The Chargers won Sunday when they watched a football flutter through the Lake Michigan breeze and sail just outside the left upright at Solider Field.
Before Chicago’s Eddy Pineiro missed a 41-yard field-goal try as time expired, the Chargers gave themselves the chance to win with an effort much more hands-on.
In their 17-16 triumph, they repeatedly thwarted the Bears in prime scoring situations, Chicago producing just one touchdown in five trips inside the Chargers’ 20-yard line.
“It’s very encouraging,” rookie defensive tackle Jerry Tillery said of stunting the opposition under such desperate circumstances. “If you can stop a team like that right there, you have a good chance to win the game.”
The defense’s performance was particularly notable in the first half, as the Chargers offense was again struggling to find traction.
The Bears ran 16 plays in the red zone during the first two quarters and gained 14 yards. They ran 11 plays inside the 10-yard line and gained three yards.
The Chargers were so unyielding that, even after Pineiro kicked a final-play field goal to give Chicago a 9-7 halftime lead, the Bears trotted off the field to hearty booing from the home fans.
“A stalemate is a loss, right?” Tillery said. “You have to knock them back and win the line of scrimmage. It’s a different mind-set, and you have to get into that in order to be successful down there.”
Even more impressive was the fact the Chargers made all those stops without starting defensive tackles Brandon Mebane and Justin Jones, both of whom have missed the last two games because of injury.
Tillery and veteran Damion Square have taken over as the starters, with Sylvester Williams, a free agent signed last week, rotating in against Chicago.
“They protect every inch,” coach Anthony Lynn said. “That’s kind of our motto. They did a good job of it [Sunday]. Our red-zone defense was outstanding.”
The Chargers did surrender 162 yards on the ground, the opposition’s third-highest total of the season.
But they were stingy when it really mattered. In the final 46 seconds of the second quarter, the Bears snapped the ball six times inside the five-yard line and couldn’t reach the end zone.
Square, who is in his seventh season and was appearing in his 67th NFL game, finished with a career-high six tackles. He also knocked down a pass at the line of scrimmage.
Tillery, drafted No. 28 overall in April, has played extensively the last two weeks because of the injuries. He called the situation “a big-time opportunity.”
On Sunday, he was credited with three tackles after entering the game with five combined tackles for the season.
“I think my game is evolving and getting better,” Tillery said. “Each week I think it’s showing in my production, how much [more] I’ve been able to contribute. I think that’s going to continue. That’s my goal.”
Keenan Allen makes impact
Wide receiver Keenan Allen entered Sunday listed as questionable because of a hamstring problem. Lynn was even less optimistic than that.
“To be honest with you, I wasn’t expecting him to play,” Lynn admitted Monday. “But that’s just Keenan Allen. It’s Sunday. It’s time to go. He said, ‘Coach, I want to play.’
“And, so, [we] started out just putting him in on a limited basis. As the game went on, he played probably more snaps than we thought he was going to play.”
Allen finished with a game-high seven catches for 53 yards. He played 31 of 45 offensive snaps.
Okung and Ingram contribute
The Chargers also received more from left tackle Russell Okung and defensive end Melvin Ingram than they had anticipated.
Okung was making his 2019 debut after dealing with the aftereffects of a pulmonary embolism suffered in June.
He played 36 snaps after Lynn said Trent Scott would see the bulk of the repetitions at left tackle. Scott played 16 snaps against Chicago, appearing at both left and right tackle.
Okung left the game after suffering a calf injury. Following the game, he said he did not think the injury was serious.
“It was really encouraging because he hadn’t played since last January,” Lynn said. “We didn’t know what to expect from Russell. ... He played more than we anticipated him playing. I thought he played well.”
Ingram had missed the previous three games because of a hamstring issue. He played all but one snap on defense, finishing with three tackles and a fumble recovery that set up what turned out to be the game-winning touchdown.
“We didn’t know what to expect from him, as well, because [he was] coming back from the hamstring,” Lynn said. “But he felt fine. As long as he felt fine, we left him out there.”
Tight end Hunter Henry on his thoughts as Pineiro’s kick missed: “I was almost taken aback just because I was like, ‘Man, thank God. What the heck?’ You put so much into it … for it to go our way was nice.”
Rookie safety Roderic Teamer led the Chargers with eight tackles Sunday. He also had his first career sack.