Despite mishaps, Chargers find road to a good start in win over Washington
They ran 10 plays, moved 75 yards and scored a touchdown barely five minutes into the season.
Their quarterback was perfect on six pass attempts and their rebuilt offensive line opened enough room for 30 yards rushing.
The final three yards were covered by Austin Ekeler.
“Man, we were rocking, huh?!” Ekeler said. “I think that’s one of those where we came out more ready to go than they did.”
The Chargers were ready to go Sunday, certainly. Even more significant than that, they were ready to stop.
The story of the Chargers’ 20-16 season-opening win in six highlights
This is the story of the Chargers’ season-opening win over Washington in six highlights:
The Chargers come out hot, going 75 yards on season-opening drive:
With Tyler Heinicke in for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who left with an injured hip, Washington takes its first, and only, lead of the afternoon:
Then things got weird. It started with this controversial fumble call inside the Washington red zone:
Then, after another trip deep into Washington territory, Justin Herbert with a less ambiguous turnover:
Then, on the very next play:
And three plays later, the game-winner:
Final: Chargers 20, Washington 16. For all the details, scroll down.
Chargers finish what they so often could not in 2019 and ’20
Herbert finished the game 31 of 47 for 337 yards, getting the Chargers into the red zone seven times against a well-regarded Washington defense.
The Chargers converted four third downs on their final drive to put away Washington 20-16.
Justin Herbert had a 17-yard completion to Keenan Allen, a 19-yarder to KJ Hill Jr. to 20-yarder to Mike Williams and a nine-yard fader to Allen to seal it.
After two straight turnovers, the Chargers force one, leading to a quick score
After turnovers on their first two possessions of the second half, the Chargers caused a fumble to set up a go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter.
Linebacker Kyzir White’s hit on Antonio Gibson resulted in the fumble that fellow linebacker Kenneth Murray Jr. recovered at the Washington three-yard line.
After an Austin Ekeler run for no gain and an incompletion, Justin Herbert hit Mike Williams for the touchdown.
Chargers 20, Washington 16, 11:21 left in fourth quarter
Debatable fumble call stalls third straight long Chargers drive; Bulaga out
The Chargers lost right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a back injury and the impact was immediate.
He was replaced on the team’s first possession of the second half by Storm Norton, who was beaten by Montez Sweat in the midst of the Chargers’ third straight long drive of more than 10 plays.
On a second-down pass inside the Washington 20, Sweat hit Justin Herbert’s throwing hand and the ball fell just past the goal line before trickling through the end zone. No one seemed to immediately recognize that it was a fumble, other than the officials, who ruled the play a touchback with the ball transferring to Washington at their own 20. Even CBS rules analyst and former referee Gene Steratore questioned the ball, saying he would have ruled it a pass.
A back injury torpedoed Bulaga’s 2020 season. He mentioned during training camp that it’s the sort of thing that could flare again without notice.
Washington’s subsequent drive ended when Dustin Hopkins missed a 51-yard field goal wide left. The Chargers—again—moved the ball crisply downfield, reaching the Washington 20 for a second straight drive with nothing to show for it, this drive ending with a Herbert interception by William Jackson inside the five.
On the next play, the Chargers’ Kyzir White forced an Antonio Gibson fumble, which Kenneth Murray recovered at the three. You can view it as a net 17-yard gain from the Herbert interception.
Washington takes first lead on opening drive of second half
Washington took its first lead on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Taylor Heinicke to tight end Logan Thomas with 11:20 to go in the third quarter.
The big play of the drive came when Heinicke hit Terry McLaurin for a 37-yard completion down the left sideline when Chargers safety Nasir Adderley went airborne but failed to come down with the ball.
On the same play, cornerback Michael Davis was called for illegal contact on McLaurin, but the penalty was declined.
Washington gained 81 yards on the possession after totaling 83 in the first half.
Washington 16, Chargers 13, 11:20 left in third quarter
The story of the Chargers’ first half told in four Jeff Miller tweets
Times’ Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller is at FedEx Field for the team’s season opener against the Washington Football Team. The Chargers’ offense, behind a stout line, drove the ball well against an elite Washington defense.
Here are four Jeff tweets that tell the story of the first half:
Chargers go to half up 13-9, continue to move ball against elite defense
The Chargers upped their lead to 13-6 on a 27-yard Tristan Vizcaino with 45 seconds left before halftime.
The 18-play, 65-yard drive included Justin Herbert completions of 17 yards to Jalen Guyton, 17 to Josh Palmer and 11 to Mike Williams, as the Chargers offense continued to distribute the ball widely.
