Before the clock hit zero, the Chargers almost had themselves another mind-numbing blunder that could have potentially been the deciding play against the Falcons. But due to magnificent efforts by Jahleel Addae and Michael Davis in the fourth quarter, the Bolts were able to flip the script as Michael Badgley converted a walk-off 43-yard field goal in the waning seconds to beat Atlanta 20-17 inside SoFi Stadium.
After missing his first on the final drive, Justin Herbert competed three-straight to bring the Chargers from their own 26 to the Atlanta 25-yard line, setting the Money Badger up for what hopefully was a confidence-restoring kick.
Herbert’s latest performance was just okay by his standards. He finished with 243 yards on 36-of-44 passing with a pair of touchdowns and a lone interception while also recording the first game-winning drive of his career.
The Bolts got the scoring started in this one with a massive 15-play, 83-yard drive that ended in Keenan Allen’s eighth touchdown of the season. That score tied his career-high which he set as a rookie all the way back in 2013. He caught a team-high nine receptions, but did most of his work underneath, finishing with only 52 receiving yards.
The throw from Herbert was a beautiful rocket fired while on the run and it was a pleasant reminder of the rookie’s elite physical skills and innate ability to make something happen off-script.
The Falcons responded on their ensuing drive with a trick play that seemed all too familiar to the Chargers. Wide receiver Russell Gage lined up in the Wildcat on a third-and-one from the Los Angeles 39. After faking a handoff to the running back, Gage floated right in the pocket, stepped up to avoid pressure, and fired a rainbow over the shoulder of fellow wideout Calvin Ridley for the score. This was the second time in three weeks that the Bolts had allowed a receiver to throw a touchdown to another receiver, which is quite the achievement.
In the second quarter, the teams traded field goals before Matt Ryan threw his first touchdown of the day to Laquon Treadwell, who broke a pair of lackluster tackle attempts by Chris Harris and Nasir Adderley on his way into the end zone.
Then came the blunder.
With 4:51 left in the first half, the Chargers did a phenomenal job of killing the rest of the clock while marching slowly but surely down the field. The Bolts went 62 yards in 15 plays, using all three of their timeouts before facing a third-and-one with 22 seconds on the clock. Instead of attempting a quick pass to keep the clock from running out, offensive coordinator Shane Steichen called a run to the right out of a pistol look which ended in what looked to be a first down. With the clock ticking down, Herbert attempted to get his team lined up for a spike. However, the refs told the offense it was actually fourth down and that they came up short. This caused Anthony Lynn to send the field goal unit out with under 10 seconds remaining. With the field now flush with Chargers players, the clock ticked the remaining seconds away and the offense ended up coming away with zero points before the break.
The Chargers opened the second quarter looking as flat and dysfunctional as they had all game. They went three-and-out with negative two yards on the opening drive of the half. With all the momentum now in their favor, the Falcons started driving.
On a third-and-17, Matt Ryan found a wide open Gage for a completion of 22. It was a swift kick in the nether-regions considering that Justin Jones recorded his first sack of the season on the previous play to put Atlanta in that situation.
At the L.A. 43-yard line, Ryan attempted to hit Ridley over the top of the defense but Rayshawn Jenkins, who was playing deep at free safety, got in great position over the receiver to snag the ball out of the sky. It was Jenkins’ second interception of the season.
The Chargers went on to use that momentum, going 80 yards in 13 plays to tie the ball game up at 17-17 after a 12-yard touchdown pass to Tyron Johnson.
Now, the second the fourth quarter started, all hell looked to have broke loose.
With 3:52 remaining in the game, and the Falcons within field goal range, Ryan attempted to fit a pass into a tight window to tight end Hayden Hurst, However, it was picked off by a leaping Jahleel Addae who pounced into the passing lane with surprising speed.
Seven plays later, with the team attempting to put this game away, Justin Herbert also tried to make a tight-window throw but it was subsequently wrestled out of Keenan Allen’s hands by cornerback Blidi Wreh-Wilson.
Just three plays into the Falcons’ next drive, Ryan threw his third interception, this one to corner Michael Davis who was stuck like glue on top of Ridley. It was this play that spurred Herbert and the offense to their quick-and-efficient drive which led to Badgley’s game-winner.
The Chargers defense had one of their best outings of the season as they recorded a season-high three interceptions in this one to go with a pair of sacks. They held Atlanta to 224 yards passing and 70 rushing. The Falcons didn’t have a single rush of over eight yards on the night.
Running back Austin Ekeler looked like his old self after totaling 146 total yards of offense on 24 touches. He led the team in both rushing (79) and receiving yards (67) while tying Allen for the team-lead with nine receptions. Tyron Johnson also recorded career-highs in catches (six) and yards (55).
With two touchdown passes, Herbert is now three scores away from breaking Baker Mayfield’s rookie touchdown record of 27 set back in 2018. He has three game left to do it with the 7-6 Raiders coming up next on Thursday night.