Justin Herbert and Austin Ekeler dominate for Chargers in win over Rams

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, right, celebrates in front of quarterback Justin Herbert after scoring a touchdown.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, right, celebrates in front of quarterback Justin Herbert after scoring his first touchdown of the afternoon against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Austin Ekeler rushed for 122 yards and two touchdowns and Justin Herbert passed for two more touchdowns as the Chargers defeated the injury-hampered Rams 31-10 in the first regular-season game between the two teams at SoFi Stadium.

Chargers’ late-season surge continues in impressive blowout win over Rams

Chargers defensive defensive end Morgan Fox celebrates after sacking Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Chargers defensive defensive end Morgan Fox celebrates after sacking Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield during the Chargers’ 31-10 win Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

A franchise for which so many seasons have gone sour, the Chargers’ fortunes on Sunday continued to sweeten.

They won their fourth in a row and fifth in six weeks in lopsided style, defeating the Rams 31-10 at SoFi Stadium.

The Chargers improved to 10-6 and clinched at least the AFC’s sixth seed. Entering the final weekend of the regular season, they still could move up to the No. 5 spot.

Sitting at 6-6 and with their fate teetering just four weeks ago, the Chargers have surged behind improved defense and improving health.

“We’re the team that you have to fear,” tight end Gerald Everett said. “You have to come out and play your best ball or you’re gonna lose. That’s something we really wanted to establish. I’m really happy that we’re actually on that path.”

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Austin Ekeler and Justin Herbert lead Chargers past Rams

Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr., center, celebrates with teammates after catching a touchdown pass.
Chargers tight end Donald Parham Jr., center, celebrates with teammates after catching a touchdown pass in the second half of the Chargers’ 31-10 win over the Rams on Sunday.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

🏈 Chargers 31, Rams 10 — FINAL

The Chargers kept alive their chances of moving up to the No. 5 seed in the AFC with a 31-10 victory over the Rams at SoFi Stadium.

At 10-6 and sixth in the conference, they trail Baltimore by half a game. The Ravens play the Sunday night game at home against 7-8 Pittsburgh.

The Chargers can now finish no worse than sixth. The victory Sunday was their fourth in a row and fifth in six games. They finish the regular season next weekend at 4-12 Denver.

Austin Ekeler finished with 122 rushing yards — 72 on one play — on 10 carries. He ran for two touchdowns — his league-leading 17th and 18th of the season — and also caught four passes for 39 yards.

Chargers linebacker Kyle Van Noy (8) tries to pick up the ball after forcing a fumble on Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield.
Chargers linebacker Kyle Van Noy (8) tries to pick up the ball after forcing a fumble on Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield in the second half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Justin Herbert was 21 of 28 for 212 yards with touchdown passes to tight end Gerald Everett and Donald Parham Jr.

Mike Williams caught seven passes for 94 yards.

Cam Akers rushed for 123 yards in 19 attempts for the Rams (5-11). Quarterback Baker Mayfield was 11 of 19 for 132 yards.

The Chargers continued their recent defensive surge. They sacked Mayfield three times — including a strip-sack by Kyle Van Noy — and held the Rams to 12 first downs. The Chargers have limited their past four opponents to a combined 44 points.


Chargers take commanding lead on Donald Parham Jr. TD catch

🏈 Chargers 31, Rams 10 — 12:12 left in the fourth quarter

Donald Parham Jr. scored his first touchdown of the season on a three-yard pass from Justin Herbert, giving the Chargers’ a 31-10 lead over the Rams with 12:12 remaining.

Parham has missed most of the season dealing with a hamstring problem and concussion issues.

He scored in the same end zone where, in December of 2022, he suffered a significant head injury on a frightening fall in a game against Kansas City.

Sunday marks only the fifth game in which Parham has played. The reception was his first of the game and eighth of the year.


Justin Herbert connects with Gerald Everett for touchdown

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert celebrates a touchdown run by running back Austin Ekeler in the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

🏈 Chargers 24, Rams 10 — 8:46 left in the third quarter

Justin Herbert hit Gerald Everett for a six-yard touchdown to cap the Chargers’ first drive of the second half.

