The Chargers improved to 5-3 Sunday with a 20-17 victory over Atlanta on a walk-off 37-yard field goal by Cameron Dicker.
Observations from a somewhat crazy finish that saw both teams lose fumbles in the final 45 seconds:
DOWN BIG YET AGAIN: For the fourth consecutive game, the Chargers fell behind by double figures in the first quarter. The Falcons scored on their first two possessions to make it 10-0 after 15 minutes.
The Chargers have been outscored 51-3 in their last four first quarters.
“Yeah, we like to be 10-0,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said, smiling. “We like to get it the hard way.”
Atlanta produced the game’s initial nine first downs and had a 145-16 edge in total yards after one quarter.
Tranquill said the slow starts don’t have a common thread — penalties one week, run defense another week, etc. He dismissed the suggestion that the Chargers haven’t been prepared.
“I don’t think there’s something you can pinpoint,” he said. “I definitely don’t think it’s that we’re not ready to play.”
After struggling early, the Chargers allowed the Falcons only seven more points on their final seven possessions. Four of those series ended as three-and-outs.
“I just like the way we’ve made adjustments,” Tranquill said, “and kept ourselves in the game.”
DOWN BUT NOT OUT: Despite the recent early deficits, the Chargers have come back to win three of those four games. They also have won three road games in a row after going 4-4 away from SoFi Stadium in 2021.
They came back twice Sunday, falling behind again 17-14 late in the third quarter.
The Falcons’ second touchdown came on a bullish three-yard run by Cordarrelle Patterson, who reached the end zone after plowing over Tranquill, the NFL equivalent of being “posterized” on a dunk in basketball.
“Gosh, he got me, man!” Tranquill said. “He got me. He stuck his head down, though, so he’s gonna have a nice fine [from the league] sitting in his locker. But he got me, and everybody gets got. I’m not going to live it down.”
The defense’s resurgence in the second quarter was highlighted by sacks from Tranquill and Derwin James Jr., plays that forced the Falcons to punt on back-to-back possessions.
“Our guys just settled in,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I just felt like our guys really communicated, stayed connected and we did a good job of tackling after that and kept the ball in front of us.”
COMING THROUGH WHEN ENDED: With Keenan Allen (hamstring) and Mike Williams (ankle) injured and out, Joshua Palmer emerged with perhaps his finest NFL game, catching eight passes for a career-high 106 yards.
“This was a real feature game for Josh,” Staley said. “I thought you saw the type of receiver that we believe he is. He got his opportunities today, and he really took them and ran with them.”
Palmer said he spent part of Friday talking with Allen and Williams, the two veterans helping him prepare mentally for his increased role.
“They just set the record straight,” Palmer said. “They said, ‘Yo, look, go prove to everyone what you can do because we know what you can do. There’s no reason you shouldn’t go out there and dominate.’ ”
Asked what those words meant to him Sunday, Palmer smiled and said: “They were right. They were right.”
BIG MACK ATTACK: Veteran edge rusher Khalil Mack produced one of the game’s most memorable moments when he reached in and stole the ball from Atlanta wide receiver Drake London near the middle of the third quarter.
The play stopped Atlanta in the red zone, Mack returning the fumble to midfield.
“That’s who is he,” Staley said. “He’s one of the top ball producers this league has ever seen…What your special players do is in games like that and moments like that, they go make plays for you.”
INJURIES OF NOTE: The Chargers lost right tackle Trey Pipkins III and defensive lineman Austin Johnson during the game.
Pipkins aggravated a left knee sprain, said Staley. Johnson also suffered a knee injury.
After the game, Staley said he had no immediate update on either player.
IN HIS OWN WORDS: Tranquill on Atlanta defensive lineman Ta’Quon Graham fumbling the ball back to the Chargers in the fourth quarter: “I don’t know what actually happened. It looked like the guy hadn’t carried a football ever in his life.”