Chargers takeaways: Playoff chances real after clutch win over Cardinals

The Chargers' Austin Ekeler stretches for a touchdown that led to winning two-point conversion against Arizona.
The Chargers’ Austin Ekeler stretches for a touchdown that led to winning two-point conversion against Arizona.
(Norm Hall / Getty Images)

The Chargers scored a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final 20 seconds Sunday to defeat Arizona 25-24 at State Farm Stadium.

The fourth-quarter comeback was the 10th of quarterback Justin Herbert’s career and the game-winning drive his 12th.

At 6-5, the Chargers are ninth in the AFC. They have the same record at as New England and trail Cincinnati and the New York Jets by a game. They play Sunday at 4-7 Las Vegas, a 40-34 winner in overtime Sunday in Seattle.


A few observations from the Chargers’ last-gasp win:

One of the last to know: As dramatic as his final touchdown was, running back Austin Ekeler didn’t even realize he had reached the end zone until he looked up at the scoreboard as the Chargers were huddling with 15 seconds to go.

By calling for Justin Herbert to attempt a late two-point conversion against the Arizona Cardinals, Chargers coach Brandon Staley kept his players’ trust.

Nov. 27, 2022

Ekeler initially concluded that the officials had ruled him short and the Chargers were about to line up to take another shot.

“I thought we were still trying to score a touchdown,” he admitted later. “I was like, ‘OK, boys, we gotta score. Come on.’ ”

Ekeler managed to hit the front pylon with the ball as he was being dragged down by Cardinals’ linebacker Isaiah Simmons. The nearest official, however, did not make an initial signal.

Do-all Derwin does it again: Safety Derwin James Jr. caused the game’s only two turnovers, forcing James Conner to fumble in the first quarter and intercepting a pass thrown by Kyler Murray in the second.

The Chargers failed to capitalize on the fumble, which was recovered by Sebastian Joseph-Day, but turned the interception into a touchdown as they came back from a 10-0 deficit to take a 14-10 lead.

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. (3) intercepts a ball intended for Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Pharoh Cooper.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

“I thought Derwin James was fantastic in the game,” coach Brandon Staley said. “[He’s] just our heart and soul on defense.”

James finished with eight tackles, third on the team behind Alohi Gilman (10, a career best) and Drue Tranquill (nine). Gilman started in place of the injured safety Nasir Adderley (thumb).

Staley also praised the play of cornerback Michael Davis, who finished with six tackles, two passes knocked away and his first career sack — in his 84th NFL game.

Davis was listed as questionable Friday because of a knee injury.

Run ‘D’ run down again: Defensively, the Chargers did have some struggles. They surrendered 181 rushing yards and an average of 5.3 yards per attempt. Arizona also converted seven of its first 10 third downs.

Conner finished with 120 yards in 25 attempts and Murray had 56 in seven rushes. The Cardinals had three running plays that gained at least 18 yards each.

Justin Herbert and the Chargers trailed by a touchdown and had one drive to overcome, scoring in the final seconds against Arizona and then winning on a two-point conversion.

Nov. 27, 2022

“Didn’t do a good enough job on the quarterback,” Staley said. “That was disappointing.”

Staley also wasn’t pleased with two failures in the red zone, the Chargers giving up a five-yard touchdown run to Murray 12 seconds before halftime and a six-yard scoring pass from Murray to Conner early in the fourth quarter.

“We’re a better unit than that,” Staley said.

The Chargers are 29th against the run and 26th on third down for the season.

The defense did rise up when it really mattered, holding Arizona scoreless on its final four possessions.

Especially special teams: The Chargers’ improved special teams play in 2022 continued with a few key moments late.

Punter JK Scott pinned Arizona at its 10-yard line with 2:19 remaining. The Cardinals used only 31 seconds on three plays and punted the ball back.

That punt was the one that resulted in DeAndre Carter’s season-best 20-yard return, setting up the offense for its game-winning drive.

The Chargers' DeAndre Carter (1) runs for a touchdown as Arizona's Isaiah Simmons (9) pursues.
The Chargers’ DeAndre Carter (1) runs for a touchdown as Arizona’s Isaiah Simmons (9) pursues. Carter had career highs in catches and yards receiving, and set up the deciding touchdown with a season-long 20-yard punt return.
(Rick Scuteri / Associated Press)

Then, after scoring, Cameron Dicker executed what Staley called a “mortar kick,” booting the ball to the Arizona 13 and forcing Pharoh Cooper to return it. The play took four seconds, leaving the Cardinals’ offense with only 11 seconds.

Running on near empty: The Chargers’ inability to sustain a running attack will apparently be a season-long story line. They finished with 65 yards in only 13 attempts.

Herbert was easily their most effective runner, totaling 38 yards in four carries. Their three running backs combined for 27 yards in nine attempts. The Chargers rank 30th in the league, averaging 85.8 rushing yards per game.

Breaking down the notable numbers behind the Chargers’ 25-24 road win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday — scoring and statistics.

Nov. 27, 2022

Having suffered fractured rib cartilage in Week 2, Herbert’s mobility had been impacted until the last few games. He was a willing runner Sunday and rushed for 23 yards on one play and 15 on another scramble.

Those two gains were the Chargers’ longest on the ground for the game.

In his own words: “It’s wild. We can’t put a finger on why it’s happening. Finally, we took advantage and made enough plays to move the dang ball down there and get it in the end zone.” — Ekeler on the Chargers’ second-half scoring issues.