The Chargers chased it in for three points after a Cameron Dicker 40-yard field goal. The drive stalled after a critical sack by Poona Ford on 3rd-and-9.
Allen recovered nicely after the interception because he converted three third downs on the following drive. The money play came from Davis again when Allen threw a 36-yard ball to him near the sideline. That set up Allen’s second rushing touchdown to put the Bills up 21-13.
The Chargers answered with three of Dicker’s five field goals made with a 53-yarder as his long. The Bills drove down and hit the game-winner, thanks to Bass.
Two games left in the season for a Chargers team that expected more, but alas, a new era will begin soon. As for now, they will take the fight to the Broncos and Chiefs to try to spoil their playoff hopes.