LOS ANGELES — Joey Bosa brought down Chicago Bears quarterback Tyson Bagent on the sixth play of the game. As soon as he got up, he was greeted by rookie Tuli Tuipulotu, and did his sack celebration — Bosa threw up the “T.”
The “T” celebration is something near to the rookie pass rusher because it represents his Tongan culture.
The gesture by Bosa took him by surprise.
“A bunch of my people hit me up, saying, ‘There ain’t no way you got Joey Bosa to throw up the T’,” Tuipulotu said. “I think it was a good thing for me, but also a good thing for the community. A guy like Joey Bosa doing it — he has no ties to the [Tongan] culture. I guess, it’s just him showing his support. I think it’s pretty cool.”
The following week against the New York Jets, Tuipulotu sacked Zach Wilson on a critical third down before the two-minute warning, jumped up and celebrated by doing the shrug, then threw up the “T.”
The shrug is the signature sack celebration of Bosa and his younger brother, 49ers pass rusher Nick Bosa.
“I can’t say enough about him,” Bosa said. “He’s just your ideal rookie. But he’s just your ideal teammate that you want to have on your team.”
Tuipulotu has made an impression on both Bosa and Khalil Mack. He came in as a quiet guy who made the media room laugh during the week when he said he was nervous to talk to quarterback Justin Herbert.
“That J-Herbo,” he said.
The rookie said it is out of respect.
“It took me a while to talk to K [Khalil Mack] and Joey,” Tuipulotu admitted. “I’m just weird.”
Mack hosts Friday dinners every week to bring team camaraderie, but the Chargers’ rookie would initially sit in the corner. As the season progressed, he grew closer and felt more comfortable with his teammates.
During training camp, he told the media that he couldn’t believe the opportunity to learn from two of the best in the game. He has closely studied both players.
“I think, with Joey, it’s a big routine — keeping the same routine,” Tuipulotu said. “Being consistent with that routine.”
Bosa works off to the side, stretching out for about 30 minutes every practice, training camp, minicamp, and game. He is always making sure his body is fully warmed up.
“With K-Mack, it’s being gritty,” Tuipulotu said. “I think just working hard no matter what the circumstances. He’s the definition of hard work.”
The body of work is there for Mack in all three destinations. He is 6.5 sacks away from 100 in his career. Tuipulotu said that on Wednesday morning, Mack worked hard in the weight room and challenged his teammates.
Not only has Tuipulotu meshed well with the defense off the field, but he has fit right in with the edge rushers.
This unit is coming off an eight-sack performance against the Jets in which Bosa led the defense with 2.5, Mack had two, and Tuipulotu had two, along with two forced fumbles (Bosa and Mack). That is the type of production this team needs to be successful.
“All the hard work that’s been displayed on the practice field is translating to the game,” Mack said.
The most important aspect is that Bosa is finally healthy after dealing with multiple injuries to start the season that saw him in a limited role.
The former USC Trojan showed promise during training camp and the preseason, but in the game against Tennessee, it was more than a glimpse. Not only did he sack Ryan Tannehill, but two or three of the five sacks on the day came from him taking up multiple defenders.
Tuipulotu is near the top of most rookie categories, but his name has yet to be brought up in defensive rookie of the year conversations. Right now, the Eagles’ defensive tackle, Jalen Carter, is leading the discussion, but he is tied with the Chargers’ rookie with 29 pressures and four sacks on the season.
The trio have a combined 19.5 sacks of the 31 the Chargers have on the season, which is second in the NFL. There are two keys to this happening: they are starting to click and have a solid rotation.
“The fact that we can rotate fresh guys in there in the front has been important for us,” Staley said.
Bosa said that the three players mesh well because of the difference in places they are in their careers.
“One of the best to ever do it,” Bosa said of Mack. “He’s a Hall of Famer, and just to be able to add the wisdom and his skill set to the team. Then along with his oldness.”
Mack was drafted in 2014.
“We have Tuli’s fresh, fresh young body to come into kind of balance everything out,” Bosa said.
Tuipulotu is barely a rookie.
“I’m in the middle, pretty crusty, but not quite Khalil yet,” Bosa said.
Bosa is in year eight of his career and seems to be embracing the mentoring role because he raves about the rookie edge rusher.
“It’s just funny that Tuli kind of looks up to me because I’ve been in the league for eight years, and now we’re out there just playing together and having fun,” Bosa said.
Fun has been a big emphasis for the last two weeks. That may be why the defense has held opponents to 9.5 points per game.
Yes, the opposing quarterback play hasn’t been the best, but the big test is coming this weekend when they face Lions quarterback Jared Goff and an offensive line that is one of the best in the NFL.
“I think we had a couple of good wins, but I think this is going to be a real, real big test for us,” Bosa said.
The Chargers’ defense needs these three to be at their best because this defense goes as they go. A solid pass rush helps throw off the timing between a quarterback and his receiver, benefiting the secondary.
There is no doubt, though, that Tuipulotu has come into the right situation and is helping produce for the defense as he learns to make a consistent impact.
“I think we’re just getting there, we have a long way to go,” Bosa said.