For the Rams, it started with Jared Goff, who threw his 15th pass Sunday before throwing his second incompletion.
For the Chargers, it started with Goff too, specifically their inability to make him feel uncomfortable.
“That’s what it starts with, getting pressure on the quarterback,” safety Derwin James said. “But it wasn’t just the D-line. It was the defense overall.”
The Chargers sacked Goff just once, tackle Brandon Mebane bringing him down for a four-yard loss. They were credited with hitting him only two other times, those hits going to Melvin Ingram and Uchenna Nwosu.
Other than that, a defensive front missing Joey Bosa looked like a group that could use some help.
Bosa missed his third consecutive game because of a bone bruise in his left foot. He isn’t expected back until sometime in October, at the earliest.
“Mix it up,” James said when asked how the Chargers could manufacture pressure. “And the guys who have one-on-ones, you have to win. That’s what it comes down to, a man whipping another man.”
A week after James was employed all over the field in Buffalo, frequently charging into the Chiefs backfield from close to the line of scrimmage, he spent much of this game playing deep.
Coach Anthony Lynn explained the Chargers wanted James more in the middle of the field as the free safety, a position from which he could better combat the Rams’ “range” of the receivers.
James said he blitzed twice Sunday, neither resulting in obvious pressure on Goff.
“Sometimes when I blitz I get into a rhythm,” he said. “Doesn’t matter what the coaches call, at the end of the day, we have to execute.”
“It was my momentum carrying me because I had to travel so far to get to it,” he said. “I was trying to get the ball out of bounds [in the end zone], but my momentum took me that way.”
The Chargers ended up having to punt from their end zone, and the kick was blocked and recovered by the Rams for a touchdown.
On the game-turning play, Littleton burst through the middle, blocked Drew Kaser’s punt and safety Blake Countess recovered to give the Rams a 21-6 lead.
“I do as much as I can on special teams,” said Littleton, who made 10 tackles. “It’s where I started. It’s something I never want to stop doing.”
After signing with the Rams as an undrafted free agent in 2016, he made the roster because of his special teams play. Last season against Jacksonville, he blocked a punt near the end zone that was recovered by Malcolm Brown and returned for a touchdown.
Trailing by 15 points early in the fourth quarter, Lynn elected to kick a field goal to make the score 35-23, leaving the Chargers still in need of two touchdowns.
“I didn’t like the odds,” he explained. “A lot of times I just go with my gut. If it was fourth-and-three, I’m going for it. It’s fourth-and-eight, I didn’t like those odds.
“If I can get the three points there, I can take the two-point equation out of the game. There were over 11 minutes left … I figured we could get a couple [more] possessions.”
Mike Williams’ growth in his second NFL season continued with a pair of touchdown catches. He beat Marcus Peters with a diving end-zone grab of 42 yards for the Chargers’ first score. Having displayed his grace, Williams showed his strength in the third quarter when he took a fourth-down pass from Rivers and wrestled through Rams safety Lamarcus Joyner and into the end zone.
“I’m getting opportunities,” Williams said. “I’m making the best out of those opportunities. Every time the ball comes my way, I feel like something good comes from it.”
Rams linebacker Mark Barron (Achilles) was inactive as was Chargers wide receiver Travis Benjamin (Achilles). Chargers guard Forrest Lamp (knee) also missed his third straight game. A second-round pick in 2017, Lamp is coming off a knee injury and still has not made his NFL debut.