It took every ounce of energy for the Chargers to defeat the Cardinals 25-24 Sunday afternoon in Week 12. But in the NFL, you don't get style points in how you win. It's simply a win or loss league, and ultimately the Chargers came away with a victory to improve to a 6-5 record.
There were many factors at play that enabled the Chargers an opportunity to come away on top. Quarterback Justin Herbert completed 35-of-47 passes for 274 yards and three touchdowns. Derwin James was responsible for two takeaways, forcing a fumble and intercepting a Kyler Murray pass intended to DeAndre Hopkins on fourth-and-one.
But the impact DeAndre Carter made Sunday at State Farm Stadium also paid large dividends.
Carter, brought in last offseason as a return specialist on a one-year, $1.1 million contract, has outplayed those prior notions.
As the Chargers' wide receiver group has been decimated with injuries for much of this season, Carter has stepped into a larger pass-catching role than previously thought entering the season.
Keenan Allen has missed seven games, Mike Williams has missed three games and Joshua Palmer has missed one game. As several wide receivers have been sidelined with injuries, Carter has offered a reliable option to Justin Herbert, playing in all 11 games.
Against Arizona in Week 12, Carter produced a career-high seven receptions and 73 yards, finding the end zone once in the first half.
“I’m just grateful that coach [Brandon] Staley and coach [Joe] Lombardi gave me the opportunity to be out there to help contribute to the offense," Carter said of his growing role in the offense. "When I can, I just try to take advantage of the opportunities when they come my way. When Justin [Herbert] is looking for me, I make sure that I try to make those plays."
Carter's biggest play of Sunday's game came on a 33-yard touchdown. Before the snap, Carter was sent in motion from right to left, and broke free down the left sideline in which Herbert hit him for the scoring play to take the lead late in the second quarter.
“He’s been an invaluable player for us. Just a true example of a professional," Staley said of Carter. "He’s an example of who we want to try to build this football team with because he does so many things for us. He plays a lot of different positions. He has just made a lot of winning plays for us the entire season and he has been there for us in the clutch. He has earned the trust of Justin and our offensive coaches in every way."
Carter is on pace to finish the season near the 700-yard receiving mark, which would shatter his previous career-high of 296 yards. And while his presence has been felt as a pass-catcher, Carter has remained the team's kick and punt returner, holding things down on the back end for the special teams unit.
As Sunday's game reached the two-minute mark in the fourth quarter, the Chargers would get one last opportunity to orchestrate a miracle come-from-behind win. They did just that, following Carter's punt return that set up the offense in plus territory.
Cardinals punter Andy Lee punted the ball 50 yards, but Carter strung together a pivotal return, gaining 20 yards before being downed at the Arizona 43-yard line.
"I think you are seeing he has had an outstanding year on punt returns for us," Staley said. "You can see his experience and his play-making ability express itself in that phase for us. As you saw yesterday with that 20-yard return, was really big for us."
Carter's 10.9 punt return average would set a career-high, and ranks ninth in the NFL among returners with at least 10 attempts.
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Read more from Charger Report:
- Takeaways From Chargers' 25-24 Week 12 Win Over Cardinals
- Brandon Staley's Late-Game Gamble Stuns Cardinals in 25-24 Comeback Win
- Live In-Game Updates: Chargers at Cardinals Week 12
- Pregame Report: Chargers at Cardinals Week 12
- Chargers at Cardinals Week 12 Game Prediction
Nick Cothrel is the publisher of Charger Report. Follow Nick on Twitter @NickCothrel for more Chargers coverage.