The Chargers did not look nearly as inspired as they did a week prior in a near-upset of the Buffalo Bills. The defense held the Broncos to just one touchdown and 16 total points, but Easton Stick and the Chargers offense never found the end zone and were forced to kick a pair of 50-yard field goal as part of their nine total points.
It was a rough one to watch for fans but at least the silver lining is that there’s just one more game before the offseason officially hits for the team. Then, it’s on to hiring the next head coach and general manager.
It can’t come soon enough.
With that said, let’s go ahead and check out this week’s winners and losers from the Chargers’ 16-9 loss to the Broncos.
S Derwin James
After a string of poor performances, James looked like his vintage self on Sunday with his loose play and hard-hitting performance. He earned an overall game grade of 88.4, the highest grade for a game by him this season and a top-five game grade for his career. He ended the Broncos game with grades of 70.1 or higher across the board, with a team-high 80.8 in coverage.
From the very first snap, James was bringing the heat. He recorded three “stops”, allowed five yards in coverage, and had a pair of pass breakups. He also had a sack that gave him multiple takedowns now in each of his seasons in which he’s played more than 5 games.
With a laundry list of decisions to be made regarding this roster ahead of next season, James’ lackluster play was going to force the franchise to think hard about what they were getting out of his massive contract. However, if James can finish strong in the season finale against the Chiefs, he’ll go right back to being in the “don’t touch” category of the roster before the new brass is brought in.
Yesterday was Derwin James' highest-graded individual game since November 28th, 2021 (funny enough, also against the Broncos) and a Top 5 game grade for his entire career.— Tyler Schoon (@tylerjschoon) January 1, 2024
WR Alex Erickson
Erickson has seen an leap in playing recently due to injuries surrounding Keenan Allen and Joshua Palmer. In his first game as an active player without both the Chargers’ top wideouts, Erickson exploded for 98 yards on seven receptions, both of which led the team. That receiving total is the second most in his career behind a 131-yard performance in 2019 as a member of the Bengals.
There’s an obvious connection between Easton Stick and Erickson that likely grew from their time working together on the second team offense and it’s on full display right before our eyes. With Johnston still struggling to make much of an impact, even as the team’s bonafide WR1 this week in Denver, Erickson is quietly making a case to be the team’s most reliable receiver behind Allen, Palmer, and the injured Mike Williams.
At this rate, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Erickson retain some kind of a job with the Chargers in 2024.
CB Essang Bassey
Bassey was unfortunately the first domino to fall on the Chargers’ most-embarrassing defensive play from Sunday afternoon.
Broncos wide receiver Lil’Jordan Humphrey, who has less than 500 career receiving yards in almost five professional seasons, somehow made most of the Chargers defense look like a Pop Warner squad on a wild 54-yard touchdown catch-and-run. Bassey was in man coverage on Humphrey who ran an intermediate crossing route from left to right. When Humphrey hauled in the pass, he stuck a foot in the ground and said “Ole!” to Bassey who slipped to the ground before bowling under and taking out safety Alohi Gilman. Cornerback Michael Davis then missed his own tackle attempt despite getting his hands on the receiver. Fullback Michael Burton had continued blocking downfield and had taken out cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. Gilman and Samuel finally managed to collide with Humphrey but he was already falling into the end zone by the time they got a body on him.
It was one of those types of plays that seemed to encapsulate all that went wrong in the secondary for the Chargers all year long. At one point during the broadcast, one of the announcers blatantly said, “Look how poor of a job they do defensively!”
That’s just par for the course when it comes to this team in 2023.
Lil'Jordan Humphrey made the highlight play to score this TD but watch the effort from Michael Burton on 3rd down.— Frankie Abbott (@FrankiesFilm) January 2, 2024
Huge blitz pickup, doesn't stop running and finds another key block 35-yards downfield and finishes the block near the 5. pic.twitter.com/xP2PWYyKQZ