After all their mistakes, all their self-inflicted shortcomings, all their gut-twisting failures, the Chargers won in the most unlikely of ways Sunday.
They won when the other team couldn’t overcome its recent history of kicking woes.
The Chargers saw their flustering, maddening three-game losing streak suddenly end with a 17-16 victory when Chicago’s Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard field goal as time expired.
The win also halted a stretch in which the Chargers had dropped five one-score games in a row and came a week after they lost in Tennessee when two plays initially ruled as possible game-winning touchdowns in the final minute were reversed by replay.
“We just needed a win, any way,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “35-0. 2-0. 3-2 or 17-16.”
Entering this game, the Chargers seemingly had sabotaged their season, going 2-5 largely because of a lack of execution made more significant by a seemingly unending parade of injuries.
But on Sunday, it was the Bears who turned the ball over twice in the fourth quarter, couldn’t make the most vital defensive stop when necessary and ultimately went down because their kicker couldn’t produce.
“At this point, I’ll take anything,” running back Austin Ekeler said. “We’ve been on the other end of that type of game. We’re taking anything in the ‘W’ column right now.”
Both the Chargers and Bears have had recent issues at the kicking position, the Chargers’ situation settling somewhat over the past year with the emergence first of Michael Badgley and now Chase McLaughlin.
Chicago was eliminated from the playoffs last season on Cody Parkey’s infamous “double-doink” miss against Philadelphia.
Pineiro came into this game nine of 10 for the season. He made three field goals against the Chargers but missed twice.
The second miss, which started out on target before veering wide left, sailed through the Solider Field air as time expired. Before the kick, the Chicago crowd had joyously chanted “Ed-dy, Ed-dy.”
“It looked good,” Chargers defensive lineman Jerry Tillery said, “and then it wasn’t.”
Said cornerback Casey Hayward: “It did look good, didn’t it? But it kept going left a little bit. There was definite relief.”
And so the Chargers won on a day when they couldn’t run the ball again, didn’t pick up their initial first down until the second quarter and had possession for only 22 minutes.
Their slumbering offense was finally shocked awake on the final series before halftime.
On the third play, Rivers fired deep in the direction of a double-covered Mike Williams. The 6-foot-4 wide receiver rose above two defenders to snag the pass for a 43-yard gain, the Chargers’ longest play from scrimmage since Week 2.
“Major catch,” wide receiver Keenan Allen said. “That catch, I think, probably got us going in the right direction for the whole day.”
On the next play, Melvin Gordon ran 19 yards — his longest play this season — for the Chargers’ first touchdown and a 7-6 lead.
“That kind of spun the whole thing to me,” Rivers explained. “That kind of said, ‘All right, as bad as it’s been, look up there. We’re winning.’ And then we were able to go from there.”
On the Gordon scoring run, Williams made it back-to-back plays with notable contributions.
First, he blocked Bears safety Eddie Jackson downfield. Then he, fellow receiver Andre Patton and offensive lineman Dan Feeney all aided by shoving Gordon and four Chicago defensive players into the end zone.
“I made a huge block for him,” Williams said afterward, smiling. “I was telling him, ‘I got you in the end zone, man.’ I kind of gave him a little push at the end to get him up in there. That was big.”
The Chargers had the ball only once in the third quarter and kept it for 14 plays and 7 minutes 29 seconds, the drive ending with a 20-yard field goal by McLaughlin.
Strangely, that was the only series the Chargers had all day that lasted longer than four plays. That lack of possession enabled Chicago to take a 16-10 lead as the fourth quarter began to unfold.
After a fumble recovery by defensive end Melvin Ingram gave the Chargers the ball at the Chicago 26-yard line, the offense made the one necessary play to provide the thin margin of victory.
Immediately after the Bears were penalized for grabbing a face-mask, Ekeler caught a short pass from Rivers and made a move to duck under linebacker Danny Trevathan and cross the goal line with 8:04 to go.
The play was a particularly satisfying one for the running back whose apparent touchdown in the closing seconds a week ago could not survive replay review.
“I just used my leverage to my advantage and came underneath the tackle and got in the end zone this time,” Ekeler said. “For sure, got in the end zone this time.”
Yes, for the Chargers, things finally broke in their favor at the end, even if it took every second of the game and for the other guys to mess up this time.