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Five observations from the Chargers 26-21 win over the Bengals

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Los Angeles Chargers Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Can we please go back to that time a few weeks ago when the Chargers were posting one boring, uneventful win after another over inferior opponents? I’m just not sure how much more of this my heart can take.

After racing out to what felt like a commanding 14-3 lead in the first 15:09 of the game, the home team appeared to do everything in its power to give the game away in its preceding 44:51. The Chargers forgot to run the ball, struggled to give Philip Rivers a clean pocket from which to throw, missed tackles, wasted a turnover on downs that led to a short field, and repeatedly gifted the Bengals with short fields thanks courtesy of the aged their geriatric punter, Donnie Jones.

And yet, in spite of all of that, they managed to notch a sloppy 26-21 win.

It was ugly, to say the least.

But, as the saying goes, a win is a win. And, while this one was neither particularly easy, nor particularly pretty, it did allow the Chargers to head into their crucial divisional matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs boasting both a three game winning streak AND the second best record in the AFC, so it wasn’t all bad.

And now, without further adieu, let’s review my five observations from the Chargers 26-21 win over the Bengals:

  • The Chargers found their kicker: Did Michael Badgley kick a 59-yard field goal prior to half time, or did someone set a cannon off at mid-field? Good lord, what a kick! Badgley ended the day having made all four of his field goal attempts (59, 31, 32 and 45) and both of his PAT’s, all while earning the confidence and adoration of Chargers fans everywhere. And the timing couldn’t have been better, as it feels like a foregone conclusion that the Money Badger will to be called on to win a game for this team come January.
  • Whis finally gets it right with Ekeler: Ken Whisenhunt finally figured out how to tweak his offensive game plan in order to better feature Austin Ekeler. It started with them doing a better job of moving him around the formation (wide out, slot, single back, shot gun) and scripting swing passes and screens, but they also matched him up with linebackers and got him out on the edge of the defense as a runner. The result? 17 touches, 94 yards and a touchdown, with most of the serious damage being done in the first 15:09 of the game.
  • Whis goes bi-polar: As beautifully as the first 20-ish plays were scripted, and as smoothly as the offense moved the ball in those first 15:09 (17 plays, 160 yards, 2 touchdowns), it was a disaster in the final 44:51 (38 plays, 128 yards, four punts, four field goals). They were in rhythm, they rarely snapped the ball with less than 0:10 on the play clock, and they were explosive. Unfortunately, Whis abandoned the run after Justin Jackson was dropped for a two-yard loss at the 12:08 mark of the second quarter, rendering the Chargers dynamic offense impossibly one-dimensional. He also dragged the tempo down to a snails’ pace and struggled to find a rhythm while consistently playing behind the chains. And if it hadn’t been for the Bengals handing them two short fields, they would only have managed to cross the 50-yard line twice in their final eight possessions. That is…not good.
  • Effort not an issue: While most will say the Chargers sleepwalked through much of this game, that is not what the game tape revealed. They certainly made a few mistakes, but I came away impressed with the effort in all three phases when I broke the game down. This is particularly true on defense, where the game was literally won on the back of what felt like dozens of effort plays at all three levels of the field. Derwin James and Joey Bosa led by example and everyone else fell in line. While I think they got outcoached at times, there is no doubt they played hard.
  • Total team defensive effort: Make no mistake, the defense won this game. What’s more, the defense won the game thanks in large part to the wealth of impact plays made by several players at all three levels of the defense. Think about it: we saw Derwin James stuff a crucial two-point conversion just before half time, Joey Bosa had a sack and several run stops, Michael Davis had a key fourth down run stop, Adrian Phillips broke up a third down pass to force field goal in the fourth quarter, Darius Philon snuffed out a second two-point conversion with a sack, and Uchenna Nwosu ended the game with a sack. It’s really a testament to the defensive talent they’ve accumulated and how well coached that unit is.

While I may be alone in this assessment, I didn’t take the Chargers play on the field as a bad omen for what might happen in Kansas City. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly wasn’t pretty or impressive, I was just didn’t see a lack of effort or pride between the white lines. To be honest, I was far more concerned with the game Ken Whisenhunt called than anything I saw on the field.

At the end of the day, the Bolts gutted out another tough win in the face of adversity; even if most of that adversity was self-inflicted. They won, they control their own playoff destiny on December 10, and they head into Thursday’s mega-matchup with the Chiefs with a legitimate shot at tying Kansas City for the AFC West lead. You’ll have to excuse me if I find it difficult to complain under those circumstances.

Those are my observations from Sunday’s win over the Bengals; what did you see? Share your observations in the comments section below