The Chargers clinched the franchise’s first playoff appearance in four years Monday with a 20-3 victory over the Indianapolis Colts.
They improved to 9-6 and are sixth in the AFC, trailing Baltimore (10-5) by one game. With two regular-season weeks remaining, the Chargers still could pass the Ravens for the conference’s top wild-card spot.
Here are some takeaways from the Chargers’ third consecutive victory:
Tough road called for toughness
Coach Brandon Staley improved to 18-14 overall while reaching the playoffs in his second season as head coach.
He credited his team’s fortitude in overcoming a series of significant injuries that began before the season started and rallying late after sitting at 6-6 just three weeks ago.
Among the biggest-named Chargers who have missed notable time in 2022: Joey Bosa, J.C. Jackson, Derwin James Jr., Keenan Allen, Mike Williams and Rashawn Slater.
“We would not be here today if it were not for the toughness of our football team, the makeup of our football team,” Staley said. “For far too long people have talked about the talent of this team and the organization, and that’s ultimately not what gets you where you want to go.
“You have to prove your toughness, and that’s what we’ve proven so far this year. … We have a tough enough football team — mentally and physically — to be where we are right now, which is in the tournament.
“But our season is not over. We have two more games against really, really good teams [Rams and Denver Broncos], and we need to search to play our best football so we can not only get into the playoffs but make a run to a Super Bowl championship.”
Influx of grit
During the most recent offseason, the Chargers’ additions included Khalil Mack, Kyle Van Noy, Morgan Fox, Bryce Callahan, Sebastian Joseph-Day, Gerald Everett and Troy Reeder.
Staley mentioned each of those players while explaining that the Chargers “onboarded” a lot of toughness to add to the players who were already here when he was hired in January 2021.
“That’s what you have to do,” he said. “You can’t just instill toughness in someone. They either have it or they don’t. So what you have to do is you have to join up with the right guys.”
Third-year quarterback Justin Herbert will now play in the postseason for the first time. He credited the front office — led by general manager Tom Telesco — for putting the team in this position.
“I think the Chargers organization has done such a great job these past couple of years,” he said. “It didn’t go our way the past two years. But they stuck with it, and they’re doing everything they can. So it’s an honor to be a part of it.”
Putting the ‘D’ in dominant
The Chargers’ defense stood out for the third consecutive game, holding the Colts to just a field goal. It was the first time since Nov. 11, 2018, that the Chargers didn’t allow at least one touchdown.
“It was a complete performance,” Staley said. “It was a dominant performance and certainly one that we expect. I’m really proud of the guys because they’ve come together and made it happen.”
Over the past four weeks, the Chargers have limited their opponents to nine of 42 on third down, the best mark in the NFL during that time.
They’ve also shut out the opposition in four straight first quarters, the franchise’s longest such streak since 2011.
“[We] just have a unit that’s really connected out there,” Staley said, “a team that’s playing extremely hard, playing extremely disciplined.”
Out of rhythm
Offensively, the Chargers weren’t at their best. They scored only two touchdowns against a team that had surrendered 93 points in its previous two games.
Herbert had two turnovers — an interception and a fumble — and was sacked four more times. The Chargers did top 100 rushing yards for just the third time this season but needed 32 attempts to get to 101.
They failed to score a third-quarter touchdown for the 10th consecutive game and had five series that lasted only three plays.
The Chargers’ third-quarter woes were summed up on one play on their opening possession. Herbert connected with Donald Parham Jr. for a 30-yard gain that put the ball at the Colts’ 31.
But the play was wiped out because of a holding penalty on right tackle Trey Pipkins III.
“I think that we’re still trying to find that rhythm,” Staley said.
Allen caught 11 passes for 104 yards, but Staley lamented Williams finishing with only four catches.
Herbert had just his fourth career game without a touchdown pass. But two of those contests have now come back-to-back. His most recent scoring pass went to Williams in the second quarter against Miami on Dec. 11.
In his own words
“At the end of the day, it’s going to take defense to win championships. Our defense playing like that — and if we get Joey [Bosa] back — my goodness. I’m looking forward to watching these boys fly around.” — running back Austin Ekeler on what’s happening on the other side of the ball.