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Joshua Palmer reveals big-play talent: Takeaways from Chargers’ win over Giants

Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer beats New York Giants cornerback Jarren Williams to the end zone.
Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer, left, beats New York Giants cornerback Jarren Williams to the end zone for a touchdown during the Chargers’ 37-21 win Sunday at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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The loss of their best receiver, four-time Pro Bowl selection Keenan Allen, to a positive COVID-19 test and their best defender, All-Pro safety Derwin James, to a hamstring injury hardly slowed the Chargers in a 37-21 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday.

Neither player was sorely missed in SoFi Stadium, Joshua Palmer replacing Allen and catching five passes for 66 yards and a touchdown, and cornerbacks Michael Davis and Chris Harris Jr. spearheading a stout defense that stifled the Giants for 3½ quarters.

Here are five takeaways from the Chargers’ first back-to-back wins since October:

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Inside job

Chargers wide receiver Joshua Palmer scores a touchdown against the Giants on Sunday.
(Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images)

Quarterback Justin Herbert might have unearthed another dynamic receiving threat behind Allen, Mike Williams, Jalen Guyton and running back Austin Ekeler.

Palmer, a third-round pick out of Tennessee, made his first NFL start in a new position, the rookie wideout moving to the slot in place of Allen, who has 86 catches for 929 yards and four touchdowns this season.

Palmer’s second catch of the game went for a 12-yard touchdown that gave the Chargers a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter, Palmer running an out route from the right slot and Herbert lofting a pass over his right shoulder that allowed Palmer to catch it in stride, turn the corner and reach the end zone.

The Chargers’ 37-21 win over the Giants might be a part of their story to fight for a playoff spot, but this game will be remembered for Justin Herbert’s 59-yard TD throw.

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Palmer caught a 36-yard play-action pass from Herbert, beating safety Logan Ryan down the left sideline, to key a 10-play, 67-yard drive that ended with Dustin Hopkins’ 28-yard field goal and a 27-7 lead early in the third quarter.

“The reason we really liked this guy is because he can play outside and inside,” Chargers coach Brandon Staley said of the 6-foot-1, 210-pound Palmer. “He can beat the press outside, right? But then inside, he can run that slot route tree, some of those choice routes, some of those read routes.

“He has that type of feel, those instincts. He’s strong. He’s got a pro body.

“The fact that we can move him around allows us to play that chess match with Mike and Keenan. And this guy can get deep, too. That’s a big component to your offense — the more people you have that can get deep, it helps you.”

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Group effort

Chargers cornerback Michael Davis follows a play against the New York Giants.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

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The hamstring of James, who has racked up 100 total tackles, 12½ for loss, two interceptions and five pass breakups in the first 12 games, tightened up Friday and was too sore and swollen Saturday for the versatile safety to play. The Chargers were no worse for the wear (and tear).

The Chargers forced three-and-outs on five of New York’s seven first-half possessions and yielded only 174 total yards through three quarters before giving up a pair of touchdowns — after building a 30-point lead — in the last 4½ minutes.

They finished with a season-high 10 pass breakups, the most by a Chargers defense since 2017 and the most by an AFC team in a game this season.

Davis broke up four passes, one more than he had in the first 12 games; Harris had three pass breakups; linebacker Kyzir White, who took over play-calling duties from James, had a team-leading 10 total tackles, and linemen Joey Bosa and Justin Jones each had sacks.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 37-21 victory over the New York Giants at SoFi Stadium on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Trey Marshall replaced James and teamed with fellow safety Nasir Adderley and cornerback Tevaughn Campbell to help lock down receivers Kenny Golladay and Sterling Shepard for much of the afternoon.

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“Derwin did a heck of a job for us on the sideline coaching, and we had great opportunities for his teammates in the secondary to step up and rise to the occasion,” Staley said. “I’m proud of those guys and how they played today.”

Staley singled out Davis, a fifth-year pro who took his share of lumps early in his career, for special praise.

“Michael Davis rose to the occasion,” Staley said. “When you’re playing corner in the NFL, there’s going to be some of those deny-the-ball downs. I think what he’s doing is he’s getting more confident with his back to the ball. We’re working really hard with the guy, and like I said, he’s been a resilient player for us.”

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Strip club

Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa (97) strip-sacks New York Giants quarterback Mike Glennon during the third quarter.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

The Chargers notched their NFL-leading ninth strip-sack of the season — and fifth by Bosa — when the edge rusher teamed with Jones on a third-quarter stunt and knocked the ball out of quarterback Mike Glennon’s hand while dropping the Giants’ quarterback for an eight-yard loss on a fourth-and-nine play near midfield.

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Jones recovered the fumble with 23 seconds left in the quarter, a turnover that the Chargers converted into a touchdown, Herbert hitting tight end Jared Cook for a one-yard score and a 37-7 lead.

The Chargers offense took it to the Giants in a 37-21 win, and now L.A. can concentrate on AFC West showdown against the Kansas City Chiefs on Thursday.

“Kudos to him,” Jones said of Bosa, who has 56 career sacks in 5½ seasons and has sacked 36 different quarterbacks in his career. “He’s a great player, a smart player, it’s being him.”

Edge rusher Uchenna Nwosu had a key strip-sack and recovered the fumble on Cincinnati’s first drive last week, an important play in the Chargers’ 41-22 win.

“Practice,” Jones said, when asked to what he attributes the team’s strip-sacks. “We work on it every day in practice, working drills. We’re trying to build a team full of complete players.”

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Ekeler injury not serious

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler is helped off the field after sustaining an ankle injury in the third quarter.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

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Ekeler rushed 12 times for 67 yards, including a one-yard, first-quarter scoring run that gave him 16 touchdowns this season — nine rushing and seven receiving. Ekeler ranks third among NFL running backs with 1,265 yards from scrimmage.

But his productive day came to a sudden end when he suffered a left-ankle injury on a three-yard run midway through the third quarter.

Ekeler hobbled off the field and had the ankle taped, but with the Chargers leading by 20 points and a short week before a Thursday night game against the AFC West-leading Kansas City Chiefs, Ekeler was held out for the rest of the game.

“Austin is doing fine,” Staley said. “He plays pro tailback, so those types of things happen. He would have been able to go back into the game. It’s just sore.”

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No gain, no pain

Chargers kicker Dustin Hopkins follows through on a field-goal attempt in the second half Sunday.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

The Chargers had one penalty for five yards in the first half, and it led to three points, which seemed fitting on day when so much went right for them.

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With a fourth and one from the Giants five-yard line and the Chargers looking to build on a 14-7 lead, they went for a first down and touchdown. No surprise there — the Chargers were 13 for 21 on fourth-down attempts this season, their 13 conversions tied for the NFL lead.

Herbert was stuffed for no gain, a potential momentum-turning stop by the Giants, but the play was nullified by left guard Matt Feiler’s false-start penalty. The Chargers, pushed back five yards, had no choice but to kick a field goal, Dustin Hopkins drilling a 27-yarder for a 17-7 lead.

Quarterback Justin Herbert spearheaded the Chargers’ 37-21 victory over the New York Giants. Check out some of the game’s biggest moments here.

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