Chargers put faith in Justin Herbert, who delivers victory over Chiefs

·4 min read
Los Angeles Chargers' Mike Williams (81) makes a touchdown reception during the second half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs, Sunday, Sept. 26, 2021, in Kansas City, Mo. Los Angeles won 30-24. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
Chargers' Mike Williams (81) catches the deciding touchdown pass. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

They went for it on fourth down early in the fourth quarter and again late in the fourth quarter.

They called a running play in the final minute but included the option to pass if the young quarterback thought it was best.

At the most crucial moments Sunday, Brandon Staley turned over the Chargers’ game to Justin Herbert, and Herbert delivered a dramatic, dynamic victory to his coach.

“We want to put the ball in Justin Herbert’s hand,” Staley said later, “and have him be the decider.”

Herbert’s decisions — along with his glaring talent and the shiny weapons he has orbiting him— led the Chargers to a 30-24 win over the Kansas City Chiefs, the franchise that has owned the AFC the past two seasons.

The win represented a stunning bounce back for Herbert and the Chargers, who lost in Week 2 at home to Dallas amid a barrage of mistakes, most of which were self-inflicted.

“You have to win games like this on the road in this league in order to separate yourself,” safety Derwin James said. “We had a bad taste in our mouth from last week … but we came back. We didn't pout, and we came back stronger.”

The Chargers (2-1) won after blowing a 14-3 halftime lead and falling behind first in the third quarter and again in the fourth quarter.

They won despite giving up 17 consecutive points and barely possessing the ball — the Chiefs ran 36 offensive plays to the Chargers’ nine during one stretch.

They won even though they finished with fewer first downs and total yards and more penalties and punts.

Staley called the performance “a resilient win against a quality team.” He likened Kansas City’s firepower to that of the recent three-time NBA champion Golden State Warriors.

“You want to measure yourself against people that you really, really respect,” he said of the Chiefs. “And we have a lot of respect for them.”

The Chargers scored the winning points when Herbert hit Mike Williams for a four-yard touchdown with 32 seconds left.

As the offense broke the huddle, the plan was to run the ball. But Herbert liked the matchup outside of the 6-foot-4 Williams against 5-10 cornerback Mike Hughes.

Chargers' Nasir Adderley (24) and Kemon Hall (37) after stopping the Chiefs on their last drive.
Chargers' Nasir Adderley (24) and Kemon Hall (37) after stopping the Chiefs on their last drive. The defense came up with four turnovers. (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)

Williams had torched Hughes for a 20-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter and again for a 16-yard gain immediately before the final score. This time, he ran a fade and easily topped Hughes a third time.

“Justin trusted me to go make a play,” Williams said. “I went up and made a play.”

The fifth-year receiver finished with seven catches for 122 yards and two scores. He has 22 receptions for 295 yards and four touchdowns through three games.

“You can't say enough about Mike Will,” Staley said. “This guy all year … has been fantastic.”

The Chargers had a chance late only because of what their defense did, especially early. Asante Samuel Jr. had his second interception of the season and Tevaughn Campbell forced two fumbles — all on Kansas City’s first three possessions.

Second-year safety Alohi Gilman had his first career interception late in the fourth quarter as the Chargers won the turnover battle 4-0, a statistic Staley said “was as impactful as anything in the game.”

Playing against the NFL’s version of the gunning basketball Warriors, Staley followed through on his pregame promise to be aggressive.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, he decided to not attempt a long field goal and allow Herbert and the offense to go for it on fourth and four at the Kansas City 28-yard line.

Herbert passed to Keenan Allen for nine yards. Just two plays later, he and Williams hooked up for their 20-yard score to put the Chargers up 21-17.

In the final minute, Staley opted to again pass on a long field goal try on fourth and four at the Kansas City 30. After a false-start penalty on rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater, Staley stayed with that decision.

Herbert fired a pass to Jalen Guyton, who failed to make the catch but drew a pass-interference penalty. This time, it was three plays later that Herbert and Williams teamed up for a touchdown, Herbert's fourth scoring pass of the day.

“I felt like all of our decisions were sound decisions,” Staley said. “They weren't over aggressive. I felt like they were just aggressive.”

Another factor: Sunday’s game was played in a gusting wind that registered 20 mph at kickoff. Chargers kicker Tristan Vizcaino missed his first extra-point try and his final one.

“That’s what I felt was best in the game,” Staley said. “I felt like where we were with the wind, which had a lot to do with the kicking game today, I felt like putting the ball in Justin's hands was the right decision.”

The results confirmed that choice.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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