Chargers Hot Start Carries Them To Season Opening Win
The Chargers are undefeated as they edged out a win in a back-and-forth contest Sunday morning. Los Angeles kicked off the 2021 NFL campaign with a 20-16 victory over the Washington Football Team at FedExField.
Herbert Heating Up
The Bolts began the game with tremendous momentum fueled by the impressive play of quarterback Justin Herbert. The second-year signal caller orchestrated a beautiful opening drive and mashed his team down the field and onto the scoreboard for the first points of the game. Picking up where he left off last season, Herbert displayed tremendous awareness and anticipation, completing his first six passes of the day to four different receivers. Los Angeles capped off the 10-play, 75-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run from Austin Ekeler.
Offensive Line Meshing
A big question heading into Sunday’s game was whether the Chargers’ brand-new offensive line would be able to keep Washington’s potent pass rush at bay. The group led by All-Pro center Corey Linsley and rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater embraced the challenge and turned in a spectacular performance. Herbert was provided more than enough time to deliver shots downfield, completing 31 of 47 passes for 337 yards and a touchdown. Facing arguably the best defensive front in football, the line surrendered just two sacks, four tackles for loss, and five quarterback hits. That is outstanding production for a unit that has spent just one offseason together and was limited throughout the preseason.
Fitzpatrick Exits Game With Injury
Early in the second quarter, Washington quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick dropped back to pass. As he began his throwing motion, he was viscously hit by defensive end Uchenna Nwosu. Nwosu beat his man with an inside move before delivering a shot to Fitzpatrick’s blindside and driving him into the turf. The impact forced Fitzpatrick to be helped off the field and into the locker room after suffering an apparent hip injury.
Backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke took his place and was able to give his team its first lead in the third quarter with a touchdown pass to tight end Logan Thomas. Ultimately, Washington’s passing attack was not as polished with Heinicke calling the shots. This allowed the Chargers’ defense to keyhole their opponents in crucial situations down the stretch.
Third Quarter Jitters
Despite a hot start in the first half, the Chargers came out of the halftime break sluggish and were held to zero points in the third quarter. Los Angeles drove into their opponent’s redzone on two separate occasions but both drives ended with turnovers.
The first came from 15-yards out and is one of the most bizarre football plays I have ever seen. What should have been ruled an incomplete pass by Justin Herbert, was ruled a 15-yard fumble that bounced through the endzone for a Washington touchback. Herbert also threw a redzone interception in his following possession but would make up for his mistakes with some fourth quarter heroics.
It’s Closing Time
Trailing 16-13, the Chargers needed to make a big play as the momentum appeared to be clearly favoring the Washington Football Team following two consecutive Los Angeles turnovers. Backed up on their own 4-yard line, Washington handed the ball off to running back Antonio Gibson who tried to bounce to the right sideline. Rookie corner Asante Samuel Jr. played fantastic containment and forced Gibson back into the pursuing linebacker Kyzir White. White punched the ball loose before defensive end Joey Bosa recovered it and gave the Chargers fantastic field position.
Three plays later, Herbert found receiver Mike Williams with one-on-one coverage. The former Clemson product was able to make a nice contested catch that would ultimately decide the outcome of the game. Williams finished with eight catches for 82-yards and the game-winning score.
The Chargers forced a Washington punt the ensuing drive and had the lead and the ball with less than seven minutes left to play in regulation. From the Los Angeles 12-yard line, the Bolts were forced into a crucial 3rd-and-16 situation. If unable to convert, they would have given the ball back to Washington with great field position and ample time to make a comeback.
Instead, Herbert calmly linked up with his favorite target of the day in Keenan Allen, who picked up the first and kept the drive alive. Allen posted game-highs in both receptions (nine) and yards (100). From there, the Bolts methodically moved the ball downfield and were able to run down the clock for their first win of the year.
Kicking Old Trends
In their season opener, the 2021 Los Angles Chargers were able to kick a brutal trend that has tragically plagued teams of the past. Under former head coach Anthony Lynn, the Chargers struggled to pull off wins in games decided by one score or less. Last season, the Bolts dropped six one-possession games and have an unimpressive record of 7-15 in such games dating back to the start of the 2019 season.
Next week the Chargers will look to maintain their momentum as they host the Dallas Cowboys in their home opener at SoFi Stadium. This marks the first home game open to the viewing public since its opening in September of last year.