Here’s what we learned from the Chargers’ 29-28 victory Thursday over Kansas City:
Travis Benjamin can still be a weapon
A season that began as injury plagued has not unfolded anything like Travis Benjamin would have hoped. But against the Chiefs, with No. 1 receiver Keenan Allen sidelined by a hip problem, he produced two key receptions to total 57 yards on the Chargers’ final game-winning drive.
“The way he has been practicing, it did not surprise us,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “He started out the season pretty slow because of injuries, but once he has gotten healthy, he has looked very good. It was good to see him have some success on the football field tonight.”
Benjamin’s night started with him at midfield for the coin toss as an honorary captain for the game. It ended with him in the middle of the Chargers’ dramatic last push.
The running back depth is serviceable
Without starter Melvin Gordon and top backup Austin Ekeler because of injuries, the Chargers had to turn to rookies Justin Jackson and Detrez Newsome. The pair combined for 92 yards on 22 carries and also caught five passes for 46 yards. Jackson scored the Chargers’ next-to-last touchdown with 3:49 remaining.
The performance wasn’t loaded with highlights, but Jackson and Newsome provided enough of a running threat and ample production to lessen the effect of Gordon and Ekeler’s absences.
“I thought they played well,” Lynn said. “They both ran hard. They ground it out. It was tough early. I thought in the second half…we made a couple tweaks at halftime. I thought those guys ran well.”
This bunch is certifiably battle-tested
In the span of 11 days, the Chargers went 3-0 by overcoming a 16-point deficit in Pittsburgh and a 14-point deficit in Kansas City and grinding out a five-point win at home over Cincinnati. They trailed by two touchdowns against the Chiefs three different times before rebounding to win in the game’s final four seconds.
If the Chargers end up on the road at start the postseason, they won’t be fazed.
“That’s what you call clutch,” Benjamin said. “We come into what they call the most hostile environments in the NFL, in Pittsburgh and Kansas City, and we find a way to pull it off.”
The 2018 Chargers have arrived
At 11-3, the Chargers are tied with Kansas City atop the AFC West and the AFC in general. The rivals have matching records for the conference’s No. 1 playoff seed, though the Chiefs own the tie-breaker because of their better record in the division.
“After such a great win in Pittsburgh and then to be able to come here and do this on a Thursday after a quick turnaround, it shows we’re the real deal,” defensive end Joey Bosa said.
The Chargers host Baltimore before finishing the regular season in Denver. The Chiefs play at Seattle and then host Oakland. The Chargers need to win their final two games and have Kansas City lose at least once to clinch the AFC’s top spot.
“We’re here,” defensive back Derwin James said. “We’re a team…This isn’t the same old Chargers. We’re here to compete with anybody in this league, and we showed it tonight.”
The Chargers are officially a playoff team
No matter what happens in Weeks 16 and 17, the Chargers will return to the postseason for the first time since 2013. For a team that began the season 1-2, clinching with two games remaining represents a notable accomplishment, one that came thanks to a stretch of 10 victories in 11 games.