GLENDALE, Ariz. — Inside a lively State Farm Stadium on Sunday, the Los Angeles Chargers‘ season teetered on the brink, but coach Brandon Staley did not flinch.
Trailing the Arizona Cardinals 24-17, quarterback Justin Herbert completed a 1-yard touchdown pass to running back Austin Ekeler to pull the Bolts within a point, 24-23, with 15 seconds remaining.
Following the score, Staley could have elected to kick an extra point and likely send the game to overtime.
Instead, the offense remained on the field and Herbert converted a 2-point play to tight end Gerald Everett to lift the Chargers to a 25-24 win.
“We came here to win,” Staley said of his decision. “We’re just living week to week. It was about this game for us and pouring into this game and doing what we felt like was going to win us the football game.”
High risk, high reward.
“We don’t come to lose. We don’t come to tie,” said wide receiver Keenan Allen. “Let’s win.”
The win keeps the Chargers (6-5) in the hunt for an AFC playoff spot. A loss would have sent their chance of a postseason berth spiraling.
“At this point, all games for us are like a must-win,” Ekeler said. “You see the rest of the AFC winning games … we got to catch up a few.”
“It definitely was a must-win for us,” said safety Derwin James Jr., who produced two first-half turnovers that the Bolts were unable to capitalize on.
James said he would not allow his mind to ponder what would have happened to the season had the 2-point attempt failed.
The victory improved the Bolts’ chances of earning their first playoff berth since 2018 to 60%, according to ESPN analytics. A loss would have dropped their chances to 36%.
“I imagined that we were going to go for it because that’s just how aggressive we play,” said Herbert, who completed 35 of 47 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns, despite taking four sacks. “I love that about our coach.”
ESPN’s analytics agreed with Staley’s decision to go for the 2-point play. The Chargers had a 45.2% chance to win kicking the extra point, and a 45.6% chance to win going for two.
The offense struggled throughout the game to develop a consistent rhythm as the Bolts fell behind in the first half by double digits for a sixth time this season.
After punting on the first three possessions, Herbert led back-to-back scoring drives and the Chargers went into halftime trailing 17-14.
Out of the break, kicker Cameron Dicker made a 26-yard field goal to tie the game at 17, but quarterback Kyler Murray put the Cardinals ahead in the fourth quarter 24-17 on a 6-yard touchdown pass to James Conner.
Three of the Chargers’ five second-half possessions resulted in punts before Herbert put together the game-winning drive, something he failed to do in back-to-back losses the past two weeks against the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, when he threw interceptions to end both games.
But on Sunday, following a 20-yard punt return from DeAndre Carter, Herbert put together a seven-play, 38-yard drive that resulted in Ekeler reaching the pylon on a short pass.
“He made a lot of winning plays on that two-minute drive,” Staley said. “When we really needed him in the clutch, he delivered.”
Staley said he knew early in the drive that they would go for a 2-point play to win and that the playcall would be to Everett.
“Smooth like chocolate milk,” Staley said in describing the play, which found Everett wide open across the goal line.
“No one wanted it more than me. I was just excited when [Herbert] actually called it in the huddle,” said Everett, who had four catches for 18 yards. “I just gave Justin that look and he knew. I trusted him and he trusted me.”
“Everybody knew the ball was going to Gerald,” said Allen, who caught his first touchdown pass of the season in the first half. “He had to be big time right there.”
The Chargers’ season depended on it.