It was a rough game for both the Chargers and the Washington Football Team. It felt like an old-school slugfest type of game that was sealed on the final drive with one team playing keep away. Usually, it is the opposing team playing keep away from the Chargers.
Not on Sunday during their 20-16 victory.
The Chargers defense had just held Washington to punt with 6:43 left on the clock. In any obvious situation like this, one side is trying to milk the clock, and the other is trying to stop them.
"One of those drives where it is like 'hey, they know we're going to run the ball we know we're going to run the ball’ let's run the ball,'" said Austin Ekeler.
The offense instead decided to throw the ball. Well, it was decided for them after left guard Oday Aboushi was called for a hands to the face on second-and-6 with receiver Keenan Allen just having caught an 18-yard pass that was negated.
Incomplete on second down.
The ball was on the 12-yard line, the offense with their backs against the wall and on third down needing 16 yards. Herbert had a clean pocket, so he found Allen for what would have been a 15-yard gain, but Allen lunged forward for an extra two yards. First down.
"Once I caught that one, I was in my groove," said Allen. "I was in my groove before when I caught the first one, the one we got the holding on, so felt comfortable. Felt like it was going to be a good drive. It was, but K.J. came in and made two catches that's big time, and you see Herbert, man great drive."
The next couple of plays and the Chargers offense faces third and three. The clock is at 4:19 while Herbert drops back with another clean pocket and finds K.J. Hill open between two defenders for a 19-yard gain. He was only supposed to be used as a punt returner and ends up making three catches for 30-yards in the game.
With the clock reading 2:14, the Chargers faced a 3rd and 7. The offensive line kept the pocket clean while Herbert threw a nice back-shoulder 20-yard pass to Mike Williams. Offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi and Herbert said Williams would get an increased role in the offense, and he stepped up on Sunday.
"It's huge," says Herbert about the final drive. "I was just talking with Coach Staley about third-down efficiency, and 14 of 19 is unheard of, for us to be that efficient and find those guys in Keenan and Jared Cook. All of them made huge third-down catches. That is big for our offense and holds the defense off the field. Gives them some time to break. So, I think it is big for us."
The Chargers got in the red zone and kept bleeding the clock now saying 1:54 with Washington down to only one timeout. The Bolts faced third down yet again, and Herbert had Allen come into motion. He snapped the ball while Allen waited for Jalen Guyton and Williams to start their route running first so it could disrupt the secondary and leave him open.
It did for a nine-yard catch, which gave the offense their fourth third-down conversion on the drive. It also gave Allen his ninth catch of the game and eclipsed the 100-yard mark.
"I really thought the story of the game was the way we played on third down we were 14 of 19, and on that last drive, we completed four third-down conversions and finished the game with the ball," explained head coach Brandon Staley. "I thought we managed the clock extremely well, I felt like we mixed it run and pass so that they had forced them to use their timeout, and when we had that big conversion, there at the end to Keenan, we're able to finish the game with the ball."
The Chargers lined up in victory formation three times, and they sealed the victory.
"I think third down is so much about keeping yourself protected in this league, understanding your protection plan, and then knowing those coverages that you're going to face and when it does get tight 'Where am I going with the football?' and I felt like we had a really good third-down plan," said Staley.
For most of the game, it seemed like offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi called a good game, especially in the fourth quarter.
It is a new season, but these weren't games the Bolts won last season. They blew numerous fourth-quarter leads and gave games away. It seems like the team has learned from that, and on Sunday, they found a way to win against a tough Washington team.
"Yeah, it's all experienced," said Herbert. "Whether you win or whether you lose, you learn from it, and unfortunately, we lost too many last year, and we had to learn from that."
The second-year quarterback was a maestro at the end of the game and closed out the game beautifully. It was an ugly game, but the Chargers found a way to win.
"It's always great to walk away with a win, especially on the road, and that's what good teams have to do," said Herbert.