He was about to get busy winning a football game, another football game, his third of this season.
But in the moments immediately prior, Cameron Dicker was just busy.
Kicking into a practice net on the Chargers’ sideline, the rookie was so focused on his preparation that he might have been the only person in SoFi Stadium who didn’t see the play everyone was talking about afterward.
With the score tied in the closing seconds, quarterback Justin Herbert led the Chargers on the decisive drive, one that included a rolling-out 35-yard completion to Mike Williams.
“I just heard people yell,” Dicker explained later. “So I looked over and, ‘Oh, we’re way down there.’ It was a cool thing.”
Cool, like Dicker himself. Two snaps after the Williams reception, Dicker nailed a 43-yard field goal with four seconds remaining to lift the Chargers to a 17-14 victory.
The winner was Dicker’s second as a Charger and third in the NFL. He had one for Philadelphia in Week 5 before joining his new team a month later as an injury replacement.
“A game-changer, for sure,” Williams called Dicker. “A true game-changer.”
With the victory, the Chargers improved to 8-6 and leap-frogged Miami and New England into sixth place in the AFC. They trail Baltimore by one game for the conference’s top wild-card spot.
Their big move was made possible because the four teams closest to the Chargers in the standings all lost over the last two days.
“It’s winning time right now,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “We got three games left. We gotta win out. We like where we’re at.”
The victory Sunday was the Chargers’ second in a row over a team with a winning record, something they hadn’t achieved until beating the Dolphins, also at home, in Week 14.
Similar to that win, this one was highlighted by a defense that suddenly has emerged after a season-long performance that could accurately be described as uneven.
The Chargers held the Titans scoreless from early in the second quarter until the game’s final minute. They forced seven punts, stopped Tennessee on eight of 11 third downs and sacked Ryan Tannehill four times, all in the second half.
Bullying running back Derrick Henry carried 21 times for 104 yards, but his longest effort went for only 13. The Titans produced just two plays that gained more than 18 yards.
Sebastian Joseph-Day and Breiden Fehoko had tackles for loss and Nasir Adderley had an interception. Tranquill finished with a game-high 10 tackles, including a key fourth-quarter sack.
“Our defense won us the game today,” coach Brandon Staley said. “They gave us a chance. I’m really proud of the way that group’s coming together.”
Staley’s defenders were so feisty that they got after more than just the Titans. They got after one another, too. Tennessee’s second-to-last drive began with an eight-yard run by Henry when miscommunication left too much space up front. After forcing the Titans to punt, the defense retreated to the sideline to discuss the situation.
“We had a heated exchange … linebackers and D-line were getting after each other a little bit,” Tranquill said. “But it’s just the competitive greatness in this group. … It’s all love. We’re all brothers. We got the ‘dub.’ That’s all that matters.”
Asked for his version of the events, defensive lineman Morgan Fox smiled and said he and his teammates were simply sorting through the details, noting the high standards the defense has for itself.
Then he smiled again and added: “I wouldn’t call it heated. I would call it friendly banter. That wasn’t heated. I’ve been in heated. That wasn’t heated.”
After playing so well for so long, the Chargers’ defense wilted on Tennessee’s final drive. The Titans went 74 yards in 11 plays, scoring the tying points on a one-yard run by Tannehill and Randy Bullock’s extra point with 48 seconds left.
As Tennessee was moving for the equalizing score, Staley used all three of his timeouts to preserve what clock he could. There were 44 seconds remaining when his offense took over at its 23-yard line.
To that stage, the afternoon had been mostly a struggle for Herbert, who committed two interceptions and, during one stretch, led seven consecutive possessions that produced no points.
Both of the Chargers’ touchdowns came on the ground — a one-yard run by Joshua Kelley in the first quarter and a three-yarder by Austin Ekeler in the fourth. The Chargers also punted seven times and finished four of 13 on third down.
But Herbert then completed three consecutive passes for 57 yards, including the 35-yard strike to Williams, to bring Dicker’s right leg into play. Later, Staley would call poise Herbert’s “biggest trait.”
“That’s what you need to be a contender,” Tranquill said of the team’s third-year quarterback. “And we certainly have it in him.”
With every team around them in the standings losing, the Chargers nearly gave away what unfolded as a stunning opportunity to seize control of their postseason fate.
Then Herbert fired deep to Williams, and the Chargers won a game that became their seventh in a row decided by one score.
“Chargers football, man,” Ekeler said. “It doesn’t always have to be like that, right? We need to convince ourselves of that.”