The Chargers went 75 yards in 11 plays to open their two-touchdown lead. The touchdown came on third-and-three.

Herbert is now 15 of 21 for 156 yards. He had gone back-to-back games without a passing touchdown for the first time in his career.


Cameron Dicker field goal gives Chargers 17-10 halftime lead

Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert looks to pass in front of Rams safety Taylor Rapp during the first half.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

🏈 Chargers 17, Rams 10 — Halftime

Cameron Dicker’s 40-yard field goal with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter gave the Chargers a 17-10 halftime lead over the Rams.

The Chargers drove to the Rams’ 22-yard line, but the series stalled when Justin Herbert threw three consecutive incompletions as the Rams were able to bring some pressure.

The drive included a spectacular one-handed catch by Mike Williams along the sideline for an 18-yard gain. Williams went up and snagged a Herbert pass that sailed over Rams cornerback Troy Hill.

Herbert is 10 of 16 for 108 yards. Austin Ekeler has 102 rushing yards — 72 coming on one touchdown run — on six carries. Williams has five receptions for 76 yards.

For the Rams, Baker Mayfield is eight of 12 for 97 yards. Cam Akers has carried 13 times for 97 yards. Van Jefferson has 77 yards in three receptions.

The Chargers will receive the second-half kickoff.


Rams strike back on Malcolm Brown’s 23-yard touchdown run

Rams running back Malcolm Brown, right, high steps into the end zone to score a touchdown during the second quarter.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

🏈 Chargers 14, Rams 10 — 4:09 left in the second quarter

Veteran running back Malcolm Brown was signed around midseason, mainly to provide leadership and pass protection.

But Brown showed he still has some burst on a 23-yard touchdown run.

The Rams drove 75 yards in seven plays, with quarterback Baker Mayfield and receiver Van Jefferson connecting on passes of 16 and 22 yards.


Austin Ekeler breaks free for 72-yard touchdown carry

🏈 Chargers 14, Rams 3 — 8:25 left in second quarter

Austin Ekeler scored his second touchdown in just over five minutes of the second quarter to put the Chargers up 14-3.

Ekeler broke through a hole on the right side of the offensive line and outran the Rams to the end zone for a 72-yard touchdown.

The touchdown was his NFL-high 18th of the season and gave the Chargers 121 rushing yards on the day. That’s already their second-highest total of the season.


Austin Ekeler pushes Chargers ahead on 17th touchdown carry

Chargers running back Austin Ekeler celebrates after scoring his first touchdown of the afternoon against the Rams.
Chargers running back Austin Ekeler, right, celebrates after scoring his first touchdown of the afternoon against the Rams.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

🏈 Chargers 7, Rams 3 — 13:40 left in the second quarter

Austin Ekeler scored his league-leading 17th touchdown of the season on a 10-yard run to give the Chargers the lead.

Ekeler was tackled near the goal line, but managed to reach the end zone when he landed on top of Rams cornerback Troy Hill.

The Chargers went 75 yards in five plays to take their first lead. Justin Herbert connected with Mike Williams on the two longest gains — 26 and 19 yards. Herbert has opened the game completing four of five attempts.


Cam Akers and Matt Gay help Rams take early lead

Rams running back Cam Akers loses control of the ball during the first quarter.
Rams running back Cam Akers loses control of the ball during the first quarter against the Chargers on Sunday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

🏈 Rams 3, Chargers 0 — 1:09 left in first quarter

Running back Cam Akers is off to a strong start carrying the ball.

Akers broke off a 42-yard run that helped set up a 23-yard field goal by Matt Gay.

Akers has rushed for 71 yards in seven carries. His performance in the second series made up for a dropped pass on the Rams’ first possession that probably would have resulted in a touchdown.

The Rams drove from their 14-yard line on Akers runs and short passes from quarterback Baker Mayfield to tight end Tyler Higbee.

