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Chargers

Austin Ekeler scores three touchdowns, including winner in OT, as Chargers beat Colts

The Chargers made a habit in 2018 of winning games late in the fourth quarter.

For an encore, they won even later, opening the 2019 season Sunday by beating Indianapolis 30-24 in overtime.

After blowing a 15-point third-quarter lead and failing to prevent the Colts from tying the score in the final minute, the Chargers asserted their will, driving 75 yards in eight plays to cap the only possession of the extra session.

“We wanted to end it,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “The game was in our hands. We did a great job of finishing.”

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The exclamation point to the emphatic statement came from Austin Ekeler, who started only because No. 1 running back Melvin Gordon remains away from the team in a contract dispute.

Ekeler pin-balled off two defenders at the goal line to score on a run from seven yards out, his third touchdown on a day when he totaled 154 yards on 18 touches.

The third-year back known for celebrating by dramatically strumming an air guitar genuinely rocked.

“He’s always been that way,” Allen said. “Explosive, breaking tackles, hard runner. He just has that motor, coming in and being that juice we need.”

Of the Chargers’ past 10 victories dating to October of last year, six have been won in the final minute or overtime.

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Not long ago, this was a team famous for failing to finish. Just last week Ekeler noted how, during his rookie year in 2017, the Chargers simply couldn’t win late.

And now?

“When we went to overtime, we didn’t have any worries in our head,” defensive tackle Justin Jones said. “We knew if the offense didn’t do it, we would. We weren’t leaving without the win today.”

Quarterback Philip Rivers opened his 16th season by completing 25 of 34 pass attempts for 333 yards and three touchdowns. Allen finished with eight receptions for 123 yards and a score.

Defensively, veteran linebacker Thomas Davis, making his Chargers debut, had 14 tackles. Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram each had a sack.

“Even before I got here, this team was in tough positions last year and was able to pull games out,” Davis said. “Our coaches do a great job of putting us in those situations in practice and it showed up today.”

Rivers helped put the Chargers in the unenviable position of having to go to overtime to win.

After taking possession early in the fourth quarter, he moved the offense from the Chargers’ 20-yard line to inside the Colts’ 10, a field goal enough to put his team up by two scores. Rivers completed four of five passes along the way for 80 yards, his precision and touch both on display.

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Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers launches a 28-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen.
Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers launches a 28-yard touchdown pass to Keenan Allen during the second quarter against the Colts.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Then, on second-and-goal from the seven-yard line, he fired toward Allen near the back of the end zone. Indianapolis safety Malik Hooker intervened, raising his right arm and catching the ball one-handed for an interception that Allen would later call “a first-round play.”

Rivers acknowledged that he tried to do too much by attempting to squeeze the football through a narrow opening. He also realized too well the exact situation of the game.

“Before we broke the huddle, I looked up at the score and the time and said, ‘Three points is good. Don’t turn it over,’ ” Rivers said. “About 10 seconds later, I turned it over. I’m responsible for that, no question.”

From there, Indianapolis moved downfield for a touchdown and the tying two-point conversion, which came with just 38 seconds remaining and erased what had been, about an hour earlier, a 24-9 Chargers lead.

They were up 17-6 at halftime and never trailed, the Chargers at times appearing to have the game well within their grasp. Still, they were forced to continue playing beyond the fourth quarter.

Thomas Davis showed his veteran leadership in the Chargers’ win over the Colts, but the defense struggled at junctures throughout the game.

“We’re going to have to finish teams faster than overtime,” Bosa said. “We came out in the second half … we have to just step on their throats and finish the game.”

Yet, rather than flinch at the end after they’d been caught, the Chargers won the overtime coin toss and never allowed the Colts to regain possession.

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“We knew that game was going to take four quarters, but it actually took five,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “It took every man in that locker room to get this done today.”

So the Chargers are 1-0 for only the second time since 2012. This is the first time, in his three seasons as head coach, that Lynn is 1-0. After he began his time with the Chargers by losing four straight, Lynn has led his team to 22 victories in its past 29 regular-season games.

A lot of those most recent wins haven’t been secured until closing time.

“I thought it was a gritty, team win,” Rivers said. “I thought it was similar to wins we had last year … I think some of the experiences from last year, some of the adversity, close games, maybe helped us today.”


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