The information has now all been gathered; the statistics have all been tallied. The Chargers exhibition season is over, and now, general manager Tom Telesco, coach Anthony Lynn and their respective staffs have decisions to make.
And Thursday night, one of the most pressing questions the team has faced since the start of last season — who will kick the ball through the uprights? — moved closer to being answered.
With two seconds left and the Chargers trailing by one, Roberto Aguayo made a 26-yard field goal to beat the San Francisco 49ers 23-21 in their final preseason game.
Aguayo and veteran Caleb Sturgis, have been locked in a battle all preseason, with Aguayo making each of his three field-goal attempts in games while Sturgis missing once in three tries. And, though Thursday’s game-winner won’t tip the competition, the team at least got a chance in a situation where they floundered a year ago.
“Both guys have kicked extremely well the last couple of weeks, and it’s been a hell of a competition,” Lynn said. “We brought Caleb in to be our kicker, and the last couple of weeks, he’s shown he can do that with his kickoffs and field goals. And Roberto, I take my hat off to him. He came in and competed. He was consistent.
“We have some things to talk about, but I’m proud of both those guys.”
It was maybe the single most important moment in a game devoid of much other consequence.
Virtually every player of projected performance spent the preseason finale on the sidelines, trading helmets for ball caps and shoulder pads for sweatshirts and leaving the heavy lifting for second-, third- and fourth-stringers.
To their credit, the backups performed well enough in the win, but the team results in Week 4 of the preseason don’t matter as much as the individual performances by those pushing for starting roles or for one of the handful of open roster spots.
There was safety Derwin James rushing toward the line of scrimmage to tackle the running back on the first two plays he was on the field. There was linebacker Uchenna Nwosu delivering a punishing hit to 49ers quarterback C.J. Beathard for a sack. And on offense, last year’s second-round pick, Forrest Lamp, finally debuted after missing all of last season with a knee injury.
Lamp managed to play the first three quarters at right guard despite missing a big chunk of time at the beginning of training camp.
“He played a lot, a lot more than I thought he would play, but he kept wanting to go back in,” Lynn said. “Forrest was trying to get the rust off.”
But Lamp, James and Nwosu were all locks to make the roster (and all three, eventually, are expected to be starters). Third-year defensive end Christopher Landrum’s spot on the final 53-man roster was a little more uncertain.
While he was a favorite to make the team as a backup pass rusher, Landrum, who spent all season on the injured reserve, probably cemented his spot on the team with a pair of sacks, including a forced fumble.
Undrafted rookie Steven Richardson might have also played himself into a spot, with the Chargers thin at defensive tackle because of third-round pick Justin Jones’ ankle injury and Corey Liuget’s upcoming suspension.
And with the starters sidelined, seldom-seen players on the back end of the team’s roster such as running back Terrell Watson and linebacker D’Juan Hines did their best to impress the Chargers and scouts from other teams who might be able to fill out their rosters or practice squads.
He was designated as a team captain Thursday and started the game, strong indications that veteran Geno Smith will open the season as Philip Rivers’ backup.
On the Chargers’ opening drive, he scrambled twice for 29 yards, both runs picking up first downs. The series eventually ended in a 36-yard field goal by Aguayo. Smith remained in for three more series and finished the game four for six for 16 yards.
Cardale Jones took over on the Chargers’ final possession of the first half, a 10-play drive that covered 73 yards and resulted in a touchdown run by Watson.
Two minutes into the third quarter, Jones fired a five-yard scoring pass to Andre Patton to finish a possession that began with a San Francisco turnover deep in its own territory.
Jones played the rest of the third quarter before Nic Shimonek finished up in the fourth. Jones completed three of six attempts for 21 yards.
A solid training camp followed by some promising moments through the first three preseason games crumpled in the second quarter when Artavis Scott went down.
Competing for a backup receiver spot, Scott injured his right ankle on a kickoff return. He eventually was carted into the locker room and did not return to the game.