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Chargers top Rams 13-6 behind promising rookie debuts

If you thought Josh Palmer was going to have to wait a year to see the field, you may want to think again.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

In the first “unofficial” matchup in the Battle of L.A. since the 2018 regular season, the Chargers backups managed to top the Rams backups by a score of 13-6 in front of over 68,000 fans inside SoFi Stadium. It was the first game inside the new stadium with actual fans in the stands and the energy was palpable.

The Bolts offense shot out of the gates with a notable tempo that was obviously different from years past. Long gone are the days of Philip Rivers calling audibles at the line all the way up to the waning seconds of the play clock. Chase Daniel, who started the night for LAC, orchestrated a 20-play, almost 10-minute drive to begin the exhibition that ended in a short field goal by Tristan Vizcaino. The kick was one of two makes by Vizcaino on the night and put the Bolts up 3-0 early.

On that opening drive, the coaching staff also got their first real look at rookie Josh Palmer who caught four passes for 27 yards and moved the chains on multiple occasions. Following his fourth catch of the drive, Palmer was brought down hard by two defenders and ended up leaving the field with what looked like just turf getting caught in his eye. He would later return and catch his fifth and sixth of the game.

In the same way the offense started hot, the defense turned some heads on their opening sequence, as well. The final two plays prior to the Rams’ punt were headlined by a forced incompletion from Drue Tranquill coming on a blitz and then a tackle for loss by Kyzir White in which he sniffed out a screen in the backfield. If you weren’t excited about the athleticism of the linebacker group before, then you likely are now.

After the Bolts showed marked potential on either side of the ball in the first, the special teams boogie man was waiting right around the corner to remind the fan base that things aren’t going to be as perfect as they want this early in the Brandon Staley era.

The Chargers were forced to punt on their third drive of the game and Ty Long managed to deliver with a 62-yard bomb that should have helped flip the field position in favor of the Bolts. Unfortunately, the kick coverage broke down and the Rams’ Raymond Calais brought the kick back 46 yards the other direction. The Rams then went 48 yards in nine plays before third-string quarterback Bryce Perkins hit a wide-open Trishton Jackson for their first score of the night. McVay managed to get UDFA linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga matched up on Jackson in the slot who ran a double-move to perfection.

On the ensuing drive, Joe Reed returned the kickoff 25 yards to their 33-yard line which gave the Bolts some needed momentum before the break. On the drive’s third play, Daniel hit big Donald Parham on a deep out route for a 25-yard gain to get them into Rams territory. Two plays later, Parham was targeted again for a six-yard gain. Jason Moore caught the next two passes from Daniel for seven and six yards, respectively, which put the Bolts well within field goal range. Vizcaino came out and banged home a 38-yard yarder to tied things up at 6-6 going into halftime.

After the defense forced a punt on the opening drive of the second half, the Chargers marched 70 yards in eight plays before Darius Bradwell plunged in from one yard out to push their lead to seven. Sixth-round rookie Larry Rountree did the majority of the work for the offense by totaling 30 yards on three carries, including a 25-yard scamper on a fourth-and-one. After Easton Stick hit Moore for a gain of 18 to the Rams’ 18, Joe Lombardi fed Bradwell the next three carries en route to finding the end zone.

In an attempt to close the gap before the final quarter, the Rams went 65 yards in six plays, aided by a pass interference penalty by Tevaughn Campbell. That mishap brought the Rams 40 yards forward, alone. From there, however, the defense buckled down and forced the Rams to kick a 40-yard field goal that was dinged off the left upright by Austin MacGinnis.

The Rams tried once again on their next drive to even the score, going 51 yards in 13 plays to the Chargers’ five-yard line. On fourth-and five, quarterback Devlin Hodges escaped to the right and attempted to squeeze in a pass to receiver Jeremiah Haydel in the end zone before crossing the line of scrimmage. Hodges didn’t see a screaming John Brannon breaking on the throw and the former undrafted corner out of Western Carolina corralled the pass prior to a 14-yard return.

That was essentially all she wrote for the Rams offense as the Bolts offense managed to waste roughly seven of the remaining nine and a half minutes before executing that sweet, sweet victory formation.