The Chargers opened the season Sunday with a 24-19 victory over Las Vegas at SoFi Stadium.
Justin Herbert and Khalil Mack starred on a day when the Chargers never trailed and produced the game’s only three turnovers.
Here’s what else stood out:
New Chargers contribute
Herbert’s touchdown passes went to newcomers Zander Horvath, DeAndre Carter and Gerald Everett. Horvath was a seventh-round pick in April, and Carter and Everett were both free-agent signings.
Herbert threw to Horvath in the left flat for a one-yard score early in the second quarter. The rookie fullback would have been an unlikely pregame pick to be on the other end of Herbert’s first scoring pass of the season.
“I’m sure a lot of people weren’t expecting that,” Horvath said. “Great play call. I just executed, in there doing my thing, doing what I’m supposed to do.”
The Everett touchdown was much more eye-popping. After a play-action fake, Herbert rolled to his left as two Raiders defenders closed. Without stopping, he fired the ball at Everett’s back shoulder.
The veteran tight end made the catch just inside the five-yard line and then forced his way through Las Vegas safety Roderic Teamer, who is a former Charger, and into the end zone.
“It was a simple play really,” Everett said. “That was all Justin. I was just trying to be there for the guy. … The scramble, keeping his eyes downfield, the ball placement, him going through his reads. I looked up and the ball was in the air.”
Carter filled Allen’s shoes
Carter finished the game with three catches for 64 yards, his touchdown coming on a 23-yard completion in the final minute of the first half.
He emerged after Keenan Allen was lost to a hamstring injury late in the second quarter.
“As soon as I went out, ’Dre came in making plays,” Allen said. “That’s what you like to see when you go out. The offense didn’t stall at all. They kept things going. They kept things moving.”
Carter signed in the offseason to be the Chargers’ primary return man, something he wasn’t able to show Sunday. He fair caught one punt and did not have a kickoff return.
Defensive reunion a big help
The Chargers rebuilt their defense in the offseason by adding several players who have had success playing for coach Brandon Staley in the past, including Mack, slot cornerback Bryce Callahan and defensive linemen Sebastian Joseph-Day and Morgan Fox.
A year ago, the defense struggled because of a lack of familiarity with Staley’s scheme and the inability of some players to fit properly into the scheme. As injuries mounted, the Chargers’ lack of depth was exposed.
“That’s what our vision was, was to build a complete defensive football team,” Staley said Sunday. “I think that’s what you saw out there today, was a complete defensive football team. There’s still a lot of work to do.”
Asked specifically about the performance of the new additions, Staley said he saw exactly what he thought he’d see. Along with Mack’s three sacks, Callahan had five tackles and an interception, and Fox split a sack with Joey Bosa.
“I’ve seen those guys do all that,” Staley said. “So for me, it wasn’t anything new. I told the team that. Those guys played how they always play, how I’ve always seen them play. … I’m just glad everybody got to see it today.”
Bryce Callahan was great in slot
Along with his interception, Callahan was instrumental in limiting Las Vegas receiver Hunter Renfrow. A 2021 Pro Bowl player, Renfrow wasn’t even targeted until late in the third quarter.
He finished with three catches for 21 yards. When these teams met in Week 18 last season, Renfrow had a pair of receiving touchdowns.
“Bryce Callahan is one of the top inside defenders in the league, and he has been since 2015,” Staley said. “You guys are all seeing why we brought him here and why we have so much faith and confidence in him.
“He’s a prime-time player, and he can do a lot of things out there that help you win games. I’m really proud of him. I know that taking the field with him, it’s a great feeling as a coach.”
Samuel had impact
Asante Samuel Jr. had a few rough stretches as Davante Adams caught 10 passes for 141 yards in his Las Vegas debut. However, the second-year corner finished with four tackles and two passes knocked away. He also had his third career interception.
Early in the fourth quarter, Derek Carr tried to go deep to Adams. Samuel came off the man he was covering when Carr committed and tracked down the ball, picking it off inside the Chargers’ five-yard line.
“That interception is about as good as you’re going to see in the NFL,” Staley said. “He’s capable of that. He’s playing with confidence. He’s fearless. He got beat a couple of times out there today, but it doesn’t bother him, which I love.”
Samuel also had a brief tussle with Adams after one play.
“I like that,” teammate Derwin James Jr. said. “That’s part of football. He’s definitely got it in him. I like it.”
Derwin James can sack
James had the first of the Chargers’ six sacks, dropping Carr on the Raiders’ second offensive play.
He went around left tackle Kolton Miller, who was battling Mack at the time, and then over running back Josh Jacobs before climbing onto Carr and bringing him down.
“Go watch that on film because that man is special,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said of James. “He’s just an unbelievable player. Deserves everything he just got in that contract and more.”
Last month, James signed an extension that added four years and $76 million — $42 million in total guarantees — to his rookie deal.
Punter JK Scott impressed
Punter JK Scott had an impressive debut for the Chargers, too, his first attempt being downed at the Las Vegas two-yard line.
Scott averaged 49 yards on four punts. Renfrow returned two of those punts for only four yards total and had one fair catch.
“The operation,” Staley said, “was really critical to our success.”