An emotional victory for the Chargers on Sunday night at SoFi Stadium was visible on the field — and off.
Moments after the Chargers defeated the Miami Dolphins 23-17, coach Brandon Staley was asked about his animated behavior following a key late completion by quarterback Justin Herbert.
“I saw a lot of winning plays out there tonight,” he said. “They gave me a lot of reasons to be excited. That’s just the truth. There were a lot of big plays out there. … I want them to see me that way.
“Like I told them: ‘I’m not just doing that because I feel like it. I’m doing that because you guys made me do it.’ It was great for our team tonight. I thought our team played with a lot of energy.”
The Chargers stifled Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and an offense that entered as one of the NFL’s best, particularly through the air.
Tagovailoa, one of the league’s most accurate passers through 13 weeks, finished 10 for 28 for 145 yards, 60 of which came on one completion, a third-quarter touchdown pass to Tyreek Hill.
His 112 passer rating was on pace to break Miami’s franchise record for a season. Tagovailoa’s rating Sunday night: 65.3.
“Defensively, we just answered all the challenges in the game,” Staley said. “They’re having a tremendous year offensively. They have a lot of weapons. We’re down a ton of guys.
“But you saw the competitiveness within our program, guys trying to prove themselves and showcase themselves to the league and also showcase our defense to the league.”
The Chargers played without Pro Bowl safety Derwin James Jr., who missed the game because of a quadriceps injury.
They also were missing cornerback Bryce Callahan (core muscle) and defensive tackle Sebastian Joseph-Day (knee).
In all, the Chargers played without six projected defensive starters, a group that included three reigning Pro Bowl players.
Playing aggressive and tight against a speedy Miami offense that included Hill and fellow wideout Jaylen Waddle, the Chargers pressed and pushed the Dolphins all over the field.
Miami led the NFL in yards per passing attempt (8.11) and was second in passing yards per game (290.5). Those numbers Sunday were 5.2 and 127.
On offense, the Chargers welcomed back Pro Bowl center Corey Linsley and wide receiver Mike Williams with obvious results.
Williams finished with six receptions for 116 yards and one touchdown. His return opened up things for Keenan Allen, who had 12 catches for 92 yards.
“When you get Mike back in this movie, it just looks different,” Staley said. “It feels different. There’s just more available to you. Those guys were able to connect tonight.”
Herbert completed 39 of 51 attempts for 367 yards. Austin Ekeler scored the Chargers’ other touchdown on a one-yard run late in the first half.
Because of the performance of the team’s defense, the Chargers’ offense had room to be less than efficient.
The Chargers scored only two touchdowns in six red-zone trips and just one in three goal-to-go situations.
Instead, they were forced to settle for three field goals by Cameron Dicker from 33, 31 and 28 yards.
But Herbert and the rest were good enough, Staley noting how nine players caught passes.
“That’s the offense that we like to play, where people touch the ball,” he said. “Justin was fantastic with his decision-making.”
The win lifted the Chargers back into the seventh and final playoff position in the AFC. At 7-6, they have the same record as the New York Jets but have a better conference record. The Jets lost Sunday to Buffalo.
The Chargers are a half-game ahead of New England, which plays Monday night at Arizona.
Starting with next Sunday’s home game against Tennessee, the Chargers figure to be favored in each of their final four games.
Their domination of the Dolphins was quite thorough. The Chargers capped a one-sided first half by moving 90 yards in 13 plays to take a 17-7 lead after two quarters.
Ekeler keyed the drive by turning a short completion into a 16-yard gain on the next-to-last play, giving the Chargers fourth and goal from the Dolphins’ one-yard line.
Staley passed on a short field-goal attempt and instead went for the touchdown. His decision paid off when Ekeler ran over left tackle and bounced across the goal line behind blocks from tight end Tre’ McKitty and fullback Zander Horvath.
More impressive was what the Chargers’ defense did to Tagovailoa and Miami’s offense. The Dolphins quarterback reached intermission with three completions on 15 attempts for 25 yards.
Miami had only five first downs, totaling 55 yards on 24 plays, and 20 of those yards came on one run by Jeff Wilson Jr.
“We weren’t surprised,” cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. said. “That’s how we expected to play. With D.J. [James] and Bryce down, other guys needed to step in and make plays. That’s just what happened.”