The Chargers beat Miami 23-17 on Sunday night to improve to 7-6 and move into the AFC’s seventh and final playoff spot, at least for a day. If visiting New England defeats Arizona on Monday night, the Patriots will take over the seventh position.
The victory was the Chargers’ first over an opponent with a winning record, the Dolphins entering at 8-4.
The Chargers play 7-6 Tennessee at SoFi Stadium next weekend before visiting 4-8-1 Indianapolis on “Monday Night Football” the day after Christmas.
They conclude the regular season at home against the 4-9 Rams (Jan. 1) and then at 3-10 Denver (Jan. 7 or 8).
Some observations about their latest victory:
Top targets team up again (finally): Mike Williams returned after missing most of the last five games because of a high ankle sprain, and the difference was obvious early.
On the Chargers’ opening series, Williams adjusted in midair to make a sparkling catch over Miami cornerback Xavien Howard, a three-time Pro Bowl selection. The play went for 23 yards and converted a third and nine.
“Justin [Herbert] gave me an opportunity to make a play,” Williams said of his quarterback. “I love those types of situations, one-on-one. I feel like the ball is mine. I was just able to make a play on it.”
Williams later added a touchdown on a 10-yard reception. He also had a 55-yard catch in the third quarter. Williams finished with six receptions for 116 yards.
Sunday marked the first time this season that the Chargers started and ended a game with both Williams and Keenan Allen — their top two wide receivers — healthy.
Williams said his ankle tightened up late in the game but otherwise felt fine.
“I just wanted to be available the whole game for my team,” he said, “just make plays and help us come out with the win.”
Record-setting Herbert rolls on: With four games still to go, Herbert topped Andrew Luck for the most yards passing by a player in his first three NFL seasons. Herbert’s total is now 13,056.
“He’s just getting better,” Allen said. “He’s just starting. He’s about to blow this league away.”
Herbert was 39 for 51 for 367 yards. That’s his single-game high in completions and his fourth-best yardage output for one game.
“He’s the X factor,” Williams said. “He’s been doing it since he’s been here. Everybody knows what type of player he is. He’s a leader on this team. We just got to continue to follow him.”
One of Herbert’s biggest — and most pinpoint — completions came to Allen to convert a critical third down on a fourth-quarter drive that all but sealed the victory.
Herbert led the offense on a 17-play, 79-yard march that consumed 8:39 and ended with a 28-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker, putting the Chargers up by two scores — 23-14 — with 2:40 to go.
Along the way, the Herbert converted a third and five and a third and three with completions to Allen and a third and eight by scrambling for 10 yards.
“Playing the game he way always plays,” Allen said. “He always plays with that confidence. He always makes those plays. We were just able to capitalize on a lot of them.”
Let’s get physical: Facing some extreme speed — especially in Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle — the Chargers pressed Miami’s top two wide receivers, complicating things for quarterback Tua Tagovailoa.
Cornerbacks Asante Samuel Jr. and Michael Davis broke up passes as the Chargers clamped down on the Dolphins.
“Don’t let fast guys run down the field,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said when asked to explain the team’s strategy. “When you let fast guys run down the field and you let them run through zones with no one around, then it’s going to turn into a track meet.
“Guess what? You’re not as fast as they are. No one is. No one is as fast as they are. That’s why you see them do to people what they do because they’re really, really good. If you want a chance, you have to get closer to them.”
Hill had four receptions for 81 yards, 60 of which came on one play when Davis was in coverage and fell down as the ball arrived. Waddle had only two catches for 31 yards.
More defensive dominance: The Chargers held Miami to three three and outs, including two on the Dolphins’ first three possessions.
Kyle Van Noy had his first sack as a Charger, and Morgan Fox had a sack that resulted in a 12-yard loss. Both came on third down and forced punts.
“It was a hell of a game plan by our defensive staff, led by Renaldo Hill,” Staley said of his coordinator. “All of the guys that played tonight were committed to playing a complete game. We knew that if we played the way that we played, that it would look like that.”
The Chargers limited Miami to three for 11 on third down, the 27.3% success rate the best performance of the season for Staley’s defense.
The Dolphins finished with only 49 offensive plays compared with 78 for the Chargers, who had a time of possession advantage of more than 19 minutes.
Records, records, records: Sunday marked the 10th career game of 12 or more catches for Allen, an NFL record. He had entered the game tied with Wes Welker at nine.
With eight receptions, Austin Ekeler pushed his career total to 375, the most for an undrafted running back in the common draft era, which dates to 1967.
Ekeler has 93 catches for the season, the most of his career and also an NFL record for a running back through 13 games.
Herbert’s 39 completions were the second most in a game by a Chargers quarterback. Philip Rivers completed 43 passes against Green Bay in 2015.