Austin Ekeler could laugh about his mental gaffe after Sunday's game because it did not cost the Chargers in their 30-13 victory over the Washington Redskins, but coach Anthony Lynn did not find the play amusing.
"That was a dumb play by Austin," Lynn said of Ekeler's 33-yard run that ended four yards short of the end zone as the first half expired. "He's a rookie. He made a bad mistake.
"That play was called in the huddle. It's called down-down. You get in an open area, you take a knee, call timeout and kick a field goal. He thought he could score. He made a bad decision."
The versatile Ekeler, an undrafted free agent from Western State in Colorado, has provided a huge and unexpected boost to the offense, rushing 45 times for 247 yards, catching 26 passes for 273 yards and scoring five touchdowns.
But he has had two teachable moments this season, the first in a Nov. 12 overtime loss by the Chargers at Jacksonville, when he fumbled with less than two minutes left in regulation and the Chargers clinging to a three-point lead, and the second Sunday.
The Chargers had a 23-6 lead, the ball on the Redskins 37-yard line and one timeout with eight seconds left in the first half. Ekeler took a handoff, found a huge hole up the middle and angled toward the left sideline but was hauled down from behind by cornerback Quinton Dunbar as the gun sounded.
"I thought I was in, 100%," Ekeler said. "I saw the end zone. I didn't see anyone. I knew the safety [Deshazor Everett] was to my right. I didn't see the back-side corner to my left, so I went for it."
Quarterback Philip Rivers and Lynn had animated discussions with Ekeler before heading to the locker room, with Rivers repeatedly pointing his index fingers toward the ground.
"It was communicated to him that if you break scot-free, you've got to slide and get down at some point," Rivers said. "Then, I think he got out there and thought, 'Shoot, I'm going to score, and that's even better.' Then he comes up just short.
"Thankfully, it was in a game that didn't come down to three points, but the guy's effort and want-to is all there. There's nothing about his intent that was wrong."
The mistake was a lot easier to swallow in a lopsided win.
"Oh absolutely," Ekeler said. "When I see the end zone and no one is in front of me, I'm not thinking anyone is touching me. That's why I made that decision. But in the end, I was at the four-yard line. It didn't work out in my favor, so it looked really bad. I knew I messed up. It's definitely something I'll learn from."
Rivers in the flow
Midway through the second quarter, Rivers found himself in a bizarre situation.
The less-than-nimble 36-year-old was the lead blocker on a reverse around the left side by Travis Benjamin, who picked up 22 yards with a dash down the sideline. Rivers didn't actually have to throw a block, but he thought he might have to sacrifice his body to do so.
"My plan was to turn back right now and hope that the defensive end was there so we could brother-in-law it a little bit," said Rivers, referring to when two players make a game effort but don't try so hard that they might hurt each other.
"Then, there wasn't anybody, and I thought to myself, 'Gracious, I've never been this far down the field in my life, since high school. Long time.' … I was hoping maybe I could have a TD-springing block."
The NFL's top pass rushers are gigantic humans, with long arms, brute strength and rare combinations of size and speed. And Desmond King, who had his fourth sack in the last six games, isn't like any of them.
The Chargers defensive back isn't particularly speedy — it's why he fell to the fifth round of the draft — and with a 5-foot-10 frame, he's certainly not "big."
But King has impressed coaches with his ability to slip around the offensive line when asked to blitz, something he almost never did while playing at Iowa.
"It feels natural," King said.
Lynn said King's nose for the football has helped him become a dangerous rusher despite size and speed limitations.
"He's got a knack for getting around blocks and getting to the quarterback," Lynn said.
Left tackle Russell Okung briefly left the game because of a right knee injury in the second quarter. Okung returned despite not being 100%. "Obviously, injuries are part of the game, but I want to be out there to help the team," he said. "I'd be out there if I was 20%." …Keenan Allen has set career highs for catches (83) and yards (1,143) with three games left in the season. … Rivers passed Warren Moon and moved into ninth place all-time with 49,444 yards passing. … The Chargers' 354 yards in the first half were the most in a first half for the team since at least 1991.
Staff writer Dan Woike contributed to this report.