The 2022 Chargers did it.
With all of the hype and expectations heading into a week one revenge game against the Raiders, the Chargers managed to shrug off some bad injury luck and close out a dramatic, season-opening divisional matchup at home by a score of 24-19.
When it came down to it — and it truly came down to the final drive of the game — the pass-rushing duo of Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack came through to shut the door on Derek Carr and the Raiders offense with back-to-back strip sacks in a two-play sequence that would make a weaker quarterback dangerously squeamish.
On a third-and-three with 2:43 left on the clock, Carr took the snap and bounced in the pocket, looking for a wideout downfield. Bosa came barreling down from one side while defensive tackle Morgan Fox came from the other to meet at the quarterback. The ball was loosed from Carr’s grasp but it unfortunately bounced into the arms of offensive guard John Simpson.
With the game on the line and the stick reading fourth-and-eight, Khalil Mack, whom the team traded for this offseason, beat left tackle Kolton Miller to wrap Carr up with one arm for his third sack of the game.
From there, it was just the Chargers and the most beautiful formation in football.
The Chargers opened up the game with a methodical 12-play drive that lasted just under six minutes. They marched 50 yards before stalling at the Las Vegas 25-yard line. Dustin Hopkins would hit home on the 43-yard kick to give them an early 3-0 lead.
On the ensuing drive, the Raiders would one-up the Bolts and go 70 yards in 14 plays before, including three third-down conversions, before the Bolts stiffened up in the red zone. Daniel Carlson would kick a 23-yard field goal to tie everything at 3-3.
After trading three-and-outs, the Chargers would become the first team to find the end zone via a beautiful play-action pass to fullback Zander Horvath who walked effortlessly to paydirt. It capped nine-play drive that heavily featured Keenan Allen. The Slayer caught back-to-back passes that totaled 61 yards and moved the Bolts swiftly into the red zone.
The Chargers defense found it’s groove in the middle of the second and nothing exemplified that more than Khalil Mack’s first two sacks as a Charger and Drue Tranquill’s acrobatic interception. Those plays shut down the Raiders’ next two drives before the Chargers found the end zone once more before half via a 23-yard pass from Herbert to DeAndre Carter.
When both teams headed to the locker room, the Chargers were held a 17-3 lead.
The Raiders came out of the break playing zero games. Carr targeted Davante Adams on the first two plays to march Las Vegas 52 yards in the blink of an eye. Two plays later with the ball at the Chargers 18-yard line, running back Brandon Bolden beat linebacker Kyle Van Noy on a wheel route to haul in a perfect ball from Carr to put things back to within a score at 17-10.
Needing to respond with some points, the Chargers manufactured an 11-play, 75-yard drive which was capped by an incredible and improvised play from Herbert to tight end Gerald Everett.
After the initial RPO broke down, Herbert escaped to the left and hit Everett with a bullet to his back shoulder. All the first-year Charger had to do was continue running his feet which carried him backwards into the end zone.
Prior to the end of the quarter, the Raiders managed to tack on a field goal after an 11-play, 38-yard drive but the Chargers defense hunkered down just enough limit the damage as they headed into the final period.
As it usually does during AFC West matchups, things got very stressful in the fourth quarter.
After the Chargers were forced into a three-and-out, Asante Samuel Jr. undercut a faith-filled heave from Carr to Adams up the left sideline to make an impressive over-the-shoulder catch for the team’s second interception of the evening.
Unfortunately, the Chargers could not capitalize on the turnover and were once again forced into a three-and-out.
The next Raiders offensive drive was also swiftly cut short before it ever really began thanks to Carr’s third interception of the day, one in which he threw into the arms of first-year bolt, Bryce Callahan. But even then, the Chargers couldn’t turn it into points. Hopkins would miss a 49-yard field goal after the offense went 18 yards in seven plays.
On the other side, Carr actually did take advantage of their good luck. On the fifth play of the ensuing drive, Carr hit Darren Waller for 31 yards off some nifty play action, taking Las Vegas all the way down to the Chargers three-yard line. Two plays later, Carr hit Adams for his first score as a Raider. Vegas failed on the two-point conversion which meant the Chargers held on to a 24-19 lead with 4:32 left in the game.
I wish I could tell you the Chargers were able to close the game out from here, but that just isn’t the case.
For a third series over their past four, the Chargers couldn’t muster a first down and they were forced to punt back to the Raiders with 3:39 remaining.
Right out of the gate, Carr hit Adams for 12 yards and a first down. That was followed by a seven-yard grab by Hunter Renfrow to put Las Vegas ahead of the chains early.
Now this is where the beautiful madness happened that I touched on above.
The Big Bear, himself, took it into his own hands to end this game and he did just that with his first strip sack of the season. Mack cleaned up Carr on fourth down and that was all she wrote.
Herbert finished an efficient night with 26 completions on 34 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns with zero interceptions. Despite leaving the game in the first half, Keenan Allen still finished with a team-high 66 receiving yards. Austin Ekeler was bottled up for most of the night, finishing with just 36 rushing and receiving yards, apiece.
The new-look defense came to play today, too. On top of their three interceptions, the Chargers posted six sacks, including three from Mack and 1.5 from Bosa. Derwin James also had a sack while Morgan Fox split one with Bosa on the final play of the game. James, Mack, and Tranquill all finished with a team-high six tackles. Callahan and Samuel both finished with a pair of pass breakups.
The Chargers will be on the road in week two with minimal rest as they head to Arrowhead for the first Thursday Night Football matchup of the new season.