Keenan Allen drew a pass interference call to convert one third down. The Chargers also overcame a holding penalty on Bryan Bulaga.
Washington made it 13-9 at halftime on a 48-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins as time expired.
Washington took over at its own 25-yard line with 45 seconds remaining. A roughing the passer penalty on Joey Bosa aided the drive.
Ryan Fitzpatrick sacked, knocked out of game; Tyler Heinicke in
Edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu hit Ryan Fitzpatrick from the game with a crushing shot.
The veteran quarterback headed straight to the locker room with trainers and was replaced by Taylor Heinicke.
The play was originally ruled to be a sack and fumble but was then changed to an incompletion.
Heinicke’s first two passes were incomplete as the Chargers stopped Washington on downs.
Keenan Allen drop stalls long drive; Chargers up lead to 10-6
Justin Herbert had completions of 22 yards to Jalen Guyton, 18 to Mike Williams and 17 to Keenan Allen as the Chargers put together a field-goal drive of their own midway through the second quarter.
The drive stalled when Allen has his second drop of the game, failing to secure a Herbert pass that would have converted on third down.
Tristan VIzcaino made a 33-yard field goal, his first for the Chargers, to make it 10-6 with 9:06 left before halftime.
The Chargers moved 76 yards in 10 plays on the possession.
Herbert is 13 of 18 for 124 yards, with completions to six different receivers.
Chargers 10, Washington 6, 9:06 remaining in second quarter
Washington pulls to within one point after 35-yard pass interference call
Washington pulled to within 7-6 on a 43-yard field goal by Dustin Hopkins with 13:36 to go in the first half.
The points were set up when rookie cornerback Asante Samuel Jr. was called for a pass interference penalty that cost the Chargers 35 yards. Samuel was defending Dyami Brown on the play.
After that mistake, Linval Joseph and Joey Bosa combined on a tackle for loss, Michael Davis broke up a pass and Bosa sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick to stall the drive. Bosa’s also resulted in a fumble that Washington recovered.
Bosa has four tackles already.
Chargers 7, Washington 6, 13:36 left in second quarter
Washington field goal cuts the Chargers lead to 7-3; one quarter complete
The Chargers’ defense permitted a 27-yard run by Antonio Gibson but then tightened up to hold Washington to a field goal late in the first quarter.
Justin Jones’ tackle of Gibson for a three-yard loss was a key stop on the drive as the Chargers stayed up, 7-3.
Washington’s Dustin Hopkins kicked a 30-yard field goal with 2:57 remaining to finish the possession.
Chargers 7, Washington 3, 2:57 remaining in first quarter
Chargers opening drive was a nice break from 2020 problem areas
Three important boxes—all problem areas in 2020—that the Chargers checked off on their impressive 75-yard scoring drive to start the game:
• The offensive line, especially the left side of Rashawn Slater and Matt Feiler, protected Justin Herbert (6-for-6) beautifully and opened up big holes for running backs Austin Ekeler and Larry Rountree III, who combined for 30 yards rushing, including Ekeler’s three-yard TD.
• Red zone scoring. Just when their drive appeared on the brink of stalling, an offsides penalty and a third-down catch by Keenan Allen kept the drive alive to set up Ekeler’s rather easy TD rush.
• Special teams. They made the extra point. A reach, we know.
Underway in D.C.: Ekeler caps off 75-yard drive with three-yard TD run
It’s a bit of a scorcher in D.C. today, with temperatures expected to slide into the 90s.
The Chargers came out similarly hot.
Justin Herbert completed all six of his attempts for 40 yards, including a key third-down hook up with Keenan Allen, as the Chargers scored on their first series.
They went 75 yards in 10 plays, with Austin Ekeler scoring on a three-yard run to make it 7-0 with 9:14 remaining in the first quarter.
Rookie Larry Rountree III and Ekeler both carried twice for a total of 30 yards running behind rookie left tackle Rashawn Slater and left guard Matt Feiler.
Chargers 7, Washington 0, 9:14 left in first quarter
Live look-in from FedEx Field
Jeff Miller and Dylan Hernández are in D.C. They catch you up on everything you need to know, in 130 seconds, here:
Austin Ekeler active; full list of inactive Chargers
Running back Austin Ekeler is officially active for the Chargers’ opener at Washington.
On Friday coach Brandon Staley said that he was “optimistic, for sure” that Ekeler would be available after missing two days of practice because of a hamstring issue.
Joshua Kelley, however, won’t be playing. He was one of the team’s five inactives, with rookie Larry Rountree III earning the third running back spot.
