The Los Angeles Chargers were playing shorthanded Sunday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers. It’s a narrative they’ve probably heard all season. The difference however was it was on the offensive side of the ball. While the defense had seen its fair share of injuries, the Bolts surging offense had remained relatively healthy.
Sunday wasn’t that case.
The Bolts would be without their lead running back Melvin Gordon following their 45-10 victory over the Arizona Cardinals. The former Badger star was ruled out for several weeks with an MCL sprain in his right knee. The Bolts frontman had collected 802 yards, sixth-most in the league, and nine touchdowns this season.
So, the Chargers would have to make do with the likes of Austin Ekeler and Justin Jackson in their backfield for Sunday night’s showdown. Ekeler proved to be a weapon in the passing game, limited in the running game. Jackson showed his worth of meriting a roster spot following a rough preseason with his 82 total yard performance.
But in a night where playoff hopes perhaps were starting to dwindle, where a victory on the road in December could lead to a light for the team to follow into the postseason. A night where everything could have gone wrong and nearly did if not for three offside calls, consistency played the x-factor.
Once again, Keenan Allen delivered when called upon. This time, to the tune of a 33-30 victory.
In a game-ending in sheer chaos, Allen proved to be the ole reliable option. Perhaps the only consistent part of Sunday evening’s events. Acting as Philip Rivers safety net, Allen found small holes and tight windows and turned them into significant gains for the Chargers offense.
Finishing the night with 14 receptions for 148 yards, the former California product was the epitome of a go-to weapon. Collecting more receptions than the rest of the Chargers offense combined, Allen’s ability to find success after the catch proved to be the difference maker between a sweet victory or bitter defeat.
Allen’s routes were on point nearly every snap. While targeted 19 times, the fifth-year receiver made every catchable ball thrown his way count. Predominately in the slot, Allen’s quick cuts and movements upfield against the Steelers linebacking unit was just enough to allow him to work into the second and third line of the defense.
From there, it was a foot race towards the first down marker. Allen turned 10 of those 14 catches into momentum-changing first downs.
Earning his stripes and becoming a consistent weapon in the red zone, that stayed consistent as well on Sunday evening. In the third quarter, Rivers hurled a bullet into traffic towards Allen’s direction as he broke out of his curl route. Cornerback Joe Haden jumped the gun and made the interception.
His teammate Sean Davis, however, broke up the pass.
Thanks to Allen’s quick reaction and smooth balance, he picked up a 10-yard score, swinging the momentum in favor of the Bolts.
The Chargers found a way to win on Sunday’s wild finish. Picking up their ninth victory on the year, the team will now finish with an above .500 record for the fourth time in five years. A win next Sunday against the struggling Cincinnati Bengals will give them their first double-digit season victory since 2009.
While Gordon is expected to return, there was promise in the backfield for Los Angeles to build on. Jackson’s growth as a runner could be another weapon down the stretch while Ekeler still has the ability to contribute in the passing game.
But Sunday’s real storyline comes down to two players. Perhaps two of the more undervalued players at their positions in the league. As Rivers continues to battle for a chance at his first MVP trophy, his favorite target is willing and ready to make that dream a reality.
Consistency helps good teams win football games. Consistency transforms good teams into great ones.
Allen’s consistency is the reason the Bolts leave Pittsburgh with another ‘W’ in their column and a chance at the AFC West title a legitimate possibility.