Lightning Can’t Stop Chargers; Bolts Defeat Raiders in MNF Showdown
The Los Angeles Chargers secured a critical win over the previously undefeated Las Vegas Raiders, riding an early lead to a 28-14 victory on Monday Night Football. The Bolts overcame weather delays, a SoFi Stadium power outage, as well as the tenacious play of their division rivals as they move into first place atop the AFC West standings.
This game was far from the offensive slugfest many thought it would be despite featuring two of the league’s most potent offenses. Instead, it was the defenses that dictated the pace of play, leading to a competitive football game that wasn’t decided until late in the fourth quarter.
First Half Dominance
The Chargers kicked off the game with an efficient 12-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Herbert to tight end Donald Parham. At that point, both pass rush units came alive, wreaking havoc on the opposing quarterbacks and stifling any offensive production.
Los Angeles’ defense forced the Raiders offense into four consecutive three-and-outs to begin the contest. It wasn’t until midway through the second quarter that the Black and Silver managed to record a first down. Las Vegas entered the night with one of the league’s most efficient offenses in terms of yardage but were held to just 213 yards of total offense on the night. The NFL’s passing leader, Derek Carr, averaged 401 yards per game through the first three weeks. The Bolts impressively limited him to just 196 yards passing.
After struggling to find their rhythm as well, Herbert and the Chargers’ offense efficiently closed out the half with a pair of touchdowns. The sophomore signal-caller calmly took control and orchestrated two great scoring drives. First, he found tight end Jared Cook leaping in the corner of the endzone for six before dropping a nice touch pass over the shoulder to running back Austin Ekeler. Ekeler would take the ball 14 yards for the score to push the Los Angeles lead to 21-0 heading into the locker room.
Despite winning their first three games of the season, the Raiders had trailed in every game so far, relying on second-half heroics to will themselves back into ball games. Head Coach Jon Gruden and his group have prided themselves on being a second-half team and began the third quarter with much better focus and execution. Carr led back-to-back scoring drives to begin the second half, connecting with two of his favorite targets, receiver Hunter Renfrow and tight end Darren Waller.
The Raiders’ play defensively also improved, forcing the Chargers into a pair of punts on their only two possessions of the third quarter. Trailing 21-14 with the ball and momentum, the Raiders seemed on track for another epic comeback. Not wanting any part of that story, Chargers Head Coach Brandon Staley and his squad of gangster football players put the clamps down to close the game out in style.
This Is How We Do It
Facing a 3rd-and-three from the Los Angeles 28 yard-line, Derek Carr dropped backed to pass but was violently met in the backfield by defensive tackle Christian Covington. Covington finished the play with a sack and a six-yard loss. This backed the Raiders up for a 52-yard field goal attempt from kicker Daniel Carlson who pulled it left for his first miss of the season.
On the ensuing drive, the Chargers were unable to move the chains with their first three plays, leading to a pivotal 4th-and-two from the 50-yard line. The Chargers aggressively decided to go for it, taking fate into their own hands. Herbert found a mismatch on the outside and hit Cook who made a phenomenal jumping catch over former Charger Denzel Perryman for the all-important first down. Los Angeles continued to patiently move the ball downfield before Ekeler finished the drive with an 11-yard touchdown run.
With 5:20 still left on the clock, the game was far from over and Carr had his team believing that they could still come back. After crossing midfield, Carr sent a pass intended for Waller that was intercepted by safety Derwin James. James had Waller completely wrapped up and by the time the ball left Carr’s hand, James had perfectly timed the route jumping in front of the big tight end and hauling in the game-deciding turnover. That was Carr’s first interception against the Bolts since 2018.
Revitalizing Run Game
Entering the game, the Chargers had little success running the football but that changed in a positive way Monday night. Ekeler had by far his best game of the season, craftily running behind the revamped offensive line to the tune of 117 yards on 15 carries. He constantly found seams in the defense that he exploded through for big gain after big gain and added 28 yards in the passing game.
Backup running back Justin Jackson continues to struggle in the early part of the season as he finished with -4 yards rushing on three attempts. Later in the game, he was replaced by rookie Larry Rountree who didn’t light up the box score (11 carriers, 31 yards) but still contributed in a major way. His 11 carries were second only to Ekeler which allowed for the veteran to get much-needed rest down the stretch. Ekeler has dealt with injuries throughout his professional career so the extra touches from Rountree played a significant role in Ekeler’s ability to close out the game, keeping him fresh and most importantly, healthy.
Company Of His Own
The Chargers pass rush unit thrived against the inferior competition along the Las Vegas offensive line. They harassed Carr nearly the entire game, recording 22 total pressures with four sacks and three quarterback hits. Defensive end Joey Bosa had a beautiful strip-sack on Carr early in the first quarter that was eventually recovered by the Raiders but does not take away from the accomplishment. In his 67th NFL game, Bosa now has 50 sacks on his career, becoming the fastest player in franchise history to reach that mark.
Los Angeles was without starting inside linebacker Kenneth Murray on Monday and will be missing him for at least a couple more weeks as the second-year player has been placed on the IR due to an ankle injury. In his place, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Kyzir White flourished with extra playing time and both played instrumental roles in this win. Tranquil was brought as a blitzer on many different occasions which allowed for Bosa to see more one-on-one matchups on the edge. Tranquil finished with five tackles, three pressures, and one quarterback hit. White was an absolute menace against the run game and played a big part in holding the Raiders to just 48 rushing yards on the night. White added four tackles, three run stops, and a tackle for loss.
The Raiders had two of their best cornerbacks go down in this game due to injury. Trayvon Mullen Jr. (foot) and Damon Arnette (groin) were unable to finish the game which left Las Vegas with only three cornerbacks on their active gameday roster. Having to guard the superstar receiving tandem of Keenan Allen and Mike Williams short-handed is not an easy task but the Raiders secondary rose to the challenge. The pair combined for only eight catches and 47 yards.
Looking elsewhere for completions, Herbert’s favorite connection seemed to be Cook as he continually threw his way during crucial situations. The 13-year veteran finished with six catches and a game-high 70 yards while also converting on two separate fourth-down scenarios. Third-string tight end Stephen Anderson had the longest play of any Chargers player on the day hauling in his lone target for a 34-yard gain. Parham, the backup tight end, scored the first touchdown of the night and finished with two catches for 17 yards.
The Chargers have a short week of practice as they host the Cleveland Browns this Sunday inside rowdy SoFi Stadium.