Los Angeles Chargers safety Derwin James Jr. raised his fist while jumping around in a Santa hat as head coach Brandon Staley put his arm around owner Dean Spanos and handed him a game ball.
“I’ve been wanting to give him a game ball ever since I got here,” Staley yelled. “He’s been patient. He’s invested in this team. He’s brought us all together … game ball, playoff appearance: Dean Spanos.”
Spanos, Staley and the Bolts had much to celebrate in the visitor’s locker room at Lucas Oil Field after defeating the downtrodden Indianapolis Colts 20-3 on Monday night.
For the first time since 2018, the Chargers will return to the postseason, having clinched a playoff spot after improving to 9-6, with two games remaining in the regular season.
“I’m not good at giving speeches, but I’m very proud of all of you,” Spanos said as players cheered. “I know we’ve got a bit of a way to go, but we’re starting off with a good stage right now, so let’s get to it.”
The Chargers entered Week 16 with a direct path to the postseason after jumping to the No. 6 seed with a December 18 victory over the visiting Tennessee Titans. However, the L.A. in the postseason it came sooner than expected after the New York Jets, New England Patriots and Las Vegas Raiders all lost their weekend matchups.
“I’ve been here long enough to know that when it comes, it’s a great feeling,” said 10-year Chargers veteran Keenan Allen amid music and dancing from his teammates. “We talk about it all the time: Control what you can control. And this week, we were able to control our own destiny and we made it happen.”
Said Sebastian Joseph-Day, who won a Super Bowl with the Rams last season: “It’s amazing and indescribable … But it’s not over. We’ve got two games left and we’ve got to keep this going.”
It will be the first postseason appearance for Staley and Herbert, the third-year signal caller who completed 24 of 31 passes for 235 yards with one interception on Monday night.
“It will be a lot of fun,” Herbert said. “Just excited to be in that environment and have that opportunity and still play football.”
“It’s just the beginning. This is not our ultimate goal,” said Staley, who narrowly missed the playoffs in his first season as coach after losing to the Raiders in Week 18, when a tie or win would have sent the Bolts to the final. postseason “We have two more games against really good teams and we need to look to play our best football so that we can not only make the playoffs but also achieve a Super Bowl championship, which is our goal.”
At the start of the season, the Bolts were among the favorites to not only earn a playoff trip, but also to make a deep run, after beefing up their defense.
A successful trade with the Chicago Bears brought pass rusher Khalil Mack to Los Angeles, and the Bolts signed cornerback J.C. Jackson to a five-year, $82.5 million deal in free agency while also loading up their defensive line with Austin Johnson and Joseph-Day.
However, the Chargers got off to a 5-5 start as several important players dealt with injuries.
Herbert played several weeks due to a fractured rib cartilage suffered in Week 2 and was without wide receivers Allen and Mike Williams, who dealt with a hamstring strain and high ankle sprain. , respectively, for a significant time. Allen and Williams did not play a complete game together until Week 14. The offensive line also lost left tackle Rashawn Slater to injured reserve after Week 3.
On defense, the Bolts lost running back Joey Bosa, Jackson and Johnson to injured reserve. Bosa could still return, but otherwise the unit is making leaps and bounds.
“So many people have gotten their hands on this, and that’s what’s beautiful,” said Joseph-Day, after congratulating rookie kicker Cameron Dicker, who has produced two game-winning field goals this season, and return specialist DeAndre Sump. “A lot of guys really stepped up, and I think that’s where a lot of the growth comes from.”
The Chargers held Nick Foles to 17 of 29 passing for 143 yards with three interceptions while sacking the Indianapolis quarterback seven times. The Colts went 0-for-10 on third down.
“We have the structure to withstand the type of season that we’ve had. I think we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the toughness of our football team, the composition of our football team,” Staley said. “For too long people have talked about the talent of this football team and the organization and ultimately that’s not what gets you where you want to go. You have to show your toughness, and that’s what we’ve demonstrated so far this year, is that we have a football team mentally and physically strong enough to be where we are now.”
The Chargers face the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday in what will be a home game for the Bolts and wrap up the regular season in Denver in Week 18.
Despite taking the first playoff berth of his career, Herbert seemed adamant that there is plenty of room for improvement in the future.
“I don’t think we’ve played our best football yet,” Herbert said. “I think the defense has done an incredible job in the last few weeks. I think offensively we can be better. We can limit turnovers, and that starts with me.”