Chargers overtake Colts for 1st playoff berth since 18

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INDIANAPOLIS – Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. raised his fist as he bounced off a Santa hat, while head coach Brandon Staley put his arm around owner Dean Spanos and presented him with a game ball.

“Since I’ve been here I’ve been hoping to give him a game ball,” shouted Staley. “He’s been patient. He’s invested in this team. He’s brought us all together… ball game, playoff appearance – Dean Spanos.”

Spanos, Staley and the Bolts had plenty to celebrate in the visitors’ locker room at Lucas Oil Field after beating the downtrodden Indianapolis Colts 20-3 on Monday night.

For the first time since 2018, the Chargers will return to the postseason, having secured a playoff berth after improving to 9-6 with two games left in the regular season.

“I’m not good at giving speeches, but I’m so proud of you all,” Spanos said as the players cheered. “I know we have a little way to go, but we’re off to a good start now, so let’s do this.”

The Chargers entered Week 16 with a direct path to the postseason after jumping to sixth place with a Dec. 18 victory over the visiting Tennessee Titans. However, LA’s postseason berth came sooner than expected after the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders fell in their weekend struggles.

“I’ve been here long enough to know that when it arrives, it feels great,” Chargers 10th-year senior Keenan Allen said amid song and dance from teammates. “We talk about it all the time: control what you can control. And this week, we were able to handle our own destiny and we made it happen.”

Said Sebastian Joseph-Day, who last season won a Super Bowl with the Rams: “It’s incredible and indescribable … But it’s not over yet. We have two games left and we’ve got to keep this rolling.”

It will be the first appearance of the postseason for Staley and Herbert, the third year who completed 24 of 31 passes for 235 yards with one interception on Monday night.

“It will be a lot of fun,” Herbert said. “Just excited to be in that atmosphere and to have this opportunity and continue playing football.”

“This is just the beginning. This is not our end goal,” said Staley, who narrowly missed the playoffs in his first season as manager after losing to the Raiders in Week 18 – when a tie or win would have sent the Bolts into the postseason. “We have two more games against really good teams and we need to look to play our best football so we can not only make the playoffs, but also run to the Super Bowl championship, which is our goal.”

Early in the season, the Bolts were among the favorites to not only earn a playoff trip, but to make a deep run after beefing up their defense.

A blockbuster trade with the Chicago Bears brought pass-rusher Khalil Mack to LA, and the Bolts signed cornerback JC Jackson to a five-year, $82.5 million free agency deal, while also loading up their defensive line with Austin Johnson and Joseph-Day.

However, the Chargers faltered off a 5–5 start as several key players dealt with injuries.

Herbert played several weeks with a fractured rib cartilage he suffered in Week 2 and was without wide receivers Allen and Mike Williams, who struggled with a strained hamstring and sprained ankle, respectively, for significant time. Allen and Williams did not play a complete game together until Week 14. The offensive line also lost left tackle Rashawn Slater to the injured backup after Week 3.

On defense, the Bolts lost edge rusher Joey Bosa, Jackson and Johnson to the injured reserve. Bosa may yet return, but the unit is hitting its stride.

“So many people have been a part of it, and it’s beautiful,” said Joseph-Day, after praising rookie kicker Cameron Dicker, who produced two game-winning field goals this season, and return specialist DeAndre Carter. “A lot of guys have really advanced, and I think that’s where a lot of the growth comes from.”

The Chargers held Nick Foles to 17 of 29 passing for 143 yards with three interceptions, while sacking the Indianapolis quarterback seven times. The Colts went 0-for-10 on third down.

“We have the structure to withstand the type of season we’ve had. I don’t think we would be here if it weren’t for the toughness of our football team, the composition of our football team,” said Staley. “For a long time people have talked about the talent of this football team and the organization and ultimately that’s not what gets you where you want to go. You have to prove your toughness and that’s what we’ve proved so far this year. year is that we have a football team strong enough mentally and physically to be where we are now.”

The Chargers take on the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in what will be a home game for the Bolts, and wrap up the regular season in Denver in Week 18.

Despite clinching his first career playoff berth, Herbert seemed adamant that there’s still plenty of room for improvement going forward.

“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Herbert said. “I think the defense has done an amazing job over the last few weeks. I think offensively we can be better. We can limit turnovers, and that starts with me.”