The Rams had a first and goal at the 10-yard line, but after Akers’ six-yard gain, the Chargers dropped him for a one-yard loss. Mayfield’s pass to Higbee in the end zone fell incomplete, forcing the Rams to settle for the field goal.


When it comes to Rams’ bright spots, picks keep pointing to Cobie Durant

Rams cornerback Cobie Durant points at himself to celebrate with teammates after intercepting a pass.
Rams cornerback Cobie Durant, center, celebrates with teammates after intercepting a pass against the Denver Broncos on Dec. 25.
(Kyusung Gong / Associated Press)

Most NFL defensive backs go entire careers without intercepting more than one pass in a game.

It took Rams rookie Cobie Durant 11 games to achieve the feat.

In the Dec. 25 victory over the Denver Broncos, Durant intercepted a first-quarter pass to set up a touchdown, and then put an exclamation point on the 51-14 win with an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown.

“Two picks is not enough,” Durant said Thursday. “I’m trying to beat my record.”

While playing for South Carolina State in a 2021 spring game against Alabama A&M, Durant intercepted three passes in the first half.

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What Brandon Staley knows about Sean McVay worries Chargers coach

Rams coach Sean McVay, left, talks with Chargers coach Brandon Staley before a preseason game in August.
(Ben Liebenberg / Associated Press)

Without Sean McVay, it’s possible Brandon Staley might never have had a chance to do what he’ll do Sunday: coach against Sean McVay.

Staley was hired by the Chargers in January 2021 after helping the Rams’ defense finish No. 1 overall in the NFL.

Following only one — impressive — season on McVay’s staff, Staley received his first head-coaching job.

“It was an incredible year for both of us,” Staley said Wednesday. “I know that we accomplished a lot together. I certainly wouldn’t be here without him. There’s a lifelong friend there.”

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Rams limp into matchup against Chargers looking to build on big win last week

INGLEWOOD, CALIF. - DEC. 25, 2022. Rams head coach Sean McVay watches the team warm up before the game.
Rams coach Sean McVay watches his players warm up before a win over the Denver Broncos on Dec. 25.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The so-called Fight for L.A. never meant anything to the Rams.

In 2017, the team’s executive branch brushed aside the Chargers’ marketing slogan and did not look back as coach Sean McVay’s teams made four playoff appearances in five seasons, a Super Bowl appearance in 2018 and then won Super Bowl LVI last season.

The Rams won the Super Bowl in owner Stan Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium, also home to the Chargers.

The Rams will be visitors when the teams play there Sunday. And though Rams players have no emotional stake in what others might deem a rivalry, it is a certainty that Kroenke could not stand losing to his tenant in his stadium.

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Chargers look to improve their playoff position when taking on Rams

Chargers head coach Brandon Staley gestures from the sideline during a win over the Tennessee Titans on Dec. 18.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers had lost three of four games, lost their grip on a playoff spot, lost everything but their head coach.

Oh, he was next on the list, a growing segment of the media — traditional and social — casting aside Brandon Staley in favor of the ever-lurking Sean Payton.

“Everybody hears the noise,” Chargers center Corey Linsley said. “But the whole world changes week to week in the NFL.”

It sure does, which is why, over the course of three weeks, the whole world surrounding this team changed dramatically.

The Chargers won three in a row and, in what felt like a finger snap, clinched a postseason berth as the three teams immediately behind them in the AFC standings went a combined 1-8.

The Payton talk has slowed and now the Chargers are preparing for their first playoff appearance in four years by meeting the Rams on Sunday on their shared turf of SoFi Stadium.

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How Chargers coach Brandon Staley turned Derwin James Jr. into Jalen Ramsey

Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. sacks Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes during a game in November.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey and Chargers safety Derwin James rarely miss opportunities to make plays on the field.

But the best friends will miss the chance to play against each other in the NFL for the first time.

James on Friday was ruled out for Sunday’s game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium because he remains in concussion protocol because of an injury suffered in Monday’s victory over the Indianapolis Colts.

