For the first time since 2018, the Chargers are bound for the playoffs.
For 60 hard-fought minutes, they battled back-and-forth with the Colts and their stingy defense, but the Bolts were inevitably led to the promised land by their plethora of steady playmakers.
Austin Ekeler is the far-and-away MVP of the night as the NFL’s touchdown leader scored his 15th and 16th touchdowns of the season to help the Chargers outlast Indy 20-3 on Monday Night Football.
The defense was led by a strong pass-rush effort that included seven sacks on Nick Foles and forced three interceptions.
With two games remaining, the Chargers can now focus on getting to the playoffs as healthy as possible without the risk of being bounced before ever arriving.
For a complete quarter-by-quarter recap of tonight’s game, check it all out below.
The Chargers won the toss and chose to defer to begin the game.
Both offenses traded three-and-outs before the Colts managed to find a groove on their second possession. Rookie tight end Jelani Woods caught a pair of passes, both for first downs, and big fourth-down conversion to rookie wideout Alec Pierce had the offense moving right along. But on the very next play following the fourth down, Nick Foles through an ill-advised ball with no clear recipient and Michael Davis came away with the game’s first turnover.
That turnover by the Colts was quickly reciprocated as just three plays into the next drive, Herbert fired a rocket to Keenan Allen but the ball deflected off his chest and landed in the finger tips of a Colts defensive back.
But wait...there’s more!
Foles moved the chains once again to begin the Colts’ third possession with a couple quick throws, but pressure by Kyle Van Noy forced another errant throw that was picked off by a soaring Derwin James who just managed to get both feet in to secure another interception by the Colts.
So through the game’s first 11 minutes, there have been a trio of interceptions (two from Foles, one from Herbert).
When the first period finally came to an end, each team had punted three times and the score remained 0-0.
After beginning their drive in the first quarter, the Chargers capped off a 13-play, 70-yard drive with a one-yard plunge by Austin Ekeler. Cameron Dicker knocked home the extra point and the Chargers had a 7-0 lead with 8:41 remaining in the first half.
The Colts answered the touchdown by the Bolts with a field goal to close the gap to 7-3 with under five minutes to play in the half.
En route to the Indy field goal, James authored back-to-back plays with a penalty, ending in a massive hit on receiver Ashton Dulin that resulted in the Pro Bowl being ejected from the game. Despite looking worse in real-time than on the replay, the folks in New York decided the hit was far too unnecessary and they weren’t about to let James continue in this contest.
The Chargers responded with a strong drive but couldn’t convert it into a touchdown. Dicker pushed through his first field goal of the night and the Bolts headed to the locker room with a 10-3 lead.
The Chargers....*sigh...once again could not open the second half by scoring any amount of points. Herbert hit Donald Parham for a 30-yard gain but the play was negated by a holding call on Trey Pipkins. They couldn’t convert another first down and swiftly punted it away.
Foles threw his third interception of the game on the Colts’ ensuing drive but the defense managed to stand strong again to force another Chargers field goal. With a little over six minutes in the quarter to go, the Bolts held a two-possession lead at 13-3.
Khalil Mack and the Chargers defense stayed strong for yet another drive that was capitalized by a sack from #52. The veteran hadn’t recorded a sack since the 49ers contest and he notched the team’s fourth sack of Foles on the night.
The Chargers dodged a bullet on the ensuing Matt Haack punt where DeAndre Carter muffed the catch before Indianapolis recovered. However, Deane Leonard touched the ball while also touching the boundary line which immediately kills the play.
Defensive tackle Deforest Buckner led a strong charge on Herbert to begin their next drive and it ended with the ball coming loose on a sack. The Colts recovered and were in business inside the L.A. 25-yard line.
As the quarter came to an end, the Colts faced a fourth-and-one.
After the break, the Chargers were able to stuff the Foles quarterback sneak, taking over at their own 12-yard line.
The Chargers, with the playoffs squarely in their sights, put together a 12-play, 88-yard drive that they once again capped off with another Ekeler score from a yard out. With 8:20 left in regulation, the Bolts held a 20-3 lead over Indianapolis.
The Colts managed to go 23 yards in six plays but couldn’t keep the drive alive for a second first down which gave the ball back to the Chargers with a little over six minutes remaining.
Herbert and the offense managed to get just 65 seconds off the clock before punting away, but the defense held again with another pair of sacks (both by Chris Rumph II) and the Chargers got the ball back with 1:55 remaining.
With the Colts holding just one timeout, the Bolts took a couple knees to let time expire.
And just like that, Herbert and the Chargers are headed to the postseason.
Justin Herbert finished with 235 yards on 24-of-31 passing with zero touchdowns and another interception off a pass that ricocheted off his own receiver.
Austin Ekeler finished with 67 rushing yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries and an additional 12 receiving yards on four catches.
Keenan Allen paced the pass-catchers with 11 catches and 104 yards.
A strong defensive effort was led by Drue Tranquill who led the Chargers with 11 tackles and a sack. Four other players recorded sacks, including Kyle Van Noy, Khalil Mack, and Morgan Fox.
Asante Samuel Jr., Michael Davis, and Derwin James all had interceptions.
The Chargers are back in SoFi Stadium next week to face the cross-town Rams.