The Chargers will have to wait a few more weeks to record their first win inside SoFi Stadium after dropping today’s matchup in a 21-16 blunder that ended on a botched hook n’ ladder from Keenan Allen to Austin Ekeler. That play would have been the game-winner as Ekeler had nobody in front of him, but the lateral wasn’t on point from Allen and the ball was fumbled away as time expired.
Both teams started slow with each going three-and-out through their opening drives. Carolina was the first to get on the board when Joey Slye converted a 29-yard field goal following a six-play, 37-yard drive.
The Bolts’ second drive of the game started out a bit more promising as Ekeler took his second and third carries of the game for a combined 18 yards to set them up around midfield. But on Herbert’s next drop back, defensive end Brian Burns got a hand on the ball just enough during the quarterback’s wind up to dislodge it and force a fumble which Carolina recovered. Seven plays later, Slye converted another field goal for a 6-0 Panthers lead.
Ekeler finally got the Chargers on the board after capping off a 10-play, 75-yard drive with his first touchdown of the year, scoring from 12 yards out after shaking off a few would-be tacklers.
The Chargers defense stiffened once again in the red zone on the next Panthers drive and they left with yet another field goal to retake the lead at 9-7 before some more terrible luck struck the home team. On their very next drive, rookie Joshua Kelley broke out to the left side for a 16-yard gain but linebacker Shaq Thompson’s knee inadvertently knocked the ball out of Kelley’s arm before he was down and the Panthers recovered. That turnover led to Carolina’s only touchdown drive of the game, and the Bolts didn’t do themselves any favors when they lined up over the center on a field goal - an illegal formation - a few plays prior.
So instead of giving up three, they gave up seven, and those four points came back to bite them at the end when they needed to score a touchdown instead of working their way into field goal to kick a game-winner.
Herbert’s second turnover of the game didn’t come at great time, either. Down 15-7, the Chargers were on an eight-play, 37-yard drive before Herbert looked to force a pass to Allen, but it was undercut by the speedy corner Donte Jackson who raced the interception all the way back inside the Bolts’ 15-yard line. But once again, the defense held tough and kept the damage to another three points.
Points were much harder to come by in the second half as the team’s resumed play with a score of 18-7. After each team punted twice, the Chargers converted on a 41-yard field goal after grinding out a 10-play drive.
After the Panthers responded with their fifth field goal of the night, the Chargers methodically put together a 16-play, 75-yard drive that took a little under six and a half minutes total and ended in a 14-yard strike to Allen for the receivers first score of the year. Allen finished with a career-high 19 targets that he turned into 13 catches for 132 yards and the score.
The Chargers created some luck following a big-time sack by Joey Bosa on a critical third down that helped kick the Panthers out of field goal range on their final drive of the game. However, although they got the ball back with a little under two minutes remaining, they were forced to start at their own one-yard line after some phenomenal punt coverage buy the Panthers.
Despite the massive hill to climb in front of them, the Bolts went 80 yards in 10 plays with no timeouts used. With 12 seconds left on the clock, Herbert threw a pass up to Allen in the end zone, giving him a chance to out-muscle safety Tre Boston but the ball was knocked away. The Bolts would go on to try the aforementioned hook ‘n ladder, but it was not meant to be in this one.
Herbert completed 35 of his 49 passes for a new career-high 330 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Ekeler finished with another all-around great performance, rushing 12 times for 59 yards and catching all 11 of his targets for another 84 receiving yards.
Defensively, the Chargers were led by linebacker Kyzir White with 11 total tackles and a tackle-for-loss. Safety Rayshawn Jenkins also had nine stops, a pair for loss, and a sack while rookie Kenneth Murray chipped in five stops and another TFL. Bosa finished with just two tackles and the lone quarterback takedown.
The Chargers travel to Tampa Bay next Sunday where they will face off against the Buccaneers at Raymond James Stadium. For the first time this season, Tampa Bay will allow fans into their stadium up to 20% of their capacity.