That means the two stars will not be able to display their unique talents in the same game.

“Something that me and him dreamed of,” Ramsey said Friday before James’ status was announced.

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Joey Bosa returns from injury ‘feeling better than I have in years’

Chargers linebacker Joey Bosa warms up before Sunday's game against the Rams at SoFi Stadium.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

The Chargers are about to get Joey Bosa back — and then some.

The four-time Pro Bowl edge rusher practiced Thursday for the first time since suffering a torn core muscle in Week 3.

This was good news for the Chargers.

Even better news for the team: Bosa afterward revealed he had been dealing with pain over the last two years and that his recent surgery has him “feeling better than I have in years, honestly.”

Bosa explained that the chronic issues have been on his left side and the tear happened on his right side, likely the result of compensating. He said the surgery corrected both problems.

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How did it become legal to be so pushy in the NFL?

Philadelphia Eagles' Jalen Hurts
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts scores a touchdown against the Chicago Bears on Dec. 18.
(Nam Y. Huh / Associated Press)

There’s nothing subtle about the shove.

One of the plays the Philadelphia Eagles run in short-yardage situations is a sneak with a pair of players immediately behind the quarterback, each poised to push on his backside as soon as the ball is snapped.

It’s the “double-cheek push,” or at least that’s how NBC’s Cris Collinsworth described it a few weeks ago, and it’s emblematic of what we’re seeing all over the NFL this season. Instead of traditional blocking schemes, these surging clusters of humanity turn the ball carrier into a cork bobbing in a wave.

“It’s one of those ways, if you’re trying to get a yard, it seems like a pretty efficient way to be able to do it,” said Rams coach Sean McVay, whose team plays the Chargers on Sunday. “And maybe you’ll see it this week if we get into those short-yardage situations.”

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Rams vs. Chargers matchups, how to watch and predictions

Breaking down how the Rams (5-10) and the Chargers (9-6) match up heading into their game at 1:25 p.m. PST Sunday at SoFi Stadium. The game will be shown on CBS, Paramount+ and NFL+. Rams beat writer Gary Klein and Chargers beat writer Jeff Miller offer their perspectives:

When the Rams have the ball

Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield throws to tight end Tyler Higbee against the Denver Broncos.
Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield had a strong connection with Tyler Higbee against the Denver Broncos, with the tight end catching two touchdown passes.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Rams’ perspective: The Rams offense generated 44 points in last Sunday’s 51-14 victory over the Denver Broncos. Don’t count on a repeat performance against a Chargers defense that has given up 17 points of fewer in the last three games against the Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts.

But the Rams will enter the game with confidence because quarterback Baker Mayfield is coming off a highly efficient performance and the rushing attack and offensive line play is trending upward. Rams coach Sean McVay will try to put Mayfield in situations that limit his exposure to a Chargers pass rush that produced seven sacks in Monday’s victory over the Colts.

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Rams vs. Chargers: Betting lines, odds, picks and predictions

Rams quarterback Baker Mayfield, left, and Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert.
(Jae C. Hong, David Becker / Associated Press)

Roommates will battle it out for SoFi Stadium supremacy in Week 17 when the Chargers “host” the Rams. The AFC squad is designated as the home team here, but both teams will be able to enjoy the comforts of home in what will be the second-to-last game of the season for the Rams and the second-to-last game of the regular season for the Chargers.

The No. 5 seed in the AFC is important because that team heads on the road to face either the Jaguars or Titans, whereas the No. 6 seed, which is where the Chargers are sitting, has to face one of the Bengals, Ravens, Chiefs or Bills based on how the last two weeks shake out. The Chargers clinched a playoff spot last week, but their opponent is to be determined.

Rams at Chargers (-6.5, 42)

For a team with nothing left to play for but pride, the Rams looked like a team heavily invested in the playoff picture last week. The 51-14 win over the Broncos felt like a seminal moment for this year’s group. Only one other time this season had the Rams scored at least 51 points in a two-game span. They had scored 52 points over the previous three games combined.

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