Chargers facing mind games against Giants with Chiefs on the horizon

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert spikes the football after his two-point conversation catch against the Bengals.
Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert spikes the football after his two-point conversation catch against the Bengals.
(Zach Bolinger / Associated Press)

Their best wide receiver completed a pass to their starting quarterback, the role reversal representing the kind of joyous moment not seen in Chargers football in years.

Justin Herbert punctuated the play with a spike as massive as the celebration that had just erupted among those in Cincinnati wrapped in powder blue and white.

“What that does for your team … go see the reaction of Justin, his teammates and our sideline,” coach Brandon Staley said. “I like that, and it’s part of the fun of the game.”


The trick play — now known throughout the sport as “Philly Special” — highlighted the Chargers’ Week 13 victory, a 41-22 win over the surging Bengals, who also are scrambling for a postseason berth.

Now, Week 14 arrives for the Chargers with a game equally important but against an opponent going nowhere — yet still armed with the opportunity to spoil all the recent fun.

Chargers coach Brandon Staley confirmed Keenan Allen will be unavailable Sunday after testing positive for COVID-19 this week. Close contacts Mike Williams and Chris Harris Jr. should be able to play.

Dec. 10, 2021

The 4-8 New York Giants don’t have their starting quarterback or an inch of momentum. Even so, they pose a threat to the Chargers simply because they also play in the NFL, a league that this season in particular has spit out ridiculous results.

“They deserve our full attention,” said Staley, whose team will have to proceed without starting wideout Keenan Allen (COVID-19 reserve list). “They’ve been in a bunch of tight games. The film will speak for itself, to myself and all of our players.”

But there’s another problem: the schedule speaks, too, telling the Chargers that Week 15 brings Kansas City and a possible showdown for AFC West supremacy.

What’s more, the game will be played in prime time on Thursday night, meaning the Chargers will have less time than usual to prepare for what could be their biggest regular-season matchup of 2021.


“If anybody’s looking ahead, I don’t think we’re in the position to do that,” linebacker Drue Tranquill said. “I sure hope not. The AFC is so tight right now. If anybody’s looking past the Giants, we’re in trouble.”

Staley explained that only his quality control assistants have been permitted to peek ahead to the Chiefs, their jobs including breaking down the next opponent.

Linebackers Uchenna Nwosu, Drue Tranquill and Kyzir White, and safety Nassir Adderley have made great strides in their first season under Chargers coach Brandon Staley.

Dec. 9, 2021

Kansas City is facing a similarly tempting dilemma. The Chiefs play at home Sunday against Las Vegas, a team they defeated 41-14 just four weeks ago.

“The way I’ve tried to approach it with our staff is you cannot look to next Thursday,” Staley said. “That’s just not part of your equation, from a game-planning process. Your mind can’t work like that.

“You can’t be two places at once. We have to pour all of our energy into the Giants. Once that game is done, then what we have to do is we have to be on that sprint to get ready for Kansas City.”

Staley explained the Chargers will alter their postgame routine Sunday to emphasize player recovery, something NFL teams do regularly when facing short weeks.

 Chargers head coach Brandon Staley adjusts his headset.
Chargers coach Brandon Staley has plenty on his mind with two games ahead within four days of each other.
(Robert Gauthier/Los Angeles Times)

Otherwise, he said nothing will change as he and his staff attempt to keep the focus from wandering from an opponent that has struggled to score all season and hasn’t beaten a team that today has a winning record.

This game stands as a marked departure for the Chargers. Entering Week 14, all 12 teams they had played were either in a playoff position or within one game of a playoff position.

The Chargers opened as 10 1/2-point favorites, the widest projected gap for this franchise since Week 4 of 2019, when the Chargers were two-touchdown picks over Miami.

Despite the one-sided forecasts, several Chargers promised they wouldn’t be guilty of dismissing New York prematurely.

The Rams face a tough test against the NFC West-leading Cardinals and the Las Vegas Raiders look to overcome the odds against the Kansas City Chiefs.

Dec. 9, 2021

“That doesn’t mean you go in and say, ‘We’re absolutely going to beat these guys. It’s easy,’ ” running back Austin Ekeler said. “Winning in the NFL is the opposite of that.”


The Chargers are facing a challenge beyond the Giants, as well. They haven’t won consecutive games since beating Las Vegas and Cleveland in Weeks 4 and 5. They’ve alternated wins and losses weekly since Halloween.

Staley made sure to mention all of this to his players as a means to further alert them to the importance of remaining in the present.

“We definitely want to win consistently,” safety Derwin James Jr. said. “We definitely talked about it. We feel like we have everything we need to make that happen.”

A week removed from their version of “Philly Special,” the Chargers don’t figure to need trickery to beat the Giants.

Everything you need to know for the Los Angeles Chargers vs. New York Giants game on Sunday, including betting odds, start time and TV channel.

Dec. 10, 2021

The man who called the play, offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi, explained that early in the second quarter last weekend, with the Chargers up 22-0, seemed like the perfect time to unleash some creativity.

“It looks clever,” Lombardi said. “So everyone feels smart when it works, you know? Those things always seem to amp up the energy level. So it’s fun when it works out.”


The Chargers look to continue their fun against the Giants, who might not have a lot but they do have next, which is all an NFL team ever needs.