The Chargers’ other inactives are quarterback Easton Stick, tight end Tre’ McKitty, linebacker Amen Ogbongbemiga and defensive back Trey Marshall, who has been dealing with an ankle injury.
SoFi Stadium wasn’t built in a day, or 7,000; the inside story of what turned the tide
The NFL’s meandering odyssey back to the Los Angeles market inspired enough renderings, blueprints and financial statements to paper a path from Irwindale to Inglewood.
The weightiest document of all was just two pages, a 2012 letter to all 32 teams that read as a keep-out sign to some and a how-to guide to others.
“That memo was written after 15 years of struggles, and maybe some successes, but a hell of a lot more failures,” said NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who authored it. “We had a pretty good sense of what we wanted at that time.”
After years of fielding fantastical proposals from billionaires, politicians and other power brokers, Goodell delivered in broad strokes a simple set of absolutes — “a single site where an iconic facility could credibly host two teams and provide ancillary entertainment and development opportunities.”
Chargers vs. Washington matchups: Rashawn Slater meets Chase Young in debut
Breaking down how the Chargers (7-9 last season) and the Washington Football Team (7-9) match up heading into their season-opening game at 10 a.m. Pacific time Sunday at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. The game will be carried on CBS (Channel 2).
When Chargers have the ball: In his final season at Northwestern, Rashawn Slater allowed zero sacks, one quarterback hit and four hurries during his 355 pass-blocking and 787 total snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. One of his most notable performances of that 2019 year came against Ohio State defensive end Chase Young. In a game the Wildcats would lose 52-3, Young finished with two tackles and one sack, which came against Northwestern’s other tackle.
On Sunday, Slater and Young will meet again as the rookie makes his NFL debut at left tackle for the Chargers. A year ago in his first pro season, Young won the league’s defensive rookie of the year award after being drafted No. 2 overall by Washington.
“I kind of look at it as that’s the past,” Slater said. “This is a totally different environment. He’s taken steps since then. I’ve taken steps since then. I really don’t even think about that past matchup as having any sort of factor in it.”
Slater opted out of last season at Northwestern because of the COVID-19 pandemic and then was drafted at No. 13 overall in April. He returns on a rebuilt offensive line in front of quarterback Justin Herbert, the NFL’s reigning offensive rookie of the year. The Chargers have a new coaching staff and a new scheme, one designed to take advantage of Herbert’s big right arm and lofty football IQ.
For Chargers to rise in AFC West, Kansas City is their chief concern
Kansas City has won the last five AFC West titles and appeared in consecutive Super Bowls and three conference championship games in a row.
So, yes, the Chiefs are again the team to beat in a division they have dominated going back to the Chargers’ final season in San Diego.
Before Kansas City assumed control, Denver won the AFC West five consecutive seasons, making the division one of the most predictable in the NFL over the last decade.
Betting odds and lines for Chargers vs. Washington
Betting preview for the Chargers vs. Washington Football Team game on Sunday.
Chargers (-1, 44.5) at Washington Football Team
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert is the real deal, but the key to controlling every great passer is to break down the pocket by creating pressure, and Herbert will be facing a defensive front with the ability to dominate.
Washington ranked No. 4 in the NFL in scoring defense (20.6 points per game) last season. The line ranks among the best in the league with former first-round picks Chase Young, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Montez Sweat leading the charge.
Journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick runs hot and cold yet has plenty of playmakers to work with, including wide receivers Curtis Samuel and Terry McLaurin. The Chargers, who lost six games by seven points or fewer last year, will have to prove they deserve to be road favorites against an opponent with an elite defense.
Pick: Washington +1
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Asante Samuel Jr. has trouble learning from one former NFL player — his dad
They share so much. Both defensive backs, both 5 foot 10, both known as playmakers.
These two even share their name, Asante Samuel — Sr. and Jr.
But there is one thing neither is particularly comfortable sharing with the other:
When the Chargers drafted Samuel Jr. in the second round in April, the convenient assumption was that father helped make son, that two players so similar in style, so alike in technique just had to be close.
Turns out, that assumption was too convenient.
Brandon Staley optimistic Austin Ekeler will play vs. Washington
Chargers head coach Brandon Staley said he is “optimistic, for sure” that running back Austin Ekeler will play Sunday in the team’s season opener.
Ekeler returned to practice Friday on a limited basis after missing two days because of a hamstring issue. He is officially listed as questionable for the game at Washington.
Staley also said veteran Chase Daniel will serve as the backup to quarterback Justin Herbert in Week 1. Easton Stick is also on the team’s 53-man roster.