CHICAGO — For the first three weeks of October, the Los Angeles Chargers fell on the wrong end of fluky plays that cost them chances to win. Sunday's game against the Chicago Bears seemed headed in a similar direction before Eddy Pineiro's missed field goal on the final play flipped that script.
Pineiro, the Bears' first-year kicker acquired during the offseason, launched the football up and towards the center of the uprights before the wind pulled it just outside the left goal post. The stunned Chicago crowd fell silent as the Chargers stormed the field in celebration of their first win since Week 4.
Though the twist of fate might have come as a surprise to many given how often opportunities have slipped through the Chargers' grasp in 2019, the players claim they didn't doubt that the game-deciding kick would go their way.
"As soon as he kicked it, it's going left for sure, absolutely," wide receiver Keenan Allen says. "We all ran on the field. It's an L. We love it."
For much of the game, it seemed like the Bears, not the Chargers, would sneak away with the win. Los Angeles managed only one first down over their first five drives, four of which ended in a punt and another in a turnover. As has become common this year, the Chargers couldn't lift the offense with the ground game and quarterback Philip Rivers had few opportunities to move the ball through the air. The slick turf contributed to Allen falling down routes three times over the course of the afternoon, including one play that resulted in an interception.
The offense failed to capitalize on opportunities later in the game as well. Wide receiver Mike Williams failed to corral a 23-yard pass into the end zone that would have put the Chargers ahead early in the fourth quarter. Keenan Allen dropped another would-be touchdown on the following drive, setting up a 42-yard field-goal attempt the kicker Chase McLaughlin pushed to the right up the uprights. A different outcome on one of those plays would have either forced the Bears to score more points in the final minutes or put the game out of reach entirely.
"I tried to late-hands it at the end, wide receiver Mike Williams says of his missed scoring opportunity. "You know, keep the defender on my back and late-hand the ball, and he got a hand on it. Looking back, I Should have probably high-pointed it like the one I caught in the second quarter."
"Put an L on my shit," Allen says of his dropped touchdown. "Big drop. I kind of lost it because [Bears cornerback Prince Amukamara] was hanging in the air. Once he jumped, I lost it and dropped it, capital D."
Those types of mistakes doomed the Chargers in past weeks, but Bears quarterback Mitch Trubisky managed to negate them with errors of his own. Trubisky missed open receivers throughout the afternoon and made two critical turnovers. On the first, the third-year signal-caller tried to force a ball through zone coverage, resulting in an interception and long return for cornerback Casey Hayward. The second occurred in the fourth quarter when defensive end Joey Bosa pushed left tackle Charles Leno into Trubisky, causing a fumble that landed in the arms of Melvin Ingram.
"You could feel it all game," Ingram says of forcing Trubisky into mistakes. "We're going to rush no matter what's going on. We're going to keep rushing, keep rushing. And sooner or later, we're going to get there. We had a couple sacks today and that's what it's all about. It's not about just sacks. It's about him feeling us, and I felt like he felt our presence today."
But even with Trubisky putting his team in disadvantageous situations, he strung together enough plays on the final drive to move the Bears to the Los Angeles 22-yard line with enough time for a routine field goal. If not for Pineiro missing a kick he usually makes, the Chargers would have extended their losing streak to four games and fallen to 2-5 on the year. Instead, they finally caught a lucky break and escaped with a victory.
"At this point, I'll take anything," running back Austin Ekeler says. "It wasn't pretty, it came down to them. Hopefully, they miss the field goal. Fingers crossed. And they ended up missing it. But at this point, we've been on the other end of that type of game so we're taking anything in the W column right now."
Not all the Chargers see the victory as lucky, however. "Hell no, I don't believe in luck," Ingram says. "If something'll happen, it's going to happen. Ain't got nothing to do with luck or superstition."
"I think in the NFL, it's all about the margin of error," left tackle Russell Okung says. "Those who can capitalize on it, the errors made by the other team or the turnover differentiation, are proven to win. So, from a turnover standpoint, I think we won that today. I think we're plus-one. And from the mistakes standpoint, we made a lot less mistakes, and the special teams were able to finish it off at the end of the game. That's all we can ask for."
Lucky or not, the Chargers ended their three-game skid and breathed some life back into their season.
-- Jason B. Hirschhorn is an award-winning sports journalist and Pro Football Writers of America member. Follow him on Twitter: @